Monday, December 29, 2008

Weekend Update - December 29, last one of the year!

The Weekend That Was - Ah Christmas weekend! We went to the midnight service where for the last 20+ years I've done a narration of the service on one of our local radio stations. Originally the script called for me to talk during every single part of the service EXCEPT the sermon. I've scaled it way back since then. But this year a variety of technical problems knocked us off the air so I got to just be a worshipper mostly. It was very cool. Christmas was wonderful and leisurely. My favorite kind. Yes, I got cool presents. My favorite is probably "Think Like a Chef" by Tom Colicchio. Looks like fun. Then down to Pittsburgh to visit the in-laws (good visit), my lady wife's only brother (and the kid's only cousin on that side of the family)(another good visit) and then go see some of my side of the family (also a good visit). So it was fun. Sunday was a little shopping with Christmas money. I got a history of comics on sale. Should provide many, many hours of enjoyment.

The To Do List - I need to work very hard at not working. My office is closed (as are all our diocesan offices) until the New Year. I need to spend family time, and me time right now.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Not procrastinating, just not doing things at the moment.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? Knocked off "American Lightning" by Howard Blum. It's the story of the first "Crime of the Century" of the 20th century, the Los Angeles Times building explosion. It involves Clarence Darrow, D.W.Griffith and William Burns (the "American Sherlock Holmes"). Domestic terrorism, labor unions, and the birth of Hollywood. I thought the Griffith connection was a little bit of a reach but only a little. Well written and fascinating history especially in view of recent politics in this country. The first 20 years of the last century can be extremely educational when it comes to looking at what's been happening in the most recent decade of American life. I'm working on "I Wish I'd Been There, vol 2". Historians are asked what historic event do wish you'd been there to witness. This book focuses on European history so it's been the writing of Magna Carta, the firing of Handel, Hannibal crossing the Alps. Pretty good stuff so far.

Caught a few more Christmas classics. Watched the complete unedited version of "White Christmas" but haven't been around to watch too much more recently.

Next Up New Year's Eve which is a yawn around here. The kid will be away with her friends so it'll just be my lady wife and which is really the way I prefer it. If we get a really interesting invite we might go but it's unlikely. Much more fun, just the two of us! I'm refusing to think about anything beyond that.

How Am I Doing I'm feeling much cheerier. I hope I can carry that through into the new year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thoughts on a Christmas Eve

First let me send my wishes for the happiest, merriest, holiest Christmas possible.

Christmas here should be pretty good. The kid is home and there's a lot of laughter in the house. Money is tight for us as for so many others. The reality is that we've never had a lot of money. You don't get rich working in small town radio or for the church. There might be a present or two less under the tree but that's OK. We'll go and visit some relatives. The weather has decided to cooperate which is always nice as well.

Some other thoughts about Christmas have been fussing at me. When I finally unpacked them I realized they weren't worth talking about here. Some folks have problems with Christmas. Some are personal, some are theological. I don't have to enter into their problems.

I love Christmas. I love the emphasis on peace and good will. I wish we took them more seriously and tried to live Christmas every day. I wish the same thing for Easter. For me the story of a family facing all kinds of troubles, struggling to find a roof over their heads and the arrival of a new life into the world always speaks to me. It's perhaps even more poignant this year.

I've always felt a special affection for Joseph, the father of Jesus in this world. I know the emphasis is always on Jesus and Mary and that's fine. But is it really that easy to overlook the man who also heard God's call and answered it. He took up his own burden on faith. Joseph gets forgotten after the Christmas story. Maybe it's just because I too got a surprise baby around this time of year (although certainly Jesus wasn't born this time of year). If you look back at a recent post of mine you'll probably figure out some of my feeling of connection with Joseph.

I can't wait for the midnight service. Even though I'll be "working" rather than comfortable in the pew (in fact only the kid will be in the pew. My lady wife will be the thurifer tonight) I love this service. Of all of it my favorite part is the end. The lights are turned off, the parishioners hold lit candles as we sing "Silent Night" It's a wonderful feeling.

We'll open a present tonight, then have the big opening tomorrow morning. I had never heard of opening presents on Christmas Eve till I moved up here. Apparently it's fairly common around here. Tonight we'll open a small present. Then tomorrow get up a little late (ah, the joy of having a GROWN UP child!), make the Christmas morning special breakfast, open presents with Christmas music playing in the background (TSO and Vince Guaraldi plus more traditional music). It'll be calm and fun as we watch our two little cats exploring through the jungle of shredded paper and pine needles.

I'm looking forward to Christmas. May your Christmas be bright.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Lovely word gobsmacked. If I understand it correctly it means to be greatly surprised, stunned even by a sudden turn of events.

And that's exactly how I feel about the football pool this morning.

It was a wretched week. I only got 9 of 16 games right, I missed on my top two favorites (Tampa Bay losing to San Fran and Houston losing to Oakland) so I knew my point total was going to get hammered.

Well so did everyone else's. With 77 points (which is like 60% of the total available) I was only 20 points behind this week's #1! So instead of FALLING in the standings, I ROSE in the standings! Only 3 people above me overall outscored me this week. Astoundingly I'm now only 90 points out of first place overall. Of course with only 1 week left the chances of me winning approach zero. But my goal was to finish in the top 10 (only 8 points away) and within 10% of the winner's total points (I'll have to finish within 150 points of first so I'm probably in pretty good shape for that one too).

The really funny thing is that I'm totally dumped the statistics analysis routine and just gone with my gut. Watch out for coast to coast games (like that TB/SF one!), watch out for division games, rivalry games and bad team/bad team and good team/good team matches. The problem becomes teams like San Diego who can be very good and very awful. Tough to pick week to week.

So I'm at #14 overall and was #14 for the week as well. Pretty sweet. One last big week and we'll see how we do.

Otherwise a bunch more snow last night. Followed by rain and 40 degrees on Weds, snow and 30 degrees for Christmas, rain and 40s Friday, rain and 50s Saturday then winter returns. Weird. But we can use some snow pile reduction again so I won't complain. And it makes doing some Christmas travelling easier too.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weekend Update December 22

The Weekend That Was - Well I wanted an "off" weekend and I got it. Weather shut things down on Friday, I had nothing planned for Saturday and then another storm canceled my meeting on Sunday. So I totally goofed off. And it felt GREAT!!!!! The weather has been a bear and the worst is still to come it appears. I'm doing this late on Sunday evening and we may wake up to well over a foot tomorrow. Gotta wait and see. But it's been nice to relax this weekend. We did Britten's Lessons and Carols at church this morning which was pretty cool. Great sermon that sounded like it was aimed right at me. Don't you love those? Excellent work by our associate rector as always. But MAN IT'S COLD OUT THERE!!! Temps are in the single digits and wind chills are around -1. Lovely.

The To Do List - Worked on a few more small projects, worked on some stuff for a Youth Commission retreat next year. Need to follow up with some folks on some other things before Christmas break starts.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Not too much at the moment. Kinda strange.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? Ripped through "Tried By War - Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief". Really enjoyable and I think pretty even handed. Points out where Lincoln made political compromise, made mistakes and got things right. Really recommend it if you're into American history and military history. It was a great break from everything I've been reading recently. The book is shorter than I expected because it has a couple dozen pages of footnotes.

No music but a couple movies. Finally watched "The Truman Show" with Jim Carrey. This was a really fun movie. It's funny that Carrey can do such good quality work when he takes the shot. An interesting concept, well written, acted and directed. I really enjoyed this one. I probably would have seen it sooner except so much of Carrey's work is just stupid. Not this one though.

Plus watched a Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life" A classic. I don't care if people think that Capra is naive and not cynical enough. Thank God for that. I forget how much fun it is. And I love the styles. Why did men ever stop wearing great hats like this? And any movie that stars Jimmy Stewart is worth watching.

Next Up Christmas! What more do you need in a week?

How Am I Doing Still trying to find my way. It's great to know that I have friends and support in this struggle. It's a little brighter and that's a pretty good feeling.


Friday, December 19, 2008

R.I.P. Majel Barrett Roddenberry

There's no way I was going to pass this up. Majel Barrett Rodenberry died yesterday at age 76 of leukemia. The "First Lady of Star Trek" was the only actor to appear on every Star Trek version including the movie to be released next year. Any Star Trek fan can tell you she was Number One in the pilot, Christine Chapel (who was in love with Spock. Ironic since the network had demanded Roddenberry get rid of her character and she was replaced by Spock. The network didn't like his character any better but let Roddenberry have his way. Turned out to be a good thing), she was also commonly the voice of the computer on the Enterprise and Voyager, and played Lwaxana Troi. The contrast between the characters of Troi and Chapel was fascinating. Christine was very uptight and repressed while Lwaxana was sexually aggressive.

What I didn't know was that she also had connections with Lucille Ball (hometown girl here in Jamestown). Lucy met her early in Barrett's career, liked her, signed her to a Desilu contract and taught her comedy technique. Barrett appeared in episodes of "I Love Lucy", "Bonanza", "Leave It To Beaver" and "The Untouchables" among others.

She married Roddenberry following the cancellation of the original show. She worked as executive producer on several programs, made a variety of guest appearances and ran the company that oversaw the Star Trek legacy after Gene Roddenberry's death in 1991.

Star Trek fans will get one last chance to hear her iconic voice in the next movie. She had completed the voice over work just days before she died.

Thank you Majel.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A couple quick items

In my family we have a concept called "Threat of treatment".

Examples -

The minute you make an appointment for your mechanic to look at your car that noise goes away.

The minute you make the appointment to see the doctor the cough/fever/whatever goes away.

The laser printer here in the parish house wasn't working. We called the repair guy. It just ran off 12 perfect two sided copies.


One of my favorite Episcopal blogs is "Telling Secrets" by Mother Elizabeth Kaeton. She's smart, she's funny and oh yeah she's got that whole living a life in faith thing down pretty good too. Well she's got a great Christmas gift with a twist post up here. You should definitely check it out. Hard to pick my favorite item but I know how much it annoys my coffee addicted brothers and sisters to have someone take their cup. So how about this:


Lock Cup - Anti-Theft Coffee Cup. Are you tired of others stealing your coffee cup? Well now there's a solution. The Lock - Cup has a hole which prevents most people from using it. Only the owner of the cup can use his/hers shaped key to close the hole.

Check out the banana guard, day clock, toilet seat lifter and more...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Lunch that conquered defeat

When I woke up this morning I knew it wasn't any better.

My lady wife has been asking me for days if something was wrong and I kept telling her no, I was fine. I knew that wasn't true but I couldn't put my finger on what the problem was either. So there was no good answer.

I felt sad. I felt tired. Mentally, physically and especially spiritually. I felt defeated.

Yes, there at last was the word I'd searched for.


Defeated in my life. Defeated in my ministry. Defeated in my marriage (through my failings no one else's). Defeated in my career.

I work hard. I do good work. But it just wasn't enough.

I wasn't living anything close to the dreams I'd had. I wasn't providing what I wanted to provide for my family. I wasn't producing what I thought I should be able to produce in my work and ministry.

Defeated. Not incompetent just not competent enough. Not untalented just not talented enough. Not unintelligent just not intelligent enough.

I stopped by my rector's office to follow up on some work and we chatted. I admitted that I was deeply into a bout of the (pardon the language) "I just don't give a shit anymores". Nice that I can say that to my rector. No other words would quite carry the emotional content as well. I just didn't give a shit anymore.

Why bother? I've been the guy who says "Good enough, isn't". I've been the guy who said "The company has given us all the tools we need. If we can't perform under these circumstances they ought to fire us". I've been that idealistic, eyes shining as they gaze at the glorious future idiot. And what did it get me? Fired from my last job because I wouldn't play those stupid office politics and focused on doing my job.

And my rector said "Can I buy you lunch?"

So we went to lunch. And he never told me that I was wrong. In fact he told me that I had a right to feel that way. Then he told me that I wasn't seeing the whole picture.

We talked about a bunch of stuff and I remembered that I've done a lot of things of which I'm justifiably (I think) proud. I've made tough decisions and put myself second to care for my family. There's not one of those decisions, looking back, that I regret. They were right. Then and now.

There are plenty of folks who would look at my life and see a steady stream of success. I've had jobs where I've made an honest to God difference in people's lives. And yes people like me, they really, really like me. Some of them even respect me and pay attention to what I say.

I've made sacrifices. I've put my career on hold several times to make sure my family was OK. My life isn't perfect but it's still pretty darn good. The bad parts can still be worked on even at my "advanced age" (He really said that to me. Terrible thing to have a rector younger than yourself).

An hour, two chicken fajitas and some refried beans later and I no longer felt defeated. It's at least the second time my rector has gotten me turned around when things seemed pretty dark. There are still things to work on but at least it's not quite so dark in my heart any more

He's pretty sharp, my rector.

That's him right here, Fr. Eric Williams.

You should all be as lucky as I am.


The Biggest Loser!

Michelle won and with an amazing percentage of weight loss.

I must admit that I desperately wanted someone other than Vicki to win. When we saw that her total loss (which to be fair was VERY impressive) wasn't enough to put her in first place a cheer went up in our house. I don't like the way Vicki played the game. Period. She was nasty and manipulative and it offended me. So I reserved the right to root for other people. I hope she and her hubby are very happy and that their family turns their life around.

But I'm glad she lost.

As always the change in some of the contestants was astounding. Shellay and Amy C looked fabulous as did ALL the women. Stacey, Renee, Heba (holy cow girl!), Colleen, Amy P, all of them revealed the healthier beauty within. The guys did very well as well (except for Tom and LT, better but not great) with the standouts being Jerry (the show literally, and I mean LITERALLY, saved his life) and Phil. Phil was just amazing to me out of all the guys.

This show continues to inspire me to push on with the changes I'm making in my life. In my most recent weight loss contest I dropped 11 more pounds in 13 weeks. Compared to the TV show that's pretty puny. But it's a reasonable and sustainable weight loss. I started just before my birthday this year and I hope to be over the 30 pounds lost mark by the anniversary of that date. That would lead me just 15-20 pounds more to lose to be at what my doctor agrees is a healthy weight for me.

I want to take a moment for special thanks to Matthew McNutt, youth minister and contestant on season three of Biggest Loser. He's been a cheerleader all year for youth ministers trying to change our lives. And he's led by example! Matt lost 176 pounds and he did it at home! That's his before and after here on the right. Thank you Matt for what you've done to support us and inspire us. Slowly but surely I'm getting skinny and strong.

Next season on the Biggest Loser looks interesting. They have a 63 year old couple and a 19 year old who is the heaviest person ever (?) on the show. His doctors worry that at his weight he may not live to see 30. Makes me and my 20 pounds to go seem pretty simply in comparison.

Congrats again to Michelle.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Update December 15

The Weekend That Was - Still running around on weekends! Yeesh. The diocesan staff Christmas party was Friday night at the bishop's house (fun as always) then we stayed the night at a local hotel since we were picking up the kid the next day. Did a little Christmas shopping and then home. Up Sunday to lead our adult forum. We're doing an Advent series based on hymns. My "topic" was the second coming. Not too many land mines there, lol. The discussion went well. Out for lunch then home to watch most of the Bills fiasco and the first half of the Steelers game. My football pool is going to get hammered. I picked lots of winners but the Redskins, Titans and Cardinals just killed my point total. Sigh. Baked some cookies and a small fruitcake (never done a small fruitcake before!). Then watched a movie (see below). I just want a "not doin' nuttin'" kind of weekend!

The To Do List - Bumped off a few small projects (Yay! and there was much rejoicing) I'll be attending a meeting of whatever remnant exists of a congregation that has left TEC. It's our first in WNY, so the bishop and several members of the staff will be there. There might be more of us than them but we'll see. Then some more small projects still in my sights.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Would it surprise you to discover that this is my LEAST favorite part of this post each week? Procrastination is part of my lifestyle. I actually have some phone I should have made weeks ago that I need to report on come Sunday. So I better get my butt in gear.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? Finished the Brautigan and moved on to the new Jan Karon book "Home to Holly Springs". I love the Mitford books and this one (which doesn't take place in Mitford at all) is absolutely wonderful. I only have one small grump with it (Fr. Tim runs into one of his old buddies in a rather unlikely way). It's one of the few books I've read recently that I just wanted to keep on reading till it was over. It was fun. I needed that. I think I'm going to work on a book about Lincoln as Commander in Chief. Curiously, given that he spent more time on that aspect of the presidency than any other there are virtually no books written about it. Given my affection for both the president and military history I think I'll like this one.

