Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Work, Worship and Play

According to Wikipedia, the average American currently works about 42.9 hours a week with 16 days of vacation (and the top two income classes worked more than 50 hours a week), which means the average worker in America works 500 more hours than the average German a year and has 14 days less vacation than someone in Denmark.

Looking over the course of American history, it may or may not surprise you that the 19th Century was extremely taxing with the average worker in manufacturing putting in over 60 hours a week (no wonder unions blossomed). And farmers usually have worked a good number of hours ("from sun up to sun down"). However, with farmers, there is the added issue that their work was once done on the homestead - perhaps softening the overall number of hours worked because of the close affinity between work and home.

It was not until the 20th Century that the American work week seemed to settle into the current expectation of 40 hours (with a brief dip into 30+ hours during the depression). There's also some more good stuff and stats here.

Work Weeks, Supply/Demand and Market Forces

If you make it to the end of this article, you'll discover an interesting section discussing Supply/Demand and other market forces that affect the work week. For instance, if your workers are working 90% of the day that is great for supply, but terrible for demand ... or, in other words, no one has anytime to enjoy the wonderful new motorcycle coming off the assembly line. Here's a good summary of the thesis:

"Holding everything else constant, [companies] would like employees to work long hours because this means that they can utilize their equipment more fully and offset any fixed costs from hiring each worker (such as the cost of health insurance -- common today, but not a consideration a century ago). On the other hand, longer hours can bring reduced productivity due to worker fatigue and can bring worker demands for higher hourly wages to compensate for putting in long hours. If they set the workweek too high, workers may quit and few workers will be willing to work for them at a competitive wage rate."

Work and the Family

The above study also noted an interesting case at Kellogg's Cereal where too short of a work week led some workers to bemoan the extra time spent at home - leading to more fights since the men were always "underfoot all day."

Then again not having anytime for family or at home is also detrimental. Thankfully, there are some efforts to carve out space away from work and for the family - including an effort from Take Back Your Time and Panera Bread.

The Great Blah

One of my seminary professors once quipped that the problem with modern culture is that we worship our work, work at our play and play in worship. Boundaries between work, worship and play are ridiculously ambiguous (if at all present).

Nowadays, work is both nowhere near as rigid and confining as it was in the past but also more accessible and pervasive than ever imagined. Cell phones erase the rigid boundaries once associated with industry; wireless access blurs the line between home and office. Technology has both liberated and further restricted us.

Meanwhile, play has moved outside the normal boundaries of a Saturday activity and swallowed up whole weeknights and weekends.

And then there is worship. At first glance, there seems to be a good, strong trend of Christians in America who are learning that their faith impacts much more than their Sunday morning - worship, thankfully, is becoming a way of life, not an event to attend. However, the flip side of this new trend is that places and seasons/times for worship are rapidly disappearing - under the assumption that such places and times are no longer necessary. Yet, without appropriate places or periods for worship, there is just as much chance that secular dominates sacred as the opposite happening. And, there may be an even greater chance of individualism dominating community without proper boundaries.

Not that life ever really affords us tremendously clear, pleasant lines to keep our lives sane and happy, but ...

It is good to stop every other week or so and wonder, where do I work, where do I play, where do I worship? And have I got the equation all mixed up.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend

Wyatt's new thing is to put the blanket over his head and go crazy!

In the background is a wall hanging Anna made using a frame and fabric ... eventually it will go above our fireplace in our living room. There is also another wall hanging with the same fabric design only with greens and blues, which will go in the adjacent room.

A coconut ... which Anna intended to use for a raw recipe: cashew butter fudge cookies. It actually came out more like chocolate syrup, so I combined it with the raw milk we have. Excellent stuff. Here's the recipe for cashew butter fudge cookies:

2 1/2 c. coconut meat, chopped
2 c. maple syrup
1 t. vanilla
[puree till creamy]

1 c. raw cashew butter
1 c. raw carob powder
[combine with earlier and puree]

1/3 c. chopped pecans
1/3 c. chopped cashews
1/3 c. chopped macadamias

From "Raw: The Uncook Book" by Juliano Bortman and Erika Lenkert


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Brothers Karamazov meets the New York Times Bestseller's List

Someone from the church sent me word that Rick Warren (pastor of Saddleback Church) and Sam Harris (neuroscientist and athiest) engaged in a debate about the existence of God, the nature of the current world and what they really think of each other. Here's the link.

