Saturday, January 28, 2006

Two Quotes

I've run across two quotes this past week ... one makes me laugh as I think about working as a bank teller. The other gives me joy as I think of becoming a father.

The first quote comes from Patti and Selma of Simpsons fame. It's the episode where Bart goes to the DMV for career day. As hordes of people wait in the background, the sisters quip:

"Some days we don't let the line move at all."

"We call those weekdays."


And the other quote ...

"Every time a baby is born the gospel is preached." - Eugene Peterson

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Golden Sequence

Come, thou Holy Paraclete
And from thy celestial seat
Send thy light and brilliancy:
Father of the poor, draw near,
Giver of all gifts, be here:
Come, the soul's true radiancy.

Come, of comforters the best,
Of the soul the sweetest guest,
Come in toil refreshingly:
Thou in labor rest most sweet,
Thou art shelter from the heat,
Comfort in adversity.

O thou Light, most pure and blest,
Shine within the inmost breast
Of thy faithful company:
Where thou art not, man hath nought,
Every holy deed and thought
Comes from thy divinity.

What is soiled, make thou pure,
What is wounded, work its cure,
What is parched, fructify;
What is rigid, gently bend,
What is frozen, warmly tend,
Strengthen what goes erringly.

Fill thy faithful, who confide
In thy power to guard and guide,
With thy sevenfold mystery:
Here thy grace and virtue send,
Grant salvation in the end,
And in heaven felicity.

-Attributed to Stephen Langton

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bye, bye horsey

Hrrr...rmph. So sunk my spirits when the Pittsburgh Steelers nonchalantly marched 80 yards on the first drive today and scored a touchdown. "Oh, no, not again," I groaned internally, "not another game of if's and but's and spoiled dreams." But sure enough, the first half dragged on eerily reminiscent of Colts vs. Patriots in 2005 and 2004. All the potential, all the build-up. All for naught. I began praying for some miraculous turn of events, or, if nothing else, for Eli Lilly to give out large doses of free Prozac samples at halftime. Things looked bleak, the home crowd looked desparate.

By the start of the third quarter, Anna said, "it just seems the Colts suffer from defeatism." Certainly by the look of Peyton Manning's face ... oh, wait, you couldn't see his face what with the flurry of Steelers defenders on the field and Peyton's face buried between his knees off the field.

By the middle of the third quarter Anna had me pegged as well. Defeatism was sitting in our living room. I gave up. I gave the Steelers the win, and I tried to enjoy the final quarters of the Colts season with a little dignity and hopefully some encouragement. Wouldn't you know it, right about then all the forces of football karma started to lean wacky and wonderful. A crazy twist of blind luck brought hope out of the dungeon of despair. The can't miss NFL crew missed a clear interception (what was this, Major League Baseball?). I got giddy again. Then Bettis fumbled. I got ridiculous. But just when my spirits were about to emerge from the slimy confines of lost chances, the worst of all endings occured. Wide right. No, make that VERY wide right. Vanderjagt's field goal went sailing off into the somber arms of Colts fans - strangely capturing the overall impression of the game: should've been a sure thing; never had a chance. Where's that Prozac?

The only other ending that would have been more appropriate: Vanderjagt steps into the kick and "poof" the ball deflates and skids down to the 2 yard line. Then the sound in the air could've mirrored the final sound my spirits made - one final crescendo of ... nothing.

This now puts me in the unenviable position of being 0 for 2 in 2006 in big sports games for "my" teams. I let my hopes soar before Notre Dame left Arizona bruised and beaten by a superior Ohio State team. And today the only thing I have to collect from the Colt's game is a few excuses that I can hand out to coworkers and friends when they glibly ask, "What happened to your Colts?"

If they do ask me what happened to the Colts, I'll be thinking, "Well, let me tell you about when John Elway refused to go to Indianapolis as a rookie; let me tell you about Andre Rison or Eric Dickerson or Jeff George ..." But, seeing this doesn't matter nearly as much to them as it does to me, I'll just have to look them squarely in the eye, take it like a man and tell them, "it was the kicker's fault."


Friday, January 13, 2006


I look at this picture and think, "sanguine, serene, . . . sweet."


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blind Casting

Fishing has been on my mind today. I'm reading another book by David James Duncan titled, "The River Why," which takes you into the life of a devoted angler. I am really not an expert on fishing, but the book makes me feel like I should be. It makes me feel like I don't really understand much about life unless I understand the intricacies of snagging a fish. As Gus, the main character in "The River Why," suggests, no fish should ever be disgraced by being caught by someone who doesn't truly understand why or how they caught the fish.

In the purest mind, fishing is meant to be mysterious, graceful - like a primordial chess match. All of which means that fishing seems right up there with complex meditation or performing brain surgery. There's no use trying it unless you appreciate it, and they only way to appreciate it is to be devoted to it.

But all I've ever really know about fishing is what I learned as a boy. My mind is filled with memories of slimy worms and bait floating off my hook, into the abyss that was the neighborhood pond. I see more orange and white, globular bobbers in my mind than I do the current of the water or the holes where the fishes are to be found. To top it all off, my favorite rod was some Donald Duck rod and reel I probably picked up at K-mart. Hey, it served Grandpa and I well, but I've never seen it at Orvis.

I can, however, remember thinking I was devoted to fishing, but that was mostly because my dad fished. Whenever I saw his tackle box, saw my dad readying his line, or watched him cast into the shady spot near the bank, I tried to act as though I knew what lure would be best or why the fish would bite in that one spot.

I was just kidding myself. I really didn't understand it that well. Which is why I'm a little bit nervous about looking for a call these days. (Bear with me; I'm going somewhere with this.) To me, looking for a call is starting to feel a lot like catching a fish. I feel like I should be much more adept and much more cognizant of how to get it done. I should know the general trends and patterns of every Presbytery and every congregation. But mostly I feel like a five year old trying to put a squirming worm on a silver hook. Forget the fact that I'm not all that confident about what I'm offering as bait, I also don't really know how or where to cast. I don't know when the fish are in season or which bait they prefer. So, mostly, I'm left blindly casting a line of prayers and a couple of resumes out into a large, mysterious, murky pool of potential churches.

Good thing Jesus hung out with fisherman. I could use a good tip or two, or, even better, a little help when the fishing seems dry.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Country Boys

Anna and I stayed up past our bedtime tonight to watch "Country Boys" - a new documentary airing on PBS for the next three nights. It's fascinating television. It's a story about life in a small, rural part of Eastern Kentucky. The show seems to retread old themes about the Appalachian territory - poverty, depression, the effects of alcohol and tobacco, and anemic educational opportunities. But these ambiguous themes are personified and personalized through the daily events in two boys' lives.

One of the boys, Chris, lives in a trailer-home with his mom who provides support by working as a maid since the father cannot work; the father has cirrhosis and is an alcoholic. Chris seems witty, endearing and bright, but he is also plagued by a constant since of failure. Or, maybe, it's a fear of success, for the closer Chris comes to doing a good job at school the more he risks alienating himself from the one place he feels most secure: his family. The blatant example of this in the first episode is Chris' decision to edit a school newspaper. While he initially speaks boldly about doing it, he eventually is hounded by the added responsibility and pressure it brings. And on the critical day it is to go to print, Chris decides to stay home and help his family move into a new trailer home. Chris' story makes clear the consequences of "bettering" yourself - the guilt and loneliness from stepping away from the familiar and pursuing new endeavors.

The other boy, Cody, has already experienced a tumultuous life. At the age of 12, his father went to a strip-club and gunned down Cody's step-mother. Then, Cody's father turned the gun on himself, asked God to forgive him and shot himself. Cody, subsequently is deeply troubled. Pain, confusion, frustration, innocence and brokeness all seem to boil beneath his rather stoic and dulled over facial expressions. He gives the quintessential "I don't care" posture when it is clear to the observer that much effects him. To top of his complexity, Cody is a Christian - and he is intent on playing heavy metal "Christian" music as a way to both release his suffering and praise his Savior.

Anyhow, these stories fascinate me. For one, they strike a deep place in my own family history. I am mindful of the place poverty has played in my grandparent's past - particularly of my grandpa, Les Slinker, who grew up in Kentucky. The struggle and battle to get a degree, let alone many, the tragedy of seeing your parents grow sick or die early from what should be curable or avoidable conditions, the pressure to make something of yourself or else - these are foreign but also familial realities. And I cannot help but recall the economic diversity of our country - knowing the drastic difference between Zionsville and Sheridan (or northern and southern Pasadena).

Secondly, I was intrigued by the role of Christianity in the community. Signs outside of churches declared, "The Cross is better than Blue Cross," or they asked, "How do you need to be livin' to be livin' up here? - God." The good intent is to make people grasp the hope of the Gospel, but the subtle effect is shame and superiority. While reminding people of the "good and true," they also (by comparison) remind people of the poor and improper. That just makes people less satisfied with their personal life, not more satisfied with their church or spirituality. What social security recipient or alcoholic is going to drive by that church sign and feel God's love? So faith, God, the Bible and Sunday School become largely about social status.

Finally, I was impressed with how grand are the forces that affect our lives. For instance, Cody and Chris cannot fully grasp how significant their families were and are to their own development. There was a scene where Cody goes on-line to research the newspaper clippings from his father's muder/suicide. He takes it all in, reads the facts, but how in the world can you really comprehend that? How can you make sense of it, or explain it, except only to say that it is in you, a part of you that will never die. You take something like that and then you add all the natural desires and longings of a teenage boy - the budding sexuality, the desire to be different yet accepted - and then you top that off with the reality that we are spiritual beings, constantly shapped by an Immortal hand. Now, add that all up and you've got a wild soup of soul forming. But that's life.

As Chris was working on the newspaper, he commented off-the-cuff, "I don't give a sh-t about being recognized or being a celebrity, I just want this to have meaning." And as all of life's forces collide and build a reality and a future for Cody and Chris, you get the sense that success is really only a dream and finding a way to get clarity or at least get some "meaning" is probably as good as it may get from their limited perspective. Unfortunately, making meaning is much easier to do watching the documentary on PBS than it is for Cody and Chris in eastern Kentucky.

What's my life look like as a documentary? What does yours?


Friday, January 06, 2006

Pasadena Panorama

One week after the storms found their way to Pasadena, the clouds have lifted and sunshine reigns.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Piece of Our Place

Great, goody, golly and gosh, this evening has been a bundle of bonuses. UPS brought us a digital camera in the mail today, so to celebrate I'm posting the first ever "direct from digital camera to website picture." Enjoy ... it's just a little snapshot of keepsakes and burning flames.

Happy viewing, and more pics of pomegranates, mangos and other fruit-tatious delights to come!


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Beauty Seeds

The blood-tears of pomegranate seeds shine like majestic rubies - the many sparkles of nature's luxurious abundance. Oh, the beauty of creation! Beauty infused and transfused into our subtle surroundings, and while neither toiling nor spinning carry new life imprinted with God's own hand ...

It's been a good, long weekend for Anna and I - a much needed respite. Avoiding the heavy buckets of rain that fell upon Pasadena and cascaded down Madison Avenue, we mostly stayed at home. And since I have no great desire to think coherently, I'm just going to offer a smattering of ideas or events from the last 48 hours ...

The year 2006 began with me at the computer - finishing a sermon that I was to preach on New Year's day. It was perhaps, and I hope, I prelude to something I may be doing quite often in 2006. I greatly enjoyed preaching as I've found the preparation for the sermon to be a worship exercise; it helps me remain fresh and open to God ...

And while I preached I was comforted to look out and see Anna's smile - to feel her support for my endeavors and calling. Occassionally, I would hear her cough - a harsh, painful cough that sounds as if she's been trying to exhale some nasty burr in her throat. Tonight, I told her she still has a little bit of a Darth Vader voice since her nasal passage is somewhat limited. But ... the cough is largely gone and she insists she's getting better.

Anna also said the baby was moving around the whole time I was preaching ... my mom said this either means he liked it or hated it.

We purchased a couch this weekend as well. We are quite excited, and in anticipation Anna contacted the Salvation Army to pick up our old couch. She has been itching to do refurnish and redesign our apartment. Truth be told, I think she's about ready to get rid of over 50% of the "stuff" that's in our apartment in an effort to streamline before the arrival of the baby. Those of you who've seen our apartment, know there's not a ton to get rid off, but we've really taken a liking to a minimalist style. Actually, we've just been really impressed with the functionality some close friends we know have been able to achieve with little space, and we'd like to copy them. So, less is more in Anna's mind, and I tend to agree.

Still, Anna did start work on a baby-shower registry this weekend, which either contradicts our minimalists beliefs or gives further justification to getting rid of some of our other crap.

"Recycled Air" by The Postal Service is really an enjoyable tune, and I'm so grateful Drew has given us a accoustic version of the song ...

Anna and I also listened to a new playlist entitled "Piano's" this weekend, which includes songs like:
-Holiday in Spain, Counting Crows
-Alibi, David Gray
-Home Again, Carole King
-Never is a Promise, Fiona Apple
-Everloving, Moby
-Life is Sweet, Natalie Merchant
-Nightswimming, R.E.M.
-River, Joni Mitchell

The piano inevitably makes me think of my mom - particularly of the nights when she would play as I was falling to sleep. They are treasured memories and have forever endeared the piano to my soul.

We watched two good movies this weekend - one we'd seen previously and one we've prolonged far too long. The first was "A Very Long Engagement." Besides being much more captivating than I could have dared to imagine (I totally thought it would be a flat, un-original love story), it was visually creative and beautiful. Very good use of colors and overall imagery. The same can be said for the second movie we watched, "The Village."

M. Night Shyamalan makes good films (I like the comparisons others have made by calling him a modern day Hitchcock), and I always appreciated how tight and coherent his pictures are. They're surprisingly minimal in comparison with other movies, but they are deeply effective. "The Village," especially seems incredibly powerful given that the music is rather simplistic, and there's never any dramatic special effects. The perfect example that stands out in my mind comes late in the movie when Ivy is seeking a safe passage through the woods. As the drama builds and the threat of an attack looms, Shyamalan chooses to cut away at a nerve-wracking moment and shows naked trees blowing in the wind. The music at this point is eerily tribal - strangely familiar to the music in the show Lost. Or, at another critical point in the movie, Joaquin Pheonix's character, Lucius, is wounded - almost mortally. And as he lies dying on the ground, the camera chooses not to focus on a pool of blood or some grotosque image. Rather the camera pans to the right and focuses on a cast-iron stove. It's seems somewhat pointless, but it feels and looks beautiful.

Besides being an incredibly well-done movie, I also find it very intriguing from a Christian perspective. It is a great commentary on those sectarian strands of Christianity that have sought refuge from the world and tried to divorce themselves from society and culture. Early on, one of the characters laments after the loss of his son, "You may run from sorrow as we have, but sorrow will find you." It is an early comment by Shyamalan that there is no easy manner whereby we can get through life and enjoy heaven. Moreover, his resounding conclusion, which is demonstrated in Ivy's heroic trip to save Lucius' life, is that life's innocence is preserved by pursuing hope, love and beauty, not by seeking solitude from the world's ills. Good stuff.

Good things to you as well in this new year.