Not much music again this week. Listened to some music the kid played on the college station. One song really jumped out at me "Girl's Not Grey" by AFI. Really like that cut.

This week's movie was - Minority Report. Sigh. I really wanted to like this movie and it's pretty good. But it makes the mistake so many sci-fi movies do, sacrifice story for special effects. In the last 30-40 minutes they abandon the high visuals and actually dig into the story and the movie gets MUCH better. A really good story idea (well, duh it's a Philip K. Dick story) with a fair to middlin' cast. Cruise is his usual rather brittle 'droid but in the right roles it works. And I think it was fine here. But it could have been so much better.

Next Up The meeting in Tonawanda, Youth Commission and then CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! Oh, which reminds me,need to do some shopping!

How Am I Doing Feeling a little disconnected spiritually right now. Probably a good time to really get into Advent.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

6 Random Facts

I'll jump in on this meme following marko's lead

6 Random facts about myself:

1: My name was my father's nickname which he got from a role in a high school play. I actually have his script from that show.

2: Some of the most reviled foods are among my favorites - Spam, fruitcake, circus peanuts.

3: I still own two childhood toys - my teddy bear and bunny rabbit. They've gone everywhere with me, even to college.

4: I have suffered from panic attacks since I was 2 1/2 years old. I didn't figure out what they were till I was 30. I haven't had a full blown panic attack in 15 years. Tiny things can trigger them. I mean little small objects. I have no idea why.

5: I've held the following jobs: dishwasher (twice), bellhop, parking lot attendant, shuttle bus driver, radio newscaster, Morning drive time DJ (twice), Afternoon drive time DJ (twice), copy writer, radio talk show host, actor, painter, muffin baker, Operations manager, youth minister. So that makes, what, 14 different jobs spread over 17 different opportunities.

6: I've been pulled over by the police 4 times, only got a ticket once, and that was the time I was pulled over while sailing on a lake. True story. The other three were in cars and the cop let me off each time.

Yeah, those are fairly random.



Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Stupidest man in America?

On another note is this the stupidest man in America?

From the Associated Press:

CHICAGO – Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.



What you figured no one would notice?

I'm grumpy, you may not want to talk to me

My volleyball was swept out of the playoffs.

I had the worst week of anyone in the top 10 in the football pool and have fallen to #13.

Just got back from my doctor and while most of my blood tests came back with improvement (some quite improved) she's still on about heart attack risk, more drugs and oh yes my personal favorite, the possibility that I might be diabetic or at least headed that way. I find that news extremely unsettling (to say the least). All this despite the fact that I continue to lose weight, exercise and watch my diet. Apparently I need to lose MORE weight, exercise MORE, and watch my diet MORE. All in response to possibilities. She's a good doc which why I continue to listen but I wonder if perhaps she isn't a bit TOO proactive in her style.

I am not a happy camper.

My weigh in this morning did show another pound lost, down to 187.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Going Postal

Ian Robertson is the media guy at Youth Specialties and is doing a personal project called "12 Films in 12 Months" This is Film #10 "Going Postal". Lotsa fun! Especially if you like zombie flicks and twist endings!

Weekend Update December 8

The Weekend That Was - Ok my weekends have gotten way too busy! Looking forward to a nice quiet weekend at home sometime soon. Let's see Friday I wandered down to the Christmas party for our local Arts Council low power FM radio station (WRFA) where I volunteer and record a short media commentary program. We had a Christmas parade in downtown, in the bitter cold. Temps in the mid teens. Chatted with some folks, listened to a few minutes of a short live concert from 10,000 Maniacs (which was very cool)and then went home. Saturday was an organizational meeting with my Lutheran friends then off to college to take the kid out to dinner for her birthday followed by a concert with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. TSO is a major hit with the ladies in the family. I enjoy them. But we didn't get home till about 2 AM after driving through some really nasty snow. So I slept in on Sunday (and yes feel the tiniest bit guilty). Did a lot of snowblowing and a lot of cooking (marinara, red pepper hummus, spicy chicken peanut soup and baked some bread). Watched a little bit of the Bills looking wretched, most of the Steelers looking fairly bad (till the end), watched a movie (see below) then called it a night. Didn't feel like much of a weekend break, really.

The To Do List - No change from last week. Which is bad. "More little projects, dubbing DVDs so they're ready for the January mailing, camp stuff, revitalization team. Oh and attending a meeting for the faithful remnant left after members and clergy of one of our congregations departed TEC. And a doctor's appointment." Sigh. Yet I actually did get some stuff done last week!

What Am I Procrastinating About? - It has become apparent to me that I need to regress to my youth. I need to have "homework time". Time when I'm not allowed to watch TV or do other fun stuff till I get my work done. So I'm going to set aside 7-8 PM every night as homework time. Yeesh.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? I bumped off two Goldsborough written Nero Wolf books "Death on a Deadline" and "Silver Spire" then jumped into another Richard Brautigan book "Trout Fishing in America". Brautigan was a strange guy but I'm really enjoying his stuff. I know some of his critics hammer him for his naivety but I find it charming and a wonderful change of pace. In case you're wondering this book really isn't about trout fishing. Although trout fishing does occur. My favorite chapter so far was the trout fishing in America terrorism incident in the 6th grade. Just delightful.

Not much music this week. Jammed out to my "radio" mixes on my ipod. Music that spans ZZ Top to AFI. Got some serious work done to it.

Great movie last night - Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin among others (oh, gotta mention Bruce McGill (D-Day from Animal House). I just really enjoy seeing him in stuff). A warm, funny romance about small towns and family. I really liked it a lot.

Next Up The to do list is getting LONGER instead of shorter. Argh.

How Am I Doing Feeling a little disconnected spiritually right now. Probably a good time to really get into Advent.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Gone international

Great googly moogly, I've been noticed in dispatches again!

His grace, Mad Priest, has honored me for the second time by linking to this humble blog. Apparently he has a soft spot for the occasional moment of "Awwwwwwww". He said some nice things about my post on the kid's birthday. Mad Priest

This is a much better notice than last time when he accused me (incorrectly) of being a cow tipper. "I've Been Banned!" In his great wisdom and grace my banning was relatively short lived.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Another Milestone

Today is a very strange day for me.

You see my only child, known here usually simply as "the kid", my daughter turns 21 today.

And that's rather hard for me to grasp.

Isn't this the tiny little premature baby I remember gently stroking through the access port on her incubator? The only slightly larger baby who came home on a monitor that scared the hell out of me because it couldn't here her tiny lungs working so it kept going off? Again, and again and again!

The baby that fell asleep on Daddy's chest, leaving a baby shaped sweat mark on his t-shirt? The one who smiled and smiled and smiled?

Surely this isn't the little pixie of a girl in our favorite Christmas video? The one who was afraid of Santa and who had such fun passing out the presents and unwrapping her own?

The little girl who would hurl herself into my legs when I came home from work with all the force of a mini linebacker? Who picked flowers in the outfield during softball games or who scored that absolutely amazing goal in soccer?

Surely not that little girl in all those calenders that were sent to the grandparents each Christmas?

The little girl who became a lector at church, discovered her singing voice, her acting heart, her joy of writing and music (guitar, piano, clarinet and more).

She's an amazing young woman these days. Still one of the great joys and lights of my life. Still my baby girl though she is patently neither.

And today she is an legal adult.

I'm very proud of her. And every once in a while I still see that little girl too. I hope I always will.

I love you chica. Happy Birthday.


Monday, December 01, 2008

A new project and a milestone

I just realized that my previous post was #500 for this blog. Not an overwhelming production for a blog that is almost 6 years old but not too shabby either I think. I began this simply as a way to stay in touch with anyone who might be interested in what was going on at General Convention 2003. And it's just perked along from there. A neat milestone.

I've been working on a project with my home parish over the last year. It's a 15 minute radio program on Sunday mornings. We're always looking for new ways to reach out into the community and introduce ourselves. I'd been functioning primarily as a behind the scenes producer for the show till this fall when Fr. Eric asked me to share the responsibility for hosting the show. He does half and I do half. My first challenge was to figure out what I was going to do that was different from his shows and still appropriate. What we decided on was an introductory series on what it means to be an Episcopalian. That series now has a name - "Who We Are". By necessity they are brief thumbnail sketches of who we are since I have about 14 minutes (plus intro and outro). The tone is very informal and conversational. So far I've done:

A Walk Around St. Luke's - Our church is an English neo-gothic and folks find it a little intimidating. So I took my recorder and just walked people through the door explaining to them what they can expect.

Structure of the Episcopal Church - This is a look at how we are organized and make decisions.

Myths about the Episcopal Church
- Concerning Henry the VIII, that we're not a "Bible church" and the frozen chosen. This was the FIRST one I suggested.

Liturgical Worship
- An interview with our associate rector Mother Susan about what liturgical worship is, why we do it and it's place in the Episcopal Church.

The links will take you to our audio blog where the streaming audio is available which is pretty cool in an of itself. But this is the really cool part for me - I'm a recording artist! We've been looking for other ways to do some outreach and get our identity out there. So St. Luke's has it's own Cafe Press store which features among other things a CD of my first four programs! Which is just so cool! The stained glass on the various items are all from our church. The four gospel logos was put together by Fr. Eric (they don't occur like this in the church, they're on four separate windows)which I thought turned out really well.

I give the church credit, they are open to trying new ways of communicating. Still waiting to see how effective they may be.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Weekend Update - December 1

The Weekend That Was - We call this a "Run-Go-Look-See-Do" weekend in our house. And they're not the ones we enjoy the most. It's a long holiday weekend so we started with the kid home from college, then the 3 hour drive down to the in-laws. Things there went well, no arguments with the FIL which is always to be avoided. We had a nice stay and came home on Friday. Very glad to see that no significant snow had been added to the piles. Saturday was Happening reunion followed by a meeting of our youth ministry revitalization team. I'm trying to remain just a team member but I may have been a little overly involved in leading this meeting. I worked very hard to just ask questions and try to keep us all on task rather than making statements. I think I succeeded. I reminded them again that they can tell me to shut up at any time. We did some excellent work in laying out our goals for the next year. Ambitious but still within reasonable grasp. All of this in Buffalo so that was all that PLUS 3 hours round trip. Sunday was church, where I FINALLY caught up with Kaitlin and Paul (Kaitlin is a former youth, now married to Paul. They live in England where Paul is a curate up near Newcastle if my English geography doesn't fail me). Kaitlin is the oldest daughter of a long time friend who is now my friend as well. Oh and she informs me she reads this blog. Hi Kaitlin! I'd missed them the Sunday before and they're headed back early this week. Then lunch with the kid before she heads back to college, grocery shopping, volleyball practice, then home to do a bit of cooking (spaghetti sauce, excuse me while I go give it a stir..........OK I'm back). My lady wife and the kid got caught in the post Buffalo Bills football game traffic on their way up to college. So it's going to be a long day for my lady.

But it was a pretty busy weekend. And that revitalization team has given me some more stuff to do!

The To Do List - More little projects, dubbing DVDs so they're ready for the January mailing, camp stuff, revitalization team. Oh and attending a meeting for the faithful remnant left after members and clergy of one of our congregations departed TEC. And a doctor's appointment. Sigh.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - I have what amounts to a simple accounting project at home that I need to get done before Christmas that has been sitting on my desk for a couple months now.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? I've given up on the Kerouac. I'm just not in the mental state for it right now. So I'm going back to something familiar. Robert Goldsborough took over the Nero Wolfe "franchise" and has done a very nice job with it. "Death On A Deadline" is my current comfort read. I'll grab some new books at the library this week.

Watched an edited version of "White Christmas" Saturday night. Decided that doesn't really count so I'll have to do my annual viewing later. The editing was dumb too.

Listening to some familiar stuff, mostly 10,000 Maniacs, checking out some contemporary folk music on Pandora, the free internet radio station (I'm becoming a big fan) and OH YEAH! Listening to WNIA, the radio station at Niagara University, where the kid is now a DJ. She's on Tu and Th 9-11 AM (all times Eastern)and Saturday 4-6PM. They stream the station so everyone can listen in. Her air name is DJ Phoenix (oh these kids). Yes, the apple hasn't fallen very far from the tree.

Next Up It's a little frightening to realize that December is here and how much I REALLY need to get done before the new year. No more messing about. Gotta get down to it.

How Am I Doing Feeling pretty good. I gained only about half a pound over Thanksgiving which is a miracle! The rest of life is looking OK. I feel pretty good (shhh,let's keep that between just us. Don't want to jinx it!)


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weekend Update November 24

The Weekend That Was - Well most of the snow came before the weekend so I'll just ignore it. I may have some photos soon (I seem to be missing a cable) No, the real excitement of the weekend was with our cat Zaphod. Z is still enough of a kitten that she lives life at warp speed. Well Saturday she went into hyperdrive. Racing around, then stopping and giving the look of panting for a couple seconds, then racing off again. Then she'd hide under the furniture, then start all over again. She was obviously in distress but we couldn't figure out what kind. She didn't want to be touched (in fact she took a good shot at me and drew blood. She's never done that before) So after about 45 minutes we called the vet. Any new liquids/solids/stuff in the house (no), new lights or electrical cords (no), any new flea treatments (no), is she alert (yes), seizures (no), the running around would seem to eliminate heart or lung problems. Hmmm, well try wiping her fur down in case she'd gotten something on it (she would occasionally groom frantically)and see if she calmed down. If not call back. I've no problem with that response from the vet. As they said they best they could do under the circumstances would be to just observe her any way. We can do that at home for free. So we looked around. The only unusual thing was the very hot pan that had the Christmas fruitcake cooling in it. Our theory is that she licked the pan and burned her tongue. By this morning she was back to normal.

Then today she jumped up on the toilet seat just as I sat down. Surprised the daylights out of us both. No one injured. So it's been an interesting weekend for her.

Yes, I bake fruitcake for Christmas. It is 3.5 pounds of candied fruit soaked in brandy and held together with a very minimal amount of cake. It's delicious and it's not Christmas till I have a slice. I will wrap it in brandy soaked cheesecloth for about a month and then send it some to each of my brothers. Do not compare this with any fruitcake you buy in a store. I do not permit that wretched stuff into my home.

The To Do List - Still whittling down those little projects. Need to start thinking about summer camp issues very soon. Yes, seriously. Plus I have some absolutely cool reading that just arrived (details soon)

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Mostly doing those small projects. Silly. I could knock off a most of them in the week and be done with them.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? Working on Kerouac's "On the Road". I'm still early on but it looks interesting. I really want to finish it before the holiday so I can get to two new books that I'm really excited about.

Finally saw "Unbreakable". Gotta admit that Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are on my list of actors I'm willing to watch in just about anything. The movie may be absolute garbage but they're just fun to watch. This is the second M. Night Shyamalan movie I've ever seen (Sixth Sense is the other). I don't remember if he did it that movie but he spends a fair amount of time early in this one with cutsey camera angles and stuff. It gets irritating. And it's unnecessary because his basic directorial style is pretty good. The Hitchcock influence is a bit heavy handed though. It's like the difference between Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Pryor used obscenity for a purpose and Murphy just decided to crank it up. Which totally misses the point. A really clever/artsy shot should lead back into the story and then disappear. A lot of these don't.

Otherwise I really liked the movie except for the end which felt contrived and dumb.

Next Up I need to plan out a sprint through to the end of the year to really set up next year. That means getting the little projects done, and laying some ground work. This next stretch is usually very quiet for me so I don't have many distractions.

How Am I Doing I'm in an OK place right now and I have some very cool things within sight.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

This probably says something about me

I've noticed that when things are going pretty well I begin to whistle. And I seem to have a default tune. 97% of the time I whistle this tune. I know the tune is the same for "If I Only Had a Heart" and "If I Only Had the Nerve" but this is what I hear in my head.

You are free to draw your own conclusions:

I dance about that well too.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toward salvaging Confirmation

Confirmation in the Episcopal church has been suffering for a while. It would appear that we're not alone as Bishop Gerard Holohan of the Diocese of Bunbury in England says that confirmation "...has practically become a Sacrament of Farewell". Clearly the same has been happening in our church here in the States. Confirmation is "graduation from Sunday School" for too many families.

None of this is news to anyone paying much attention to the faith lives of our young people. What perplexes me is how little we really want to talk about the causes and possible solutions. There's plenty of talk on the subject but most of it is hand wringing over it all under pinned by a feeling that it's really all beyond out control.

And I think that's a load.

So let me take a shot at the subject - causes and possible solutions.

So why do we have this problem with Confirmation as the "Get Out of Church Free" card? I see several concepts at the root of this:

De-linking Confirmation and First Communion
- Once upon a time Confirmation was the gateway to Communion. Since we have (very properly I believe) recognized that baptized children can be ready to receive at a much earlier age Confirmation has been left without a commonly understood function. We don't know what it's all about, it's just a church milestone to be gotten behind us as quickly as possible.

The Adults Have Allowed It to Happen
Parents have raised their kids to believe it. Young people pay a lot more attention to how we act than what we say. Too often parent's actions say that faith/religion/church is an option, isn't really as important as skiing or soccer or work or whatever. The lay and ordained leadership of the church haven't done enough to show what Confirmation means. We haven't worked hard enough to make the faith that we supposedly hold so dear a living, vital thing for our younger brothers and sisters. I say supposedly because if it really was important, if it really was a precious part of our lives surely we would have desired to pass it on. Instead I see a satisfaction with simply teaching a few concepts and praying that they'll "get it eventually". It's a lack of faith in faith.

So what do I think we need to do to salvage Confirmation?

Make it the threshold event to adult membership - To do this I believe we need to change several things.

First make the age of confirmation 16. That's the canonical age of adulthood in TEC. So at that age when we call them adults Confirmation becomes the time when we ask them to confirm those promises made for them as children. The logic of asking for such a confirmation while they're still children has always puzzled me. I positively don't give a rat's butt about what it's always been. Confirmation at 12 or 13 or 14 is simply idiotic. It lacks a logic other than the Sacrament of Farewell. Anyone who argues for this based on "tradition" shows precious little concern for either the faith of our children or the life of the church.

Second - we need to stop screwing around and actually live out the canons. If they're adults then let them be adults. We live as hypocrites otherwise and they sense the hypocrisy. This means bringing them into places of responsibility, it means listening to them, and learning from them. It's astounding to watch what they can achieve when we allow them to take their place at our side or sometimes in the lead.

Third - we need to stop living a life in faith that is socially acceptable, careful, and secondary to our "real" lives. This isn't about making a great show of our faith. Scripture warns against that and it's just another form of fake faith. What you believe should color and influence everything in our lives from the moral decisions we make to how we drive, how we treat people on the street, to how we spend our money. Every choice we make reflects our true beliefs. That reflection either shows a person of faith (flawed and struggling certainly) or a hypocrite. Part of that is showing that being flawed and struggling is not a failure of faith but part of the life in faith. Our young people will see themselves in that faith struggle. They want no part (quite rightly) with people who mouth the words and live a lie.

I look at these ideas and think it seems so simple. As with so many things in this life of faith it may be simple but it's certainly not easy. It means changing how we live, it means putting in the work to create an environment of transformation for our children as they grow. It means releasing control and power. It means not just hearing but listening. It means accepting change.

And it means more of us have to be willing to stand up and call for that change. We must accept our call to ask questions, persist after answers, challenge power. It is a call without an terminal date. It is daunting. Intimidating. Exhausting merely to contemplate.

It is a call of the Spirit. How will you answer it?


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mid week update

Well it's cold.
And there's still a lot of snow on the ground.

But then that pretty much describes the next 4-5 months. That's what I think the folks who leave comments about how much they miss the snow miss. Every now and then would be fun. We can literally have as much as 6 months of this nonsense here (Mid - October to mid-April is absolutely NOT unheard of in these parts)and 5 months is a virtual guarantee. Oh and I live in a snowbelt that normally gets 100-150 inches of snow (with 200+ on a bad winter). So expect no heart felt paeans on the glory of the white stuff.

My weight loss program took a small backward step. I gained a pound. Bleah. I just got into a snacking mode. Can't do that.

Volleyball - we played really well and lost two of three games. Sigh. I served really well (took the final 7 points of the game we won on my serve), the rest of my game was OK. Managed to tweak a muscle in my left thigh going too hard for a ball. But the best part was being told by the best player on my team that she figured I was a life long jock! (Those of you who have known me for a long time are rolling on the floor in laughter. Better let everyone else in on the joke) I was a nerd. Awkward and a little clumsy. So for someone to think I'd been a jock may be the high point of my very mediocre athletic "career". (For the record I played a year or two of Little League, four or five years of slow pitch softball, about 10 years of recreational league indoor soccer and now about 5 weeks of rec league volleyball. That's spread over 50 years. I was not a star in any of those leagues. I was below league average in the first two, league average in the second and probably still below average right now). So pretty cool.

Car news - time to buy new tires for the rear of the SUV. Except it's got an oddball tire size (it's like owning an original VW bug again, sigh!) so the tires are expensive and hard to get. We had to try three different brands before we found one in stock. All told a little under $300 for two tires, mounted balanced and installed. Yeesh. If this weren't such a great car...

Well I've had a fairly productive day so far. Got the Contemporary Folk channel up and running from Pandora which is something of a breakthrough for me. Since my first career was in radio I used to work with music playing all the time. When I took this job I didn't play much because: 1) I didn't want to disturb the folks here at the parish house (I am a guest), and 2) I wasn't sure about the whole "Bishop's staff" "working for the church" thing. I don't much like praise/contemporary Christian music. I do play some classical music but when I need to just crank out the work I need "my music". Well, finally this past year I thought "Heck with it, this is who I am. I need my tunes". I'm feeling much better. Plus with the office move a year or so ago the sound doesn't travel to the other offices very well - I'm at the end of a hallway all by myself next to the bathroom. So while I don't exactly rock out unless I know I'm the only one in the building.

So back to bumping off some of these little projects.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Are we cowards of faith?

In the world of faith we've spent a lot of my lifetime wringing our hands about the decline of influence we have on culture. We rail about the shortcomings of the common morality. The world is going to hell in a hand basket and something should be done about it. We're certain that we should play a role in solving the problems.

And at that point our faith fails us. We screw up. We become cowards of faith.

If we believe that we are bearers of the light of the Divine, bearers of the wish of God for the world shouldn't it be enough for us simply to release that into the world? Live out our faith. Certainly if you are a follower of any of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity,Islam or Judaism) you are called to care for the world and everyone in it.

So get to it.

But we don't. We spend lots of time fighting over power and control. We demand that the secular government pass laws to achieve those ends for us. That's what has really been frosting me. This decision that a lived out faith isn't enough. We need to legislate! We can make the world behave the way we want by how we live so we're going to FORCE them to behave themselves through the power of the secular government. And maybe along the way we can get rid of that nasty "s" word soon and make the government religious!

Of course it'll have to be my religion. And my understanding of my religion.

And I can't help but think that when religious people start thinking that way they're telling us an awful lot about what they really believe in.

Laws not God.
The power of the government not the power of the Body of Christ.

Government has certain abilities. Governing morals isn't one of them. It's track record down through history is wretched.

When are we gonna believe in the power of belief?


Weekend Update November 17

The Weekend That Was - Back into the busy, busy, run-go-look-see-do weekend. Sigh. Saturday was Happening board meeting in the morning, then lunch at Niagara with the kid, then hanging around wasting time at the mall in the afternoon, then we went to see NU's production of "The Rink". The play's book was written by Terrance McNally, Lyrics by Fred Ebb and Music by John Kander (Kander and Ebb also created Cabaret and Chicago. McNally did Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Full Monty). This is not any of their best work. The characters are thin, the music is not particularly memorable. The cast did a really nice job with a really weak script. Trivia note - The Rink opened on Broadway on my 26th birthday. We didn't get home till 1:30 so we slept in and didn't go to church on Sunday. Sunday was Youth Commission, followed by that exceedingly weird Pittsburgh-San Diego game (which at least we won, sorry Marko). That may have been the weirdest officiated game ever but most of what I saw called on the Black and Gold they deserved.

Then we got home and the snow began. And it kept on snowing all night. There's 15- 16 inches of snow on my back deck, a little less (but only a little) in the driveways. How much was there two days ago? NONE. So I spent 90 minutes with the snowblower and shovel digging out both driveways and the stairs and a patch of the back deck. And what do I see outside my window as I write this? Still more snow.

The To Do List - I have a bunch of smaller projects that I just need to eliminate. A couple reports, a camp graphic to create, stuff like that.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Mostly doing those small projects. Silly. I could knock off a most of them in the week and be done with them.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? I readRichard Brautigan , which was interesting and strange. I'd be willing to read more. Now I'm on to John Updike's "Rabbit, Run". At first I thought it was going to be another "Humboldt's Gift" but it's growing on me. Interesting that it features a character of an Episcopal priest (rather ineffectual like all the other characters in the book) and that it was written as a kind of respones to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road", which happens by sheer luck to be the next book I want to read!

Haven't managed to see a movie, listen to a podcast or hear any music all week. Very sad.

Next Up I'm still not sure what's up next. I find that rather disturbing.

How Am I Doing Still feeling pretty good (except when I look at that snow!) volleyball tonight, weigh in tomorrow.


Friday, November 14, 2008

New communications

I've mentioned that we were moving into (yet another) new way of communicating. Over the last two years it's become clear that my reliance on e-mail was hampering my attempts to communicate with my youth. They were pretty clear that e-mail was not something significant in their lives. They might look at it occasionally.

So that wasn't helping. What they were into was texting. The problem is that texting doesn't lend itself to the kinds of information transfers that I normally do. A text is commonly less than 150 CHARACTERS. (As an example the last sentence was 44 characters long. So I can do three fairly short sentences.) And doing mass text "mailings" wasn't easy and usually was fairly expensive.

My first thought was a relatively new service called "Twitter". According to their website

"Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?".

The problem with Twitter is that I would need all my youth and leaders to sign up and then either add me to a list of Twitter-ers that they follow on their cell phones or regularly check their Twitter page for my "tweets" (that's what the individual messages are called). It just didn't seem like the answer I was looking for.
(I will note that at least one youth minister out there, Shaun Mayfield Student Ministries Pastor at Red Mountain Christian Center in Mesa AZ, has found a way to make it work that is kinda cool. I quote him from the comments page at YS Blog:

We have been using Twitter in our youth as a MAJOR feed for information for a little over a year. We use it during our services and during the week, I will explain both.

We knew the fight to stop phones in service would be a constant battle so fight fire with fire. I have an intern that has a copy of my sermon notes with certain areas highlighted and he sends out a twitter as I am saying that, about 5-10 during a service, there is a lot of reasons for this that is VERY positive, email me for more reasons.

I start of every message with a 30 second intro saying if you are new here pull out your phone and send a txt to 40404 and type follow eikonlive then if it is your first time then put in your name and you are all set up. Then throughout the week we will send you updates. We have nearly 200 people that are people that have been through our doors and several parents. The key is building a culture within your group/kids/parents.

Then we also send out updates/event details/ etc during the week, respecting the amount of txts.

As we explain it regularly it doesn't take time and it has created an AMAZING culture in that our kids are having conversations through twitter and responding to the tweets during our service asking questions or delving into the topic deeper.

You can check out their Twitter page HERE

It seems like a very creative use of the service but I was looking for something more straight forward (at least in my own mind!)

And I think I found it. JOOPZ This is a web based texting service that works with pretty much any cell service in the US or Canada. It offers "two way" texting, group messages, reminder notes, scheduled texts and more. The free service is pretty good so I looked to see what the Premium would cost me.


A year.

I looked at that three times. Most of the bulk texting places charge that much or more a month. In fact I just re-re-re-checked because I'm still not sure I got it right.

Yep. $2.95 a month. $19.95 a year.

Joopz isn't perfect. The largest group I can create is only 10 people. Since I'm hoping to get at least 100 people signed up that means 10 groups. Which is still WAAAAAY better than most other options. I'm also more limited on my messages, only 100 characters. So two sentences. My youth will approve any limitations on me talking, lol!

Because it's web based I can access it from anywhere I have internet access. I can see this as a way to communicate at Senior High conference, at convention, at EYE plus routine updates on what's happening with applications, web updates, new e-mail(!) and more.

So I'm pretty excited. Now I just need to get folks to "sign up". I'm not going to just randomly cull cell #s and load them in. By my lights that would be wrong. So I still need people to "enroll". Which amounts to sending me their name and cell phone number. I do the data entry.

My promise has been that they'll only get a limited number of texts from me, maybe two a week, no more than 12 a month. It's all designed to point them towards other things of note.

At least that's my vision for the moment. We'll see how it works out.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A mid week update

Interesting week so far. Not necessarily my most productive (so far, there's still time!) but interesting.

On the weight loss front I pushed through 190 pounds last week for the first time in years. And I stayed below it for this week's weigh in. I only lost a fraction of a pound more but I didn't bounce back up again. Which feels very good.

My volleyball team won their first match of the season. A 3-0 sweep! Very satisfying. Particularly because we played well and because we finally saw a team look at us with that "We can't beat these guys" look in their eyes. I served very well and wasn't awful otherwise.

Football pool! I continue to hang out in the 60-70% of points range. Unfortunately folks keep doing just a little better than that so I'm usually only top 20 for any given week. But I've been very consistent being right around the top 10 overall. In fact the weekly update e-mail from our pool leader said the following:

Jay . . . you've been in 9th, then 11th for 2 week, then 6th, 7th, then 12th, and then 9th, 11th, and now 10th. Dude, consistency is the name of the game!!! Way to go!!

Consistency was my goal for this year. Oh, and being in the top 10 too.

Got our first snow of the season. First "real" snow that is. Flurries, snow that doesn't stick, or can be swept with a broom are not "real" snow. We got about 8 inches Sunday night into Monday morning. Took the snowblower out but it was a mess. The ground is still warm underneath the snow (and will be for a while yet) so the bottom inch turns to heavy slush. Which clogs the snowblower. No fun. Rain tomorrow and temps in the 60s so it will all go away.

Found what I think is a great new service for communicating with the current generation of youth. I'll blog about that tomorrow or Friday.


Monday, November 10, 2008

So Cool!

Yes, I'm easily amused. But I don't care this is just an amazing performance and piece of video. It's not deep or profound or spiritual but it's cool. Just admit it and move on.

This is Corey Vidal. And he's amazing. The song was originally created by the a cappella comedy group Moosebutter

h/t to Gman

Weekend Update November 10

The Weekend That Was - Happening weekend! Seemed to go very well. My lady wife was on team this weekend so it meant that I spent the weekend home alone with the cat. So I got a lot of "stuff" out of the way. The snow blower is ready to go, changed over the icicle lights on the porch, did some cleaning, baked some pumpkin pies and made some fresh hummus with roasted red pepper (as a surprise for my lady wife). I also cooked up some split pea soup, vacuumed the house and washed and vacuumed the car.Oh and had some fun cooking for myself. The best was the steak topped with Gorgonzola and onions caramelized in maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Afterwards my mouth leaned back and lit up a cigarette. It was that good. So it was lonely (everything is more fun with my lady wife around) but a pretty good weekend. In fact it was one of the most relaxing weekends I've had in a while.

The To Do List - I really need to get next summer's camp themes figured out, I have a radio program for my church that has to get produced, plus I need to get deeper into my to do list. There's some stuff that's been lurking at the second level way too long. (My to do list has four levels)

What Am I Procrastinating About? - The next video project. I'm probably over thinking the one aspect that is stopping me.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? Still working on "The Irregulars" but I'm almost done. I'll take my first shot at Richard Brautigan next.

Did some concert video viewing over the weekend. And had two very different reactions to two classic documentaries.

First I watched "Gimme Shelter" The documentary of the 1969 Rolling Stones tour that ended with the infamous concert at the Altamont Speedway where an audience member was killed by a member of the Hells Angels. At least that's the classic synopsis. In reality the whole movie revolves around that final concert which took some of the joy away from the earlier concert clips (several of which struck me as rather flat anyway) The film is absolutely enthralling once the concert starts at Altamont. The stunned looks on the faces of Jagger and Grace Slick as the "security" slowly slides into madness. Sadly the movie makers didn't always have particularly good locations from which to shoot. They didn't like using telephoto lenses so sometimes they're actually too close to be able to see. I felt a little disappointed overall.

Quality of the film making is never a problem with "The Last Waltz" Martin Scorsese's tribute to the last concert of The Band. The Band is that rarest of all musical beasts a seminal, inspirational rock band that never really had a hit record (their highest single was top 30, they only managed it once) This was a band that worked with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, and Muddy Waters. They had an amazing influence on music yet they only were out there for about 10 years. The movie features visits from Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, the Staples, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, Dr. John and more. Take great music (and The Band is about great music), great guest singers and great movie making and this may be the best concert movie of all time.

Next Up Will be launching a new mode of communication. I think I've found the answer, details later.

How Am I Doing Actually I feel pretty good. I wish I felt a little more focused on what the next "big thing" should be. And contemplating the 3 inches of snow that fell overnight with more on the way.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Confession time

Hi my name is Jay.

And I'm addicted to freeware and Open Source software.

I used to think it wasn't a problem. That I was on a budget. That I was just being part of the counterculture against corporate software. That I was an adventurer, searching for the new and the exciting.

Then I looked at the file where I keep my downloaded files. The dozens of downloads that I had no idea what they even were any more. Then looking them up again on the Web and wondering why I'd decided to download THAT?!?!?

I looked at my program folder and discovered dozens more programs that I'd never used after that first time right after I'd unzipped the files. I discovered multiple versions of some and multiple programs that all do basically the same thing.

It became obvious that I had a problem.

Astoundingly there is no twelve step program for me. No support group to turn to in those darks hours when yet another graphics program sings its siren song through my monitor. I must face the legions of DTP software, the armies of registry utilities, the hordes of anti-virus programs alone.

But I shall prevail.

First anything that I couldn't identify immediately I simply deleted. If I really need it I'll find it again. Then a quick sweep through Program folder ruthlessly deleting programs that I never use.

I freed up a rather amazing amount of space on the ole hard drive.

Now I begin with just the best stuff. And I thought I'd share with you. I promise you're not enabling my problem.

Open Office - I've been using this Office replacement now for about 5 years and I'd never go back. This is a great freeware, open source and cross platform productivity suite. Which means it has a word processor, presentation, database, spreadsheet and graphics applications. I've found it very easy to use, it's updated regularly and it has a good looking and easy to use interface. Look at what Microsoft's Office costs then compare.

Irfanview - when it comes time to look at your graphics and photos and do very simple changes (optimize, convert, size changes, some other basic but common functions) I've never found anything I liked better than this. And I'm not alone. It's got a huge following.

Firefox and Thunderbird
These have become so mainstream it's almost strange to include them. I've tried most of the other web browsers and none impress me to the point of giving up on Firefox. I've used Thunderbird at home for two years and love it as well.

Audacity Freeware, open source, cross platform and just amazing. I haven't even scratched the surface of this audio recording and editing software. With all kinds of whiz bang effects available to download too. Everything you could need right up to professional usages.

Those are pretty well known ones. They show up on all the "Best..." lists every year. Here's a couple that may not be so well known:

Screen Monkey
- This is show and presentation control software out of England. The ability to run videos, graphics, song lyrics, live video all that seamlessly through your computer's second monitor option. The big name software costs hundreds if not over a thousand bucks. This one? Free. Still being updated and works very nicely. PC only.

Free Serif Software Discovering this site was almost too good to be true. Another European company they offer older versions of their software for free. The older versions are still quite excellent. DTP, graphics (photo and paint), web publishing and 3D. All free. All very good. I've used PagePlus and PhotoPlus the most.

Artweaver This one's from Germany I believe. A really outstanding graphics program with lots of options and capabilities.

Coffee Cup software This is another for profit software company (an exceedingly cool one in my estimation) that also offers some software for free. Some of it is pretty basic but they are fully functional and very useful. And usually have their very own quirky personality. My two favorites here are the Free Zip Wizard (I haven't used anything else for years) and the DHTML menu builder. Very nice.

Hmmm, I haven't even scratched the whole anti-virus/internet security field. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008

I do not care for whom you vote.

Just vote.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green.

Just vote.

Don't vote your fears.
Vote your hopes.
Don't vote your anger.
Vote your dreams.

Vote for the future. Whatever that may be to you.

This is the collect for an election from the Book of Common Prayer(1979) p.822:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I find that first statement most challenging - " whom we must account for all our powers and privileges...". We are given more than anyone in the history of the world. The accounting will be likewise massive. Suddenly the childish play of party politics becomes so much less important. In fact it disappears. What defense can be mounted before the creator of worlds that begins with "I was a good Democrat/Republican"?

Think of the parable of the talents.
Think of the command to "Feed My Sheep"
Think of the question "Who was the better neighbor?"

Enable our nation to fulfill God's purpose.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Weekend Update - November 3

The Weekend That Was - This was one of those "Wait, did a weekend just slip by me?" weekends. Halloween on Friday. Didn't see a lot of kids but a decent number. Had one kid totally reject our offerings (bags of chips) and one who acted as if it were his favorite treat of the evening. I had a meeting in Buffalo Saturday (it was a good meeting but it chewed up a chunk of the day), then church on Sunday, a Lutheran youth event (bowling! I rolled a 147, 127 and 112) then volley ball practice. Came home to watch the Brazilian Grand Prix on tape (congrats to Lewis Hamilton for his championship and Felipe Massa for a great year)

So it it didn't feel like much of a weekend but it was OK!

The To Do List - Got some tasks for Youth Commission to follow up on, notes to my Lutheran friends, some early camp details and I'm sure a bunch of other stuff too.

What Am I Procrastinating About? - Still haven't gotten to that paperwork yet. Sigh. I hate paperwork.

What Am I Watching/Reading/Listening To? I'm reading "The Irregulars - Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington" by Jennet Conant. I've always loved real life spy stories and the story of the British Security Coordination group has always been fascinating. That's the whole "Man Called Intrepid" thing plus where Ian Fleming (of 007 fame) got his start in spying too. Dahl is the well known children's author but was quite the playboy during the war as part of his spying. A lot of it is familiar ground for me but it's a good read.

Took the opportunity on Halloween to watch "Frankenstein
the 1931 Boris Karloff classic version. I realized I've never seen the whole movie beginning to end! Also never realized how much business in "Young Frankestein" was just ripped directly out of the original! It really still plays quite well. Some of the acting style of the day is a bit dated but it was great. And I saw the original uneditted version too. Very nice. Not much time to see anything else.

Don't know much about her but heard a couple tunes from Maria Dunn, a Scottish folk singer. Really liked the sound.

Next Up Lots of little projects at the moment. I don't think I have any bigguns.

How Am I Doing Football pool doing well. Looks like it'll be a breakthrough week for the weight loss program with a chance to put another milestone behind me. Food journalling is my new thing and it's just depressing. Job is OK, I'm still in post-major-project-let-down mode. Gotta shake that. The car just sucked another $300+ out my wallet but it's running pretty well at the moment. So I guess I'm doing pretty well.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


One of the advantages of living in a quiet backwater of the blogosphere is a certain kind of Dutch courage. You figure no one is going to read your words except for a small group of friends plus the stray wanderer lost on their way to somewhere else.

But that's not always true.

Yesterday I mentioned Mark Matlock's book "Don't Buy the Lie" as a jumping off point for a commentary on Halloween.

This morning I wake up to discover a comment from, gulp, Mark Matlock! I mentioned that some of his approach "set me on edge" and Mark asked what that was. A fair question. Since I started it out here I thought I'd answer it here as well.

Let me be clear that I've read a total of about 9 paragraphs out of a book of 176 pages. It would appear that both Mark and I share a healthy skepticism on much of the occult stuff out there. His book did what good books always do - kick off some thoughtful consideration.

Sound like a case of energetic back pedalling? Not really. Think of it more along the lines of the natural Episcopal distaste for making guests feel uncomfortable or being caught in an unseemly spat.

So what put me on edge? Mostly from the section dealing with ghosts, parts of which I quote here:

The tellers are almost always people who heard it secondhand. In addition, people who claim to hear voices or see dead relatives almost always stop experiencing those things when they take anti psychotic medications. That suggests either that ghosts don't like medication or that people who are having intense emotional and psychological problems are more likely to see things that aren't there.

The Bible leaves little room for the existence of ghosts. It never, ever talks about the spirits of dead humans lingering here.

This is one of those moments when you're listening to someone with whom you basically agree then they suddenly say something uncomfortable. Not outrageous but just enough to make you squirm in your seat.

First, I challenge your assumption that there are virtually no first hand stories of encounters with ghosts. Curiously I heard just such a story this morning on the local NPR station. The lady believes she saw a ghost in a local theater. First hand. The genre has more than enough of these first hand stories to make me uncomfortable with this assertion.

Second, the pat statement about anti-psychotic drugs and folks who have seen ghosts is outrageous standing as it does without support. That some folks who are suffering from mental disorder are helped by drugs to eliminate unreal apparitions I do not contest. The way this is stated in the quote leaves the clear impression that ALL folks who claim to see ghosts (wait, aren't we supposed to assume that there really AREN'T any such folk?)would benefit by a quick dose of medicine to re-balance their minds. Again I think a great deal more support for the idea that folks who see ghosts are generally unbalanced needs to be offered.

Finally there is the "But it's not in the Bible" argument. Arguing (and I mean that in the rhetorical sense not the combative) from absence is one of the weakest approaches available. The Bible is silent on many things. The pure pursuit of this line of thought is the life of the Amish. I'm fairly sure that neither you nor I, being computer users, are ready to ride off in that direction.

As an Episcopalian I don't see the Bible as some sort of final word on things scientific. It spends very little time discussing how things take place (and in our more common belief does it in metaphorical terms rather than literal) and much more time telling us why. It is a book of faith that teaches us many important things. Through it we hear the voice and thoughts of God reduced to a manner which we are capable of understanding. It challenges us and in my experience very often surprises me. It is not a complete description of this world or the next. So we need to be careful about drawing absolute meanings especially from absences.

So those are my thoughts Mark. These are the places that made me uncomfortable. It may be that I've drawn an incorrect conclusion from an admittedly limited sample. I was only reacting to the passage provided. (For the record the excerpt was published in the Youth Specialties youth newsletter that I forward to the youth of this diocese in our diocesan youth newsletter. I noted my reservations as an editorial note there but thought that there was more than enough "good stuff" in Mark's words that I sent them un-edited.) Your thoughts triggered my thoughts and I appreciate that.

Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment!

Oh dear, it suddenly dawns on me that I'll probably be hearing from the Dutch embassy next! LOL.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner. And with it comes a fair bit of noise from the faith community. Just recently I got an e-mail from the folks at Youth Specialties which quoted a book they publish "Don't Buy the Lie" by Mark Matlock. Mark is taking on the interest in the occult that has grown quite a bit in our culture over the last 10-15 years.

And that's not a bad idea really. We need to treat spiritual matters carefully and with careful consideration. It's just how he approaches the subject that sometimes set me on edge. So I noted my reservations and invited the youth to whom I send this information to spend some time and think for themselves.

I am absolutely NOT here to trash Mark Matlock. I've only seen a short passage from his book and I've never met the guy. But he did get me thinking.

So here's what I think about Halloween. These are just mine and kind of off the top of my head.

I don't get the folks who are in full "Halloween is Satan's playground" mode. Like ANY human activity evil can use it for its own ends. Little children dressed up as Spiderman or their favorite Pokemon character getting sugary treats really is not all that sinister.

On the subject of vampires, werewolves and ghosts my thoughts are as follows:
Don't exist.
Don't exist.
Might exist and that makes me sad.

A ghost seems to be a spirit of a person who has for whatever reason not let go of its time in this world. Because I do believe in Heaven (which for me is simply to be in the presence of the Creator with nothing standing between us) the idea that a soul refused to go is sad. The idea that not all souls will go to Heaven (and I believe that many will not choose to go) is equally sad. I've never understood my fellow believers who seem to get their jollies knowing that some folks will end up in Hell, whatever that turns out to be. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what Heaven and Hell are like. I spend that time thanking God for grace.

Cause I need it.

So what about the Big Fella himself? Satan, Lucifer, the Devil. I do believe that there is a force of evil, a malignant drive in the world. For simplicity of talking about it I'll call he/she/it Satan. I have no better idea of what that "person" is like than I do for God. I see glimpses, shadows, results of actions. In the end however what I "know" is much more what I "believe" and far too often nothing more than pious fiction. Too many of us are still caught up in the horns, pitchfork and form fitting lycra bodysuit to make any headway. There is an evil power in the world. My study of it says it's much subtler than it is often given credit, and it's not as all pervasive as it is often accused of being. Folks out there get very caught up in the "spiritual warfare" mind set where every thing that goes wrong is the Devil striving against them. I'm afraid I find that point of view rather egotistical. It validates what we're doing because look Satan himself opposes me!

I think Satan is more than happy to take credit for our own stupidity and brokenness. We provide more than enough working material for the evil in the world. It usually doesn't seem to take more than a nudge for us to suddenly veer off into actions that are selfish, hurtful or worse. While it would be great to think that Satan really has to work hard to boost the evil levels in the world I think it's just a cop out answer to get ourselves off the hook.

To expand out the circle a little more I don't believe in horoscopes, or fortune tellers. You can only "Tell the Future" if it's a fixed thing with the end already determined. Since I reject predestination that's pretty much out then. I believe that Ouija boards and tarot cards are likewise hokum. Seances require that I believe that spirits that have gone to the "other side" still have calling privileges to this world. It seems unlikely that a soul in the presence of the Divine really has much interest in this world. And the ones in the "other place"? Do you really want to talk with them? What that leaves is our old buddy the Devil playing games with our heads. Thank you, no.

I also believe that any of these can be very dangerous. Because they can quickly become tools that lead people away from God. Rather than trying predict or control the future get out and create it. Things that need to be done in the dark are rarely a good idea. Live in the light, let the next world take care of itself. Live your life to the best of your ability and thank God for grace to cover the rest.

Oh yeah, and make sure to get in some trick or treating.

Mark's Blog
"Don't Buy the Lie"


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm Feeling Better!

The title is to be read with Monty Python and the Holy Grail in mind.

With the big weekend out of the way (and it went pretty well), that's lifted my spirits some. Plus today I went and saw my "financial advisor". Now I put that in parentheses because it still feels weird to say that. Like I have a lot of money hanging around. I have a small investment portfolio that I inherited from my folks and that includes the advisor. My dad picked them out and they've done wonderful things for us over the years. Once a year I go down and talk with them.

This year I was in a bit of a panic. That small investment portfolio is a LOT smaller than it was just two months ago. But I came away feeling pretty good. One fund actually MADE money in the last year even with the last two months included. Overall we actually out performed the market. I have very little understanding of what he says to me even though he talks very slowly and uses short words. We talked about our plans for our personal finances and he said we were on the right track. Oh and he believes the worst of the market fluctuations are behind us.

I'm just telling you what he said. Made me feel better.

What doesn't make me feel better is my whole weight thing. I'm stuck at 193 pounds. Have been for months. So today I added a food journal. I hate doing stuff like this cause it's boring. Then I saw today's totals! I was more than a third over my goal. With no exercise to speak of since I was on the road for 7 hours. Hmmmm, I may have stumbled onto something here.

Also interesting to note that after getting used to eating healthy the fast food burger I grabbed today (I know, I know, bad decision!) sat in my stomach like a lead weight.

Football pool was pretty good. 79% on picks good for 13th on the week and up to 9th for the year. I never broke Top 15 last year and spent most of the season in the 30s as I remember. The Miami loss killed me but I did (gulp)choose the Giants to win.

But in the end I'm feeling better. And that's nice for a change.