Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Value of Calculus

I took three semesters of calculus in college. As a librarian, I don't have a strong need for advanced math education. Most of what I learned so many years ago has long since faded from memory. Still, calculus has some small enduring value to me. Or maybe it's “pre-calculus” where most people meet the concept of limits.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand limits is to look at what happens if one divides by zero. What is the result for dividing 1 by 0 on a standard calculator? The answer is that it gives an error. Dividing by zero is not an allowed math operation. So no one knows what 1/0 equals, right? Well, sort of. Here is where limits come in handy. What if I calculate the value of 1/x and don't actually make x equal to zero but make it very small? I see that 1/1 = 1; 1/0.1 = 10; 1/0.01 = 100; 1/0.001 = 1,000; 1/0.0001 = 10,000; etc. Although I can never make x equal to zero, I can figure out that the smaller x becomes, the larger result I will get. If I could divide by zero, the smallest possible number, I would get the largest possible number, which is infinitely large. Thus, although I can't divide by zero, I know what the result would be if I could because I know where my answer is headed for progressively smaller values of x: infinity.

At the other end of the scale, I could ask myself what 1/x would be if x were equal to infinity. Again, I can't actually put infinity into the calculator and get an answer. However, if I calculate the results for increasing values of x, I discover that the answer becomes progressively smaller. If I could take x all the way to infinity, I would end up with a result of zero. 1/0 = infinity. 1/infinity = 0. Both those answers are determined by letting x come as close as possible to either zero or infinity and watching where the result is heading. The result of dividing 1 by any number between 0 and infinity will fall somewhere between infinity and zero. Thus, 1/x+1 will approach 1 as x approaches infinity and will approach infinity as x approaches zero. For every positive value of x, 1/x+1 will lie somewhere between 1 and infinity.

I find this process of determining the boundaries of an equation's result useful for answering certain philosophical questions. For example, in my last post I pondered the question of whether it is possible for one person to make another person happy. To find my answer, I assigned the person responsible for creating happiness in the life of another person to provide the maximum service possible to that other person. I made that responsible person into a slave. Attentiveness from this person approaches the maximum humanly possible. I then mentally assessed the happiness of the person receiving the full attention of that slave. My conclusion was that humans have no lack of ability to be dissatisfied even in the face of total attentiveness by the person they have made responsible for their happiness. A slave can't read the mind of the master. A slave can only work so fast and so hard and can be only one place at a time. A slave requires food and sleep. My conclusion was that, because of these limitations and others, an unhappy person will continue to be unhappy even with a fully dedicated slave. Therefore, if even dedicated slave-level service doesn't satisfy an unhappy person, I can conclude that no lesser level of service and attentiveness will make an unhappy person happy. There needs to be another source for happiness. Can a person affect the happiness of another person? Yes. But the other person will always have the capability of being completely unhappy regardless of the level of service rendered.

This is the value of calculus to me. It helps me solve certain mental puzzles by giving me endpoints to the possible range of answers as the unknowns move across their full spectrum of possible values.

x approaches infinity questions:
  • What if everybody did it?
  • What if I did it perfectly?
  • What is the worst that could happen (maximum unpleasantness)?

x approaches zero questions:
  • What if I did nothing?
  • What if nobody did it?
  • What is the best that could happen (minimal unpleasantness)?

After I find the limits, it is then easier to figure out the range of answers for likely values of the unknowns in life's equations, e.g. the level of friendship and service I have to offer to an unhappy person in my life will never be sufficient to make that person happy.

Three semesters of calculus for that. Or at least I haven't noticed any other residual effect of those classes. Does anyone have any other practical uses for higher math?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I Could Be Happy If Only You Were a Better Person

Sometimes I get the impression that I'm the sole obstacle to another person's happiness. Unhappy people tell me how unhappy they are and either blame their unhappiness directly on me, citing something I did (or didn't do) that robbed them of their joy, or tell me what would make them happy without mentioning my own ability to provide that missing ingredient. In the latter case, I'm never quite sure whether or not I'm supposed to take the hint and provide them with what they need in order to be happy.

This is a lot of responsibility. I already take responsibility for my own happiness. And much of my happiness traces back to being available for service to other people, to many people. The happy people in my life accept what I give them with gratitude. Their happiness doesn't depend on me but I can add to it. Most of the unhappy people in my life are independently unhappy and don't particularly notice me. There are just a few who seem certain that they could be happier if only I focused more of my time and energy on pleasing them.

I wonder. Has anyone ever found happiness in being served? Are people with devoted slaves to anticipate their every need happy people? I'm thinking not. Even the most devoted slave can't read the mind of his master and must sometimes fail to be fully pleasing. I can think of few more certain roads to frustration and anger than depending on someone else for one's contentment and joy.

So what do I do about the unhappy people who latch onto me as holding the key to their happiness? I can try to explain to them that joy comes through acts of service, but I don't think that is a concept that sells well.

In her book A Theology of Love, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop defined love as “impartial goodwill”. I think the best I can do for people looking to me to fix what's wrong with their world is to offer them the same level of service I offer to others. Sometimes it's easy to do less for those who show so little appreciation for small acts of service and consistently demand more. Other times, I find myself doing more -- service I don't want to provide and can't sustain.

Jesus Christ said that there will always be poor people among us. I suspect that's true not only in terms of financial poverty but in terms of emotional poverty. Serving those people with the same effort I invest in happy people might be the best I can do. If nothing else, doing so adds to my own sense of well-being. There is a certain satisfaction in neither walking away from a manipulator entirely nor giving into their demands but simply serving them as though they appreciated small acts of kindness.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Agree or Disagree: Prayer works

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post on the idea that "prayer works". You can read those thoughts here if you'd like, but it's not really necessary. Basically, I questioned what it means to say "prayer works". I have racked up a lot of unanswered prayers in my life and have watched people who are more optimistic than I am rack up even more.

