Thursday, July 31, 2008

God's country

We (Mrs. Rhymeswithplague and I) have just returned from a short vacation in one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. God’s country. It could be almost anywhere, but the photo above happens to be the Hickory Nut Gorge section of Lake Lure in the mountains of western North Carolina. If I remember correctly, Sugarloaf Mountain is on the left, and Buffalo Mountain (also called The Lady of the Lake) is on the right. It is sunset and we are looking westward, in the direction of the city of Asheville. In the center, off in the distance, the tallest mountain is Mount Pisgah. The Old Testament has the original Mount Pisgah, which is also called Mount Nebo (see Deuteronomy 34:1). It is in the land of Moab (the modern country of Jordan) and is the place where God gave Moses a glimpse of The Promised Land.

In 1845, a man named William W. Walford wrote the words we know as the familiar hymn, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and William B. Bradbury set it to music in 1861. The fourth verse of the hymn mentions Mount Pisgah. Here are all four verses of “Sweet Hour of Prayer”:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

Think of your favorite place on earth, the place that inspires you like no other, the place that makes you catch your breath. No matter where it is, it is only a shadow of The Promised Land. It could be western North Carolina; or Montana; or Banff in Canada; or Maui in Hawaii; or the Alps in Switzerland; or a starry sky at midnight; or amber fields of waving grain; or an endless white sand beach with clear, turquoise, tropical water; or your private place of prayer; or your family dinner table -- it could be anywhere. It is where, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, God is giving you a glimpse of The Promised Land. If it is beautiful, if it makes you long for more, if it makes you wish it would never end, it is a special place. It is God's country.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday ramblings #2

It’s Tuesday again, so welcome to another edition of my Tuesday ramblings! By the time this post is published, Mrs. Rhymeswith-plague and I will have bid a temporary adieu to our hearth and home and comfy surroundings in North Georgia and gone on a little “mini” three-day vacation in beautiful western North Carolina. We are joining our oldest son’s family for a short visit during their longer stay at Lake Lure. I wrote this week’s ramblings in advance and scheduled them for Tuesday publication (first time I have done this) because I didn't know whether I’d have access to a computer while we were away. My home computer is a desktop, not a laptop, and not easily transported.

This morning I saw a bright yellow and black male goldfinch in my backyard; it was on the topmost branch of a Leland (or Leyland, apparently either is correct) cypress tree. It has been nearly five years since I last saw a goldfinch. We used to see lots of them at our feeders before we moved away from our woods and creek to where we live now, Little House By A Strip Mine. I’m kidding; I’m kidding (about the strip mine, not the goldfinches). We used to see cardinals and rock doves and bluejays and rufous-sided towhees and brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds and brown thrashers (Georgia’s state bird) and Carolina chickadees and even an indigo bunting once. Now we see mostly mockingbirds and crows and an occasional passing flock of Canada geese (honking, of course). I miss the songbirds.

Speaking of Leland (or Leyland) cypresses, one of the ten that we planted five years ago along our back property line has died. It was about eight feet tall, not as tall as the others, and just lost the will to live, apparently. It went very fast. The other nine all appear to be just fine. The one on the far left is almost twice as tall as the others. We’ve treated them all the same; I can’t explain the difference in their growth. Someone suggested on one website that the drought in the Southeast has caused dehydration among the cypresses and the dehydration has caused (or allowed) canker disease in some trees.

Which brings me to foreign coins (don’t ask me how). I saw “D. G. Regina” on a Canadian coin and figured out all by myself that it was Latin for “Queen by the grace of God,” Dei Gratia being the phrase for which “D. G.” is the abbreviation and Regina meaning, of course, Queen. Then I saw a British (United Kingdom) coin with the abbreviation “Elizabeth II D. G. Reg. F. D.” on it, which threw me for a minute...

...until I remembered that the British monarch is also head of the Church of England (Anglican) and therefore is automatically fidei defensor, the defender of the faith. (It didn’t mean Fire Department after all.)

And speaking of Latin abbreviations, most of us know etc. (the abbreviation of et cetera, “and so forth”). And we know a couple of others like i.e. (the abbreviation of id est, “that is”) and e.g. (the abbreviation of exempli gratia, “for the sake of example”) that we usually manage to get confused. The first means something like “specifically” or “this is what I’m talking about.” The second means something like “here's one example out of many from which I might choose.” Please keep this in mind in your future writing! If you had to write research papers in the dear, dead days beyond recall you may also remember et al., ibid., op. cit., loc. cit., and q.v.. One that was used frequently in those bygone days that no one seems to use any more is D. V., the abbreviation of Deo volento, God willing.

As in next Tuesday, D.V., these ramblings will continue.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The “Hillsongization” of church music?

First came a wonderful essay called “The Slow Death of Congregational Singing” by Australian blogger Michael Raiter in April 2008 over at a blog called The Briefing. Then Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk (albeit a Baptist one), published what he called a “riff” on the article on his own blog, Each article sparked many intriguing, even provocative, comments that are also worth reading. Now Michael has singled out one comment by Tom Schwegel and posted it separately under the title “Why Contemporary Music Makes Congregational Singing So Difficult”, and it has spawned its own set of comments.

As a pianist and organist for many years, I find the subject fascinating, and I have my own opinions, of course. I’m not going to force you to read these articles and comments by posting them here, but I have included links to them so that if you are the least bit interested to know what others are thinking on the subject you can spend an entire afternoon reading lo, their many thoughts, if you like. And if you’re not the least bit interested, wait a little while and another post, God willing, will come along soon.

You're welcome.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tusen tak,* Jeannelle!

A faithful reader whom I have dubbed Jeannelle of Iowa (somehow, saying that always reminds me of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard the Lion-Hearted--but I digress) recently added links on her blog to two stories of mine that Garrison Keillor was kind enough to publish on his Prairie Home Companion site a while back. I will thank her by recommending that you go check out her fascinating blog about farm life in Iowa, Midlife by Farmlight. Jeannelle milks a mean cow and drives a mean tractor and rakes a mean field of hay and finds some mean wildflowers. I should also mention that Jeannelle is the person who took the photographs of the stained glass windows that I included in my post, “From the ridiculous to the sublime” earlier this month.

If you want to read my stories, Jeannelle’s link to Florabelle Oxley is just before her post called “Hog Calling,” and her link to Silver is just after her post called “Calf Eyelashes.” I could have put the story links here on my own blog, but that would deprive you of discovering a lot of interesting things to read and see on Jeannelle’s blog. When you get over there and poke about, you may decide not to even bother (gasp! a split infinitive! horrors!) with my stories.

* Tusen tak is what Norwegians say when they thank someone. I’m not Norwegian, but the phrase conveys more accurately than English what I wanted to tell Jeannelle: “A thousand thanks.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mangia! Mangia! (The summer journey continues)

Last evening our choir rehearsal room was transformed into a cozy little Italian ristorante because this week’s announced destinations were “Rome and Venice.” Oddly, I saw no evidence of either Rome or Venice, but upon entering the dimly lit room I heard music playing (some guy on a CD singing in Italian) and noticed several tables covered in red-and-white checkered tablecloths (courtesy of Maggiano’s). It could have been somewhere in Tuscany somewhere or possibly Newark, New Jersey. Each table was lit by candles and included a beautiful centerpiece of ivy (courtesy of Tina H.). From along one wall, the food-laden tables called to us. There were several pans of excellent lasagna (homemade by Chaundra K.); breadsticks and salad, two kinds, with and without olives (courtesy of Olive Garden); and the piéce de resistance (oops, that’s French, not Italian) and my personal favorites, two desserts: tiramasu and an Italian cream cake (courtesy of Carolyn S.). I wore the only Italian thing I could find at our house, an orange shirt with a label that said Alfani (and the words “Made in India”).

Needless to say, a good time was had by all, and choir practice followed. Have you ever tried to sing on a full stomach? Fortunately, I was playing the piano.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday ramblings

No one has ever accused me of thinking in a straight line. My side of a conversation tends to cover a lot of territory but I try to tie all the loose ends together by the time I’'m finished. So I thought I might have a “Tuesday ramblings” post each week. If it doesn’t work out, forget I ever mentioned it. It will be our little secret. But since today is Tuesday, here goes:

Our oldest son has been out of town on business, so we met our daughter-in-law for lunch on Sunday at Ruby Tuesday -- that’s a restaurant -- and then we took our grandchildren Matthew (almost 12) and Ansley (just turned 8) home with us for a couple of days. We returned them to their mother safe and sound late yesterday afternoon, but not before playing a lot of games -- Mexican Train Dominoes, Skip-Bo, Scrabble (twice), even Chess (with Matthew while Ansley helped Nana make a wonderful new dessert called Death By Cream Cheese) -- and when we weren’t playing games we were laughing at Jethro’s antics and giving him doggie treats or going to Canton for shakes at Arby’s. We also squeezed in a drive to our other son’s house because he and his family are out of town also and asked us to feed Sharpie, their black Lab. On Monday morning we spent an hour and a half at the pool with Matthew and Ansley before the day turned into a scorching, sultry beast to be avoided at all costs. All in all, it was two days of making happy memories, for them and for us.

On a typical Monday morning, one of the first things I do after signing on to the computer is read The Writer’s Almanac, a whole week’s worth, Monday through Sunday, all at one sitting. Don't ask me why; it’s just something I do. You can do it too by typing writersalmanac dot publicradio dot org or if you don’t want to tire yourself typing in all those letters you can click on it over there in the sideband. The Writer’s Almanac might not be your cup of tea, but I enjoy it immensely and usually learn a few new things.

With Matthew and Ansley here this week, I didn’t get my weekly dose of The Writer’'s Almanac until today. One of the things I learned is that today is the birthday of author Tom Robbins, and clicking on his name took me to an extended interview with him and a photograph of him. His shock of red hair makes him look a lot like actor Timothy Busfield, and if you don’t know who Timothy Busfield is you never watched thirtysomethings or The West Wing or Field of Dreams. Or if you were watching, you weren’t paying attention. Tom Robbins is the guy who whote Jitterbug Perfume and Still-Life With Woodpecker and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues and Half Asleep In Frog’s Pajamas and Another Roadside Attraction and Villa Incognito and Skinny Legs And All and a bunch of other stuff besides. I have read only two of his books, and I enjoyed one and didn’t enjoy the other. So the jury, in this corner at least, is still out. I’m not really recommending him. But in the interview he said two things that struck me and I want to pass them along to you.

Here’s the first statement: “My view of the world is not that different from Kafka’s, really. The difference is that Kafka let it make him miserable and I refuse. Life is too short. My personal motto has always been: Joy in spite of everything. Not just mindless joy, but joy in spite of everything. Recognizing the inequities and the suffering and the corruption and all that but refusing to let it rain on my parade. And I advocate this to other people.”

That part about “joy in spite of everything” really resonated with me. It’s so easy to get depressed and down in the mouth and Lord knows there are plenty of reasons not to feel “up” all the time, but I think Tom Robbins is on to something important. It might even be Scriptural (think Philippians 4:4). Think about it: JOY IN SPITE OF EVERYTHING.

And here's the second statement: “At the end of every writing day I feel like I’ve been wrestling in radioactive quicksand with Xena the Warrior Princess and her five fat uncles.”

As a fledgling blogger, I know that feeling. Someone asked Flannery O’Connor one time how writing short stories differed from writing a novel. She replied that it was like coming out of a deep, dark forest only to be set upon by a pack of wolves. Tom Robbins. Flannery O’Connor. Writers. My kind of people. They understand.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kalukalukahinahena ?!? No way!

In my last post, I told you about the “Around the World in Eighty Days” theme our choir is enjoying at this summer’s rehearsals. WarriorTeacher3, who knows me better than most of you, reminded me in a comment, “Don’t forget about the Hawaiian theme night you missed when you were in Alabama...something about a kalukalukahinahena ?!?”

What? Kalukalukahinahena ?!?

No, no, WarriorTeacher3, I sang you a song about a little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii, where the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (pronounced HOO-moo-HOO-moo-NOO-koo-NOO-koo-AH-poo-AH-ah) go swimming by. Today I found the lyrics on the Internet, and here they are:

I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii,
I want to be with all the kanes and wahines that I used to know long ago;
I can hear the old guitars a-playing on the beach at Honaunau,
I can hear the old Hawaiians saying, “Komo mai no kaua i ka hale welakahao.”

It won’t be long till my ship will be sailing back to Kona,
A grand old place that’s always fair to see (yes, siree)
Well I’m just a little Hawaiian, a homesick island boy,
I want to go back to my fish and poi.
I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii,
Where the humuhumunukunukuapua’a go swimming by.
Where the humuhumunukunukuapua’a go swimming by.

According to my source, the song was written by Bill Cogswell, Tommy Harrison and Johnny Noble, and copyrighted in 1933. It was introduced in Kona, Hawaii, at the July 4th canoe races that year. Harrison gave the song to John Noble to publish, who revised the music to give it an almost new melody without changing Cogswell’s words. This was done to dispel the claim that others had written the song. Once published, the song became a smash hit. Noble turned over the royalties to the Sherman Clay Co. in San Francisco for $500.00 advance royalty, giving the credit to Cogswell and Harrison. Kealakekua is the bay where Captain Cook was killed in 1779. Honaunau is the ancient City of Refuge and Kona is the district where both are located on the Big Island.

And now you know, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story, except that there’s more. The Disney people’s new High School Musical 2 contains a song about the humuhumunukunukuapua’a also, in which Ryan, Sharpay, and the girls sing this chorus:

Makihiki malahini-who
Hawana wakawakawakaniki pu pu pu.
wakawakawakaniki pu pu pu.
wakawakawakaniki pu...pu...pu!


If you can make sense out of that, may a large coconut that’s about to fall on your head be diverted by an expertly thrown pineapple. Oh, yes, one other thing. The scientific name of Hawaii’s official state fish, the humuhumnukunukuapua’a, is Rhinecanthus rectangulus according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. It (the fish, not the encyclopedia) is also known as the Picasso triggerfish, and it looks like this:

Friday, July 18, 2008

As I was saying...

I said all that to say this. Last summer and this summer our choir director decided we should have a summer-long “theme” on rehearsal nights to make attending choir rehearsals more fun in the middle of the hot summer and to attract more attendees during the vacation season. I can’t remember last year’s theme, but this summer the theme is “Around the World in Eighty Days.” Each week there is an emphasis on a different part of the world, complete with food to eat, native clothing to admire, with photographs, maps, and cultural objects on display. The first week we visited Colorado and Wyoming. The second week our destination was China, Japan, Korea and Singapore--complete with fried rice, egg drop soup, and paper lanterns. Since then we’ve visited Australia and Africa, and this week found us in the Middle East (which was expanded to include Greece, Turkey, and Israel).

On Wednesday this week our pre-rehearsal meal consisted of spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese wrapped in phyllo (pronounced “feel-oh”) dough), dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) with lemon sauce, gyro (“year-oh”) meat--strips of lamb--with tzaziki sauce, and bakhlava (more phyllo dough with nuts, honey, and I don’t know what all) that came from a local Greek restaurant. The table included a delicious African dish I can’t pronounce made with ground beef and English peas, and a Passover plate from Israel. No Israeli food, just the plate. To wash the goodies down we had the traditional Middle Eastern drinks: Coca-Cola, Sprite, and sweet iced tea. After that, our tummies full, we pulled out our music folders and attempted to have choir rehearsal. Around the room were hung various colorful, embroidered dresses and blouses from Africa, some sort of beaded percussion instrument, and a large Turkish flag.

We’re going to end our trip around the world in a few weeks by spending a winter evening in Vermont. We're not thinking of New England as a mission field necessarily (although there was that person who appeared to me in a dream saying, “Come over to New Hampshire and help us!”), but there needed to be an appropriate location to introduce this year’s Christmas music to the choir.

After the episode with the organ, I am ready for anything.
Even Vermont.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A short history

I am 67 years old and have attended the same church for the last 29 years. For about the first fifteen of those years, I played the piano and we went through three or four organists. We handled the entire service, from opening prelude and hymns all the way through to altar service and postlude. That was it; no other musical instruments. Gradually a small band took shape that consisted of a couple of trumpets, a flute, a drum set, a violin, even a tambourine. That ensemble gave way to a synthesizer keyboard, acoustic and electric guitars, an electric bass guitar, and the ever-present drums (eventually in a plexiglas cage so the sound guy could have some control of the blend, which, without the plexiglas cage, was non-existent). I was still playing the piano. Preludes and postludes morphed into reprises of praise choruses.

After one Christmas or Easter cantata that required removing the organ from the platform to make room for a revolving stage (I’m not even kidding), the organ completely disappeared from our services. It went off on organ hiatus and never returned. The terrible end of that particular story is that three or four years later it was cut up in pieces with a chain saw in a case of mistaken identity; another, smaller, broken, useless organ in one corner of the rehearsal room was supposed to be thrown out and the disposer thought the director meant the big organ behind the platform. The chain saw was used so that the pieces would fit more nicely into the dumpster. Again, I’m not even kidding. If you’re horrified, good. So was I. Before you have a heart attack, however, just remember that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And also that, though weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. Most of the people in the church don’t even know about that particular episode; it was kept very quiet. If you’re not horrified, just what kind of person are you, anyway?

We went through several choir directors over the years (Ministers of Music, I mean, even one fellow who was given the title “Director of Celebrative Arts” because he could play an electronic keyboard smashingly but he didn’t know squat about directing a choir). The last two Ministers of Music, covering eleven years, have been incredible pianists--one left us to get a doctorate in music at the University of Kentucky, and one came to us from a college teaching position--so my role changed to that of rehearsal pianist. I still substitute occasionally on Sunday when needed, and the rest of the time I sing baritone in the choir. We have no baritone section; what I mean is sometimes I sing bass and sometimes I sing second tenor. I sit “on the cusp” of the sections so that I can flip-flop like John Kerry and Barack Obama. The other guys never know what I’m going to be singing.

Eight years ago our choir peaked at 57 members. Currently, we have around 25 singers. I still play piano for most of the weddings (I manage a mean “Clair de Lune” and “Liebestraum” if I do say so myself) and most of the funerals at our church. It’s been an interesting journey to date.

I said all that to say something else, but this post is long enough. I'll get to the “something else” next time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back-from-Alabama, post-Bastille-Day thoughts

Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig. Ate a breakfast of pancackes and sausage cooked by our daughter; bought gasoline in northeast Alabama for $3.89 a gallon (name brand, too); spent nearly four hours driving through beautiful farm country with green hills for a backdrop, punctuated by an occasional herd of cattle or a shimmering lake; picked up Jethro from his favorite doggie dude ranch; unpacked the car; retrieved the mail from the neighbor across the street; waved to a neighbor from two blocks down the hill as he flew past on his green motorcycle and honked; dumped 1.7 inches of liquid sunshine out of the backyard rain gauge; spent some time catching up on my reading of other people’s blogs; played a game of Scrabble with Ellie.

God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.

Today is St. Swithin’s Day and I don’t even care.

Tomorrow could be an altogether different experience. Carpe diem, that’s the ticket!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Bastille Day!

I was going to post a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe or Notre Dame Cathedral or a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte or Louis XVI or Robespierre or somebody, but the thought of having to choose just one takes too much effort for moi in this Alabama heat and humidity. I did find an interesting crossword puzzle about Bastille Day but it was copyrighted, so ixnay on at-thay as well.

Whatever you're doing this quatorze juillet, do it with gusto befitting the day. Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! Croissants for everybody!

Friday, July 11, 2008

We're leaving, not on a jet plane

...and we do know when we'll be back again. Probably Tuesday afternoon. Oh Babe -- do you mind if we call you Babe? -- we love to go.

It’s off once again to Alabama to help our daughter with the young’uns (that would be nine-year-old Sawyer and seven-year-old Sam) because she has some major dental work scheduled for Monday. She is also scheduled to host her neighborhood’s monthly Bunko game on Monday evening. Don’t know how that’s all going to play out (pun intended), but it should be interesting to behold.

So this morning we will take Jethro to his favorite doggie dude ranch, where he gets to play with some 150-lb. Greater Swiss Mountain dogs for the next few days (and from what Frank and Rose S. tell us, he has a blast). Then we’ll pack the trusty old Camry (220,000 miles and counting) and head out for parts west. Don’t know if we’ll be blogging from there, but we’ll definitely be on the lookout for any stray banjos.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Mrs. Rhymeswithplague

A few days ago, rhymeswithplague was tagged by Jeannelle (see previous post). He tagged our daughter, who gave her responses in the comments section of that post. And then who did she decide to tag? ME. So I will respond in this post since I don’t have my own blog:

1. What was I doing ten years ago?
I was in a transitional state from being hired to being retired. My long career as an RN had just come to an end and I was trying to get used to being awake in the daytime and sleeping at night, something that hadn’t happened for eighteen years.

2. Five snacks I enjoy
Corn chips with any kind of salsa, baked pita chips with vegetable-cream cheese dip, pretzels with mustard, spanakopita, cashew nuts.

3. Five things on my to-do list today
Fix lunch, put away folded laundry, change linens, make supper, go to choir practice.

4. Things I’d want if I were a billionaire
A paid-off mortgage, bills completely wiped out, to tour the U.S.A. in a big R.V., to live my life out with my best buddy (rhymeswithplague, who else?).

5. Five jobs I’ve had
Nurse in an oral surgeon’s and plastic surgeon’s joint practice, domestic engineer, orthopaedic nurse in a hospital, neo-natal ICU nurse (of course, in a hospital), domestic engineer.

6. Five of my bad habits
Sitting up too late at night, getting up in the middle of the night to play games on the computer, putting off going to see doctors for as long as possible. If rhymeswithplague can stop at three, so can I.

7. Places I’ve lived
Philadelphia, PA; Wilson, NC; Orlando, FL; Bellevue, NE; Poughkeepsie, NY; Boca Raton, FL; Cobb and Cherokee Counties, GA.

So now it is my turn to tag someone else. I choose Pat, an Arkansas stamper.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


For the first time since I started blogging last September, I’ve been “tagged” -- not specifically, you imderstamd [oops, I meant understand, of course, but my fingers and brain must not have been connected, and thanks, Jeannelle, for bringing the typo to my attention so cleverly in your comment], but in a general, catch-all sort of way. Let me explain. Tagging is what it’s called when someone has been picked to answer a series of questions, then they pick someone else -- you -- to answer the same questions, and after you have answered them, you pick someone else to do the same thing. And on and on it goes, until everybody in the entire universe gets to play the game. Or so goes the theory.

My “blogger extraordinaire” cyber-friend, Jeannelle of Iowa, responded to a tag she received by notifying everyone -- EVERYONE -- who reads her blog that he/she/they had now been tagged. Here are the questions:

1. What was I doing ten years ago?
2. Five snacks I enjoy
3. Five things on my to-do list today
4. Things I’d want if I were a billionaire
5. Five jobs I've had
6. Five of my bad habits
7. Places I've lived

And here are my answers:

1. What was I doing ten years ago? Contemplating early retirement, celebrating our 35th anniversary, driving a 1996 Toyota Camry, enjoying my three grandchildren (now there are six), playing with my white poodle, Pierre Jean-Jacques Dubois (P.J. for short), vacationing in Florida.

2. Five snacks I enjoy. Potato chips, chicken salad on club crackers, tortilla chips with peach-mango salsa, cashews, either lemon meringue pie or butter pecan ice cream (maybe that’s a dessert, not a snack).

3. Five things on my to-do list today. Wish my daughter-in-law a happy birthday, spend the day with Elijah and Noah while their parents go faux a room somewhere, send a baby gift to our new great-niece in Texas, pay some bills online, play Scrabble and/or Skip-Bo with Ellie.

4. Things I’d want if I were a billionaire. Good health, twenty-five more years with Ellie, friends that like me for me and not my money, a summer home in Banff, a winter home in Maui.

5. Five jobs I’ve had. Soda jerk, steno-typist at Santa Fe Railroad, church organist, technical writer, computer programmer.

6. Five of my bad habits. Interrupting others when they're speaking, hogging the computer, I can’t think of any other bad habits -- oh, yeah, denial.

7. Places I’ve lived. Pawtucket, RI; Mansfield, TX; Bellevue, NE; Poughkeepsie, NY; Boca Raton, FL.

And now--tah-dah!--I tag none other than MY DAUGHTER! You know you who are.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

From the ridiculous to the sublime

We now leave the strange and entertaining world of fruits and vegetables to turn to something a little different: the beauty of stained glass windows.

Blogger extraordinaire Jeannelle, a farmer's wife in Iowa, has been taking photographs of the stained glass windows in the church she and her husband attend and showing them on her blog on Sundays. The church, built in 1873, is part of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LCMS) denomination. I’ve put her four most recent windows together into this single post today.

Do you notice anything unusual about these four windows? Look closely. Each window honors one of the Four Evangelists, the writers of the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, respectively. So far, nothing unusual. But you may be surprised to see that each of the four central figures is shown with wings. You may be even more surprised to realize that the images are a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Your reaction might be similar to mine: Why in the world are these figures used to represent Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

I“m glad you asked. You will need to read the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament, and you also will need to read the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation in the New Testament. I won’t quote these passages here; you’ll have to go read them for yourself. Then you will know the source of the four images and that they are angelic creatures, spiritual beings, heavenly in origin. So why did the early Church fathers associate these symbols to the Four Evangelists? I don't know; you’ll have to ask them yourself when you see them in Heaven, or go surf the Internet if you can’t wait that long.

When you get to Heaven--if you get to Heaven--you may also want to do two other things: ask God why He created these funny bodies of ours in just the way He did, and notify Adam and Eve that they have a lot of explaining to do. You’ll have all eternity to understand their answers, and all eternity to ask lots more questions. Or you may want to spend all eternity joining in praise and worship of Almighty God. The angels have been doing just that for a long time already. And so have, I think, the creators of the stained glass windows and the builders of the Lutheran church in Iowa.

In the meantime, go to to read more of Jeannelle’s fascinating blog.

Theory debunked

Here’s proof that figs do not hang in twos:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Could any of this stuff possibly be true?

A cyberspace friend in Iowa who writes about living on a farm received the following information in a recent e-mail and has shared it with us on her blog:

Amazing! God left us a great clue as to what foods help what part of our body. A sliced carrot looks like the human eye. The pupil, iris, and radiating lines look just like the human eye...and yes, science now shows carrots greatly enhance blood flow to and function of the eyes. A tomato has four chambers and is red. The heart has four chambers and is red. All of the research shows tomatoes are loaded with lycopine and are indeed pure heart and blood food. Grapes hang in a cluster that has the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell and all of the research today shows grapes are also profound heart- and blood-vitalizing food. A walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles or folds on the nut are just like the neo-cortex. We now know walnuts help develop more than three dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function. Kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function and yes, they look exactly like the human kidneys. Celery, bok choy, rhubarb look just like bones. These foods specifically target bone strength. Bones are 23% sodium and these foods are 23% sodium. If you don’t have enough sodium in your diet, the body pulls it from the bones, thus making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body. Avocadoes, eggplant, and pears target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female--they look just like these organs. Today’s research shows that when a woman eats one avocado a week, it balances hormones, sheds unwanted birth weight, and prevents cervical cancers. And how profound is this? It takes exactly nine months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. There are over 14,000 photolytic chemical constituents of nutrition in each one of these foods (modern science has studied and named only about 141 of them). Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the mobility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcome male sterility. Sweet potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics. Olives assist the health and function of the ovaries. Oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits look just like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts. Onions look like the body’s cells. Today’s research shows onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells. They even produce tears, which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes. A working companion, garlic, also helps eliminate waste materials and dangerous free radicals from the body.

(end of e-mailed article)

The English major in me says so little time, so many simple sentences. But are these many facts related to one another in any meaningful way? Today’s research may say yes; tomorrow’s may say something else.

One thing I know for sure: I’ll never eat another banana or look at a fig bush in quite the same way ever again.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Great job, T.J.!

The second guy from the left there on Mount Rushmore, the one peering over George Washington's left shoulder while Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln share a private joke (at least it appears that way from this angle) is none other than Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, architect of the University of Virginia and Monticello, and -- tah-dah!! -- author of the Declaration of Independence, which first saw the light of day 232 years ago today.

Here, without further comment, is the text of that world-changing document, which was signed by fifty-six men representing all thirteen American colonies:

The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

I can't resist one comment. President John F. Kennedy said in 1962, at a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners, that the occasion was “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Here a gun, there a gun, everywhere a gun, gun...

No, it’s not a verse of Old MacDonald Had A Farm (E-I-E-I-O), it’s just something in the air of late. After the recent 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court clarifying that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to individuals as well as the forming of militias, the topic is on many people’s minds.

Over at Dr. Scot McKnight's “Jesus Creed” blog (the Jesus Creed is simply this: Love God and love others as yourself), the typical post gets twenty, thirty comments. Scot’s post of June 27th about the Court’s decision was entitled, “I don’t care if it is law, it just doesn’t seem right” and has garnered 177 comments so far. Then today, mixed in with all his other posts about Heaven, Our Reasonable Faith, Dr. Dobson and Conservative Politicians, The Gospel of Ruth, etc., is another post, a question this time, “Do You Own A Gun?”

Since I have no right to anyone else’s words but my own, I will repeat a tactic I used a few months back and show you only my own contributions to Dr. McKnight’s threads. If you want to read what others have said as well, go to for the entire exchange.

From the June 27th thread:

9. Scot, the other side of the coin that is your title (“I don’t care if it is law, it just seems so wrong”) is a line from a long-ago Christian comedy album called Tiptoe Through the Tithers: “It must be the will of the Lord ’cause it seems so right to me.” Both points of view don’t reflect much prayer having gone on regarding whatever subject is being talked about.

Jump to conclusions, that’s the ticket.

Some of the writings of the Founding Fathers indicate that the right to keep and bear arms, in addition to easing the forming of a militia, puts government leaders on notice that the populace will resist government-imposed tyranny as well.

If that is shocking, you don’t know your history.

31. Re Scot (#10): Not that the point isn’t known, but the point is that times have changed. Do you think we should bear arms to prepare ourselves to resist tyranny?

Sorry to be so long in replying. I had to run out to my local gun store...just kidding.

I do not agree that times have changed. And people haven’t changed either. Still sinful. Still struggling. Only the technology is different.

To answer your question, I think if someone doesn’t bear arms, tyranny will be encouraged at home and abroad. Look at Germany between the World Wars. It changed very suddenly. We could too. But I personally do not own a weapon. Maybe that’s being spiritual. Maybe it’s only passing the buck.

Pray for me and I’ll pray for you. Let us both pray for our country and our world.

40. Apparently the “settled understanding” of which Justice Stevens speaks wasn’t so settled.

43. It isn’t a “new constitutional right.” According to the majority opinion, it’s right there in the Second Amendment, been there all along.

119. Scot (#113), It was said during the Viet Nam era, in the days before our country had an all-volunteer military, that the U.S. government never forces anyone to kill people. What the U.S. government does is draft you into the military, give you free food and clothing, train you how to kill people, give you the equipment to kill people with, give you a free airplane ride to a country ten thousand miles away, set you down in the middle of a jungle where lots of other people are trying to kill you, and let you make your own decision.

So much for how well turning the other cheek works in the real world.

By scrunching up all my powers of observation, I gather from this post and all the comments that there is not an agreed-upon “evangelical position” on the subject, your own opinion notwithstanding.

147. RJS, what do you do with Genesis 9:5-6, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

The Lord is speaking here to Noah after the flood, and seems to be specifically requiring the death penalty for killing a man, because man was made in God’s image.

161. Let us say the flooding in Iowa and Missouri are “reality.” So the local populace in towns along the rivers have decided to “fight back” the menace by stockpiling sandbags in order to be ready when the trouble comes. Are all of you nice people saying they should just let Ol’ Man River come in and destroy their towns, with possible human deaths the result, because that is what you have decided Jesus would do? After all, He told the Sea of Galilee, “Peace, be still” and we should all be acting as He acted. Right?

172. Scot (#162) and RJS (#164), Yes, my post (#161) was facetious. Well, semi-facetious. “Somewhat” tongue in cheek, as you say. But only somewhat.

And of course it isn’t an argument. Still, it makes one think.

If you don’t close off the comments soon, this topic may go on forever, because no one is likely to convince anyone else.

And from the new post, the one started today:

13. Somewhere deep inside me, a paranoid streak says that Big Brother or terrorists or some diabolical group could monitor threads like this one and decide, probably rightly, that Christians would make an easy target, defenseless as they are and all that. I know it’s crazy. Or maybe not. As the old coffee cup says, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”

About the guns, my dad owned a .22 rifle and a .12-gauge shotgun for hunting and a .38 pistol (handgun) for protection. Never used the pistol as far as I know, but kept it in the bedroom, loaded. My mother was petrified, and I suppose her fear was absorbed by me. I don’t own a gun and don’t want one. Dad took me hunting once; I killed a squirrel and felt terrible about it and never wanted to hunt again. I went skeet-shooting as an adult and did pretty well; it was fun for a little while, but soon got very boring. As far as I know, my two sons do not own guns. My daughter is married to a policeman; he has taken her to a firing range and taught her how to handle a pistol. I am deeply conflicted about the whole thing, because, yes, guns are dangerous. But sometimes they seem to be necessary to keep the wolf from the door.

Fortunately, most people don’t have to find their own food nowadays; we leave the slaughtering of animals to others and feel superior in our gunlessness. Of course, there’s always vegetarianism, but I suppose that is a topic for another day.

No one said any of this had to make any sense.

The new thread has 17 comments already and it’s not even 8:30 a.m. yet.

Some of you have now heard all of my thoughts on the subject of guns that you ever care to hear. But if any of you are interested in what other Christians have to say, the Jesus Creed blog awaits you.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Say what?

I am indebted to the History News Network at George Mason University for the following information, which was first published on their website on June 30, 2001.

America’s independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776, not July 4. The night of the second the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement: “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”

So what happened on the Glorious Fourth? The document justifying the act of Congress--you know it as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence--was adopted on the fourth, as is indicated on the document itself, which is, one supposes, the cause for all the confusion. As one scholar has observed, what has happened is that the document announcing the event has overshadowed the event itself.

When did Americans first celebrate independence? Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the news July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.

John Adams, writing a letter home to his beloved wife Abigail the day after independence was declared (that is, July 3), predicted that from then on “the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.” A scholar coming across this document in the nineteenth century quietly “corrected” the document, Adams predicting the festival would take place not on the second but the fourth.

Hanging in the grand Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States is a vast canvas painting by John Trumbull depicting the signing of the Declaration. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote, years afterward, that the signing ceremony took place on July 4. When someone challenged Jefferson’s memory in the early 1800’s Jefferson insisted he was right. The truth? As David McCullough remarks in his new biography of Adams, “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

So when was it signed? Most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later. And their names were not released to the public until later still, January 1777. The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it. Years later Jefferson claimed to remember the event clearly, regaling visitors with tales of the flies circling overhead. But as he was wrong about the date, so perhaps he was wrong even about the flies.

The truth about the signing was not finally established until 1884 when historian Mellon Chamberlain, researching the manuscript minutes of the journal of Congress, came upon the entry for August 2 noting a signing ceremony.

(end of article)

Pondering whether an announcement of an event can overshadow the event itself brings to mind the old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Maybe yes, maybe no, since any sound waves traveling through the air don’t encounter an ear to detect their presence, but there can be no dispute that the forest is changed and will never be the same as before. Something happened in the world on July 2, 1776, and while the sound waves may not have registered on public ears until July 4th, the world has never been the same.

[Update: In commenting on this post, Jeannelle from Iowa wrote something astounding: “Maybe God created humans so there would be receptors for His Word.” Now there’s a statement really worth pondering.]

<b> Mundane is also a word</b>

My blogger friend Rachel Phillips is currently in the midst of a series of posts (three so far) about a trip she took with her friends Liz...