Anytime I read one of these debates, I always hope the Christian will find some way to be just as sharp and logically sound as the athiest. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Even more unfortunate: the athiest usually comes out more humane and humble. Again, this seemed to be the case here.

I certainly don't envy anyone who seeks to defend a belief system - be it Christian, Hindu, or atheism. But I particularly don't envy people who have to speak on behalf of faith traditions becuase they invariably have to defend dogma.

Philosophically, Harris has the easier job because he doesn't have to defend anything. He can simply open up questions, whereas Warren has to provide answers or at least project answers (especially since he is speaking on behalf of a good majority of evangelicals and would immediately be chewed up and spit out by certain Christians if he didn't say the right thing ... perhaps that is why he seems to throw in some rather random statements here in there ... because he knows he's got to cover his tush).

Anyhow, here's a good synopsis of what happens when two people get to talking about God and one has to defend God and the other doesn't:

WARREN: You're more spiritual than you think. You just don't want a boss. You don't want a God who tells you what to do.

HARRIS: I don't want to pretend to be certain about anything I'm not certain about.

It reminds me very much of the conversation between Alyosha and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov - specifically the chapter titled "The Grand Inquisitor."


Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Good Place to Die - A Short Story

"If you could have a song played at your funeral, what would it be?"

Brandon took his right hand off the steering wheel and let it hang beside he and his girl. He began to pull up a litany of songs. "Good question." He began to process his options. Something mellow perhaps - like Coltrane or Oasis. Or maybe country - an old spiritual plucked out on a guitar and sung by some sweet voice ... Emmylou Harris? Maybe, though, the best song would be nothing but moods, like Moby's Everloving. Yeah, that was good enough.

"Everloving. Everloving by Moby. That would be my song. What 'bout you?"

Laura turned her head away from the passing darkness and towards Brandon - staring at him while pulling her chin to her chest and raising eyebrows. "You can't be serious. Moby. Everloving. No words, no message? Just some random collection of beats and effects?"

"Yeah. That's what I want. An effect. I don't want anyone thinking my life can be summed up by some song - like three stanzas and a chorus could capture my life."

"And Moby can?"

"No, but it's as close as I can get." He wasn't hurt. He knew it was a silly answer. But, shit, this was a silly question. And if he was going to play, he at least wanted to play the whole thing out. "Okay, what's yours?" Brandon asked - shaking his head and turning his palms up towards the roof.

"Easy. When They Ring the Golden Bells. Natalie Merchant. Beautiful. Haunting. Simple. And it says it all."

"And it moves like a cow through crap."

"Oh, come on. I didn't knock your song, but then again I'm not planning on having my funeral in a club."

This was all either could handle of this brief, flirtatious game. They both began to laugh and roll their eyes. Brandon was trying to figure out how to extend the evening - cruising in the countryside and extending his left arm out the window he felt the cool air settling down upon the fields.

"Laura, this is good."

"What is Brandon?"

"This. Life. Driving through the country, talking about nothing - just piecing together memory after memory. You do know we'll never forget this evening."

"It has been great - dinner was excellent, probably the best meal I've ever had."

"Yeah, that was good, but that's not what I mean. I mean ... I mean the whole of it. These are the nights that stick deep into your heart - the quiet sunset, the easy conversation ... and now, a memorable subject. Death songs."

Still giddy from the wine, Laura left Brandon's words alone, choosing instead to focus her attention on the way his eyes reflected street lights and celestial stars. God, she loved this man. Not to the point that it ached in her. Not yet. Right now, it was more of a burn, a subtle, strong pulse of flame and ember. And part of that burn came from the tension of attraction and resistance, the delicate game of waiting and wanting.

Brandon continued along the road - easing the car into a ninety degree curve that bent to the left. Corn fields guarded both sides of the road - sequestering cars and making the roads seem both innocent and dangerous. Laura closed her eyes and leaned her head back. She conjured up an image far back in her happiest days - running with her grandmother to a back patch of land where raspberries and blackberries grew wild and where she would stroll along picking berry after berry - eating one, keeping another.

As Brandon cruised around the bend he began to notice a strange brilliance in the periphery. Laura kept on dreaming of yesteryear while also beginning to hum When They Ring the Golden Bells. And before Laura ever got to the first line, a wave of light flooded the interior of Brandon's car. It was the high-beams of an old Dodge truck - hellbent and swerving. It was too late. All Brandon got out in the end was a brief curse. Laura opened up her eyes just in time to throw her arms at the light. She could only stutter, "Brandon, no."

And after the cars collided and shattered and dislodged various parts, the quiet country road was full of nothing but the subtle murmur of crickets and Gimme Shelter from The Stones - pouring out from that old Dodge.


A Few Pics from Portland

In the heart of Portland is a community park. Up in the hills to the west, the park includes great vistas of the city, an incredible collection of roses and azaleas and rhododendrons, a Japanese garden, a zoo, and an arboretum. Within the rose garden there was a great sculpture (shown above).

Portland is known for its eccentric nature, which includes a wonderfully artsy, "green" series of blocks called the "Pearl District." Within this district is Powell's Books (world famous), which has taken over an entire block within the city.

This is a sunset view looking west (obviously) from Menucha. Menucha was the retreat center we stayed at for our time together. Menucha is Hebrew for "stillness." Actually, the Hebrew means something more like restorative stillness. Those of you who watch Lost will find a strikingly disturbing resemblance between the logo for Menucha and the Dharma Project. After staying there, I can tell you there were even more disturbing similarities - including a group of "Unity Churches" who would gather occasionally for drum circles.

Multnomah Falls. Wonderful. Beautiful.


Thursday, May 17, 2007


I've been out in Portland, Oregon for the past five days - praying and discussing, eating and listening with eight other pastoral colleagues. This place is beautiful, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to see where some other pastors live and minister. Still, I am ready to be home ... and to see Anna and Wyatt ... and even Owensboro again. God is working wonders still.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Good Pace

"... as I have thought through my early memories of being on those farms, I can't remember a farmer who was ever in a hurry. Farmers characteristically work hard, but there is too much work to do to be in a hurry. On a farm everything is connected both in place and in time. Nothing is done that isn't connected both in place and in time. Nothing is done that isn't connected to something else; if you get in a hurry, break the rhythms of the land and the seasons and the weather, things fall apart - you get in the way of something set in motion last week or month. A farm is not neat - there is too much going on that is out of your control. Farms helps us learn patience and attentiveness ..." - Eugene Peterson, reflecting on Wendell Berry's poetry in Eat This Book.

Saturday is farmer's market day in Owensboro, and while the market is not much right now (a few stands of flowers and a sampling of greens like bok choy and romain lettuce) it does include a Mennonite farmer. This past Saturday Anna asked me to make the trip out to see him since I needed the car for my Saturday morning hoops game.

So I showed up - sweaty and hoping I hadn't missed him. And as I got out of the car (which I had proceeded to drive like I was running away from the po-po of Owensboro) and strode over to the farmer's trailer, I quickly noticed two other customers - a young man and wife about my age - making a purchase for their coming week. Off to my left was a lettuce stand, which I also needed to visit. I figured the couple ahead of me would be done with their order in a few seconds, I'd tell the farmer what I needed, pay him, turn to the lettuce stand, get the goods there, and be off.

About thirty seconds into my waiting, I started to feel some awkwardness. For one thing, the guy selling lettuce was all by himself. I could have easily gone over there, grabbed the lettuce and been back in no time with the farmer. And, secondly, I didn't want to make the couple in front of me nervous (or offended by my gross amount of sweat).

But, by this time I couldn't leave my spot. I was struck by the manner in which the farmer was doing his work. He was methodically going about his trailer - looking into one freezer, grabbing a package of bacon, going over to a sheet, marking off an item with pencil, going to another freezer for a couple steaks, going back to the sheet, over to the fridge for a half gallon of milk and a half a pound of butter, back to the sheet, then calculating the total with pencil and paper. All of this took probably five minutes or so, which seemed like a nuisance in the first minute. However by minute four I realized the girl in front of me was wearing an "In 'N Out" t-shirt and which led to a brief conversation about their experience out west and what brought them to Owensboro. By minute five I discovered the women behind me (who appeared a few minutes after my arrival) had a daughter in the hospital whom she asked me to pray for.

The pace of this man's work slowed my own down, allowing much growth that I otherwise would have missed in my haste. And, on top of all that, I have been drinking the finest milk I've ever had in my life. Not bad for a Saturday morning.


A Song by Natalie Merchant


Well, I lived in a town
Way down south
By the name of Owensboro
And I worked in a mill
With the rest of the "trash"
As we're often called
As you know

Well, we rise up early
In the morning
And we work all day real hard
To buy our little meat and bread
Buy sugar, tea, and lard

Well, our children
Grow up unlearned
With no time to go to school
Almost before they learn to walk
They learn to spin and spool

Well, the folks in town
They dress so fine
And spend their money free
But they would hardly look
At a factory hand
Who dresses like you or me

Would you let them wear
Their watches fine
Let them wear their gems
And pearly strings

But when that day
Of judgement comes
They'll have to share
Their pretty things

Monday, May 07, 2007

Into All Sorts of Things

Wyatt found a box of wheat gluten in our pantry and soon discovered it not only made a great sound, it also creates an instant sand box.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Four Songs

Four new songs have been introduced into my iTunes favorite list:

1. Glittering Clouds (Locusts) by Imogen Heap
2. Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie
3. Son's Gonna Rise by Citizen Cope
4. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk by Rufus Wainwright

None of these songs are particularly new, but boy are they good.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Business in the front

I realized that I frequently find myself on the small side of the camera lens - picking scenes to snap into history rather than being the one photographed. This is too bad, especially since it doesn't give all of you out there a true appreciation of just what I have undergone to make myself more like my brethren in Kentucky. So, just to prove that (a) I still exist and (b) I can just as easily fit into Pikesville's senior prom pictures as I can a Hollywood nightclub ... feast your eyes on my new and retroactively cool ... mullet:

Jealous? Don't be. Get your own mullet here.

Here's one more pic.

So fire up your '86 Mustang, pack a cooler of Stroh's and let your "yee-ha's" beat your grandpa's!



To make sense of everything is to ignore the absurdity in your own backyard.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Languages, Gardens and Growing

If you were in our house right now, you would no doubt begin looking for the nearest exit after being here for fifteen minutes That's because we have a "learn-Spanish-through-repetition-if that-is-even-possible" cd's playing. We picked the series up at our local library - hoping to finally give some credibility to our numerous statements that we would like to learn Spanish.

We just discovered that Latin Americans traditionally refer to the Spanish language not as Espanol but as Castellano. Then, we had the word drilled into our heads with a variety of other phrases like "I don't understand," "excuse me," "sir," and "North American" ... in Castellano of course.

The damnable thing about language learning is that it takes repetition upon repetition. The language just doesn't come unless you hear and speak it. So, you have to disregard the desire to check the cd to make sure it doesn't have a scratch on it when - after twenty minutes - you're trying to figure out how to say, "Excuse me, sir, do you understand Spanish?"

After the twentieth time of asking me, I respond: "Pardon, senior, entiende Castellano." Crap. Is that right? No worries; I'll hear how to say it at least fifty more times.


The funny thing: Wyatt gets this poor routine everyday. Today after work I was in the backyard with him. He would point to various things, and I would parrot back to him what it was. "Tree. Garden. Birds. Grass ..." and so on. Over and over again. I'm like a walking cd, only not nearly as systematic, and hopefully not nearly as boring.


Some words have taken root in Wyatt. Dog is now completely understood - as acknowledged by him patting his thigh with his hand (the international sign for dog). And, as of today, he seems to understand and use the international sign for bye-bye ... that one really is international.


Meanwhile, our garden doesn't seem to be making great strides. Although there are a few snap pea plants bursting through with little green leaves and stems, the broccoli, kale and green onions just aren't much to look at (thus, they are not on the blog). We do have some "warmer" crops that are being started inside ... tomatoes, bell peppers and some herbs. They're doing fairly well, but I can tell Anna is less than thrilled with their performance as well ...

So, rather than ridicule the vegetables (or stand over them and repeat slowly and methodically the word "grow"), Anna has turned her attention to our perennial garden, which had looked something like the jungles of Latin America. Now you can isolate one perennial from another, and you can even distinguish some ground here and there. Who knew so much of gardening was about pulling up the things you don't want while waiting tirelessly for the things you do want!


Languages and gardens: both take a great deal of careful observation, practice and time to master. Master is the wrong word. Languages and gardens grow. They take hold through patience and persistence.

Adios, amigos.