One of my favorite people in the world is now on hospice care, dying of cancer at age 51. If prayer consistently worked for healing cancer patients, he would not be in this situation. I am far from the only one who values his friendship. The prayer that has bombarded heaven on his behalf is quite impressive by any measure. Hundreds of people spread across at least three continents are praying desperately for his healing. His mother has a history of seeing miraculous healings in response to her prayers. She is praying. Many of those praying have devoted their entire lives to God and the church, some serving in high levels of our denomination. Yet, he's dying. If "working" means always granting long life to those we love and for whom we pray, then, no, prayer does not work.

My experiments have revealed also that prayer doesn't work for getting signs from heaven. If you want God to prove His existence to you by giving you some sort of sign, you will likely be disappointed. Or at least it hasn't worked for me. In spite of my prayers, I have no proof of God's existence beyond what is available to all. My faith is at its core simply that -- faith.

So prayer doesn't work for keeping alive and healthy those we hold dear. And prayer doesn't work for giving us hard evidence concerning God. There's some disappointment there. What good is prayer if not for miracles of healing and signs of divine power at work among us?

This post was actually prompted not by disappointment with prayer but by a fresh realization of what a blessing prayer has been in my life. It takes perspective to see it, though.

Fifteen years ago, I prayed for people with whom to share my spiritual journey. After a while, one of the few people who filled that role in my life moved away. My prayers weren't working very well. However, from this perspective I can see that I was about to meet several people who have become dear friends. And the internet was about to open up a wealth of opportunities to communicate with like-minded people. Was it simply coincidence that my prayers back then were for the things that were about to happen?

Not quite so long ago, I started regularly practicing prayer and fasting for my church in response to a call by an internet friend to do so. After a year or two of praying that way, things were going so badly that I stopped the fasting part, suspecting that anyone involved would ask me to do so if they thought my prayers were behind the storm beating against the church. The results of those prayers were disastrous. However, from this perspective, I can see that we were about to enter a new era as a church. Some people aren't pleased with this new place where we've found ourselves, but I'm certainly not complaining.

One of my favorite verses from the Bible is Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (NIV).

Does prayer work? No, it doesn't. At least not like a working, well-stocked vending machine where you can expect a particular item to fall out if you put in the correct amount of change.

Does prayer work? I don't know, but sometimes when I pray terrible and unexpected things happen which precipitate delightful and unexpected blessings.

Does prayer work? It must! I pray and I am blessed at every turn.

On the other hand, a dear friend is dying too soon and all of the prayer in the world seems unable to prevent that from happening.

Does prayer work? On the survey I took that asked me that question, my response (blank) was tabulated as "not sure/no opinion". Maybe "I don't know" is the best answer I have. However, it bothers me a little that my response will show up in some set of ain't-it-awful statistics that will say, "___% of evangelical Christians responded that they don't know if prayer works."

Maybe what we need is a different question. Agree or disagree: Prayer is essential to my spiritual well-being. For that one I can confidently mark: Strongly agree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Review - The Irresistible Revolution by Shaine Claiborne

If anyone pays any attention to my reading list, they must think I am a slow reader. It takes me a long time to get through the books I list here. I read fiction now and then and actually manage to return books to the library in a reasonable amount of time, but the "morning books" are a slow go. Too many of my mornings allow no time to make progress in anything beyond the Bible.

This morning I finished a book I have been working on for several months -- The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical by Shaine Claiborne. The author is a self-described radical. He does ministry in the inner city of Philadelphia. When the U.S. declared war on Iraq, he went to Iraq to minister to the people there. He has sneaked into an event where the President of the United States was speaking, passing himself off as a journalist and then removing his outer business attire to expose a t-shirt with words of protest. He has been arrested multiple times for civil disobedience.

This book was not a waste of my time. It is readable and thought-provoking. It gave me a nudge to nurture my natural pacifism. It challenged me to find ways to minister to people living in poverty. It encouraged me by presenting a snapshot of one person's take on what it looks like to take the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously.

This is a book that makes me feel like I've been listening to the author speak of his personal experience rather than reading about it. Every word is written in the voice of the author. I can imagine myself in a crowd of people listening to him speak. And in my imagined picture, I imagine myself interacting with him. Only, that part doesn't work. When I approach him, he doesn't see me. He looks past me for someone more interesting. Ordinary, law-abiding citizens bore him. He's looking for people living more obviously radical lifestyles than mine.

Now, I may be very wrong about Mr. Claiborne. He may actually enjoy exploring ministry possibilities with ordinary people trying to invest their lives in ways that bless those around them, particularly in the needy people in their world. But his book is written in a tone that leaves me feeling hopelessly dull and lacking in spiritual fervor. I'm not ready to give up my current community to seek out a more exotic setting in the inner city. If everyone who cares about needy people went to the inner city, who would care about those trapped in destructive lifestyles in less populated areas? I'm also not quite willing to accept his underlying message that says real Christians live in ways that stir up the government to oppose them. I suppose that if I looked hard enough I could find some form of local injustice that requires fighting the government to correct. But I don't have to look nearly so hard to find ways to minister to people in ways that please governing authorities by addressing community needs that aren't easily addressed by government -- e.g., literacy, adult education, and spiritual needs.

I think I may be too old for this book. I've long outgrown any desire I might have had in my younger years to stir up trouble for myself by bringing the negative attention of authority figures my direction. Actually, I get along quite well with authority figures. Maybe I'm just fortunate to live in a place where the government is more interested in building community than in oppressing needy people. Or maybe I'm blind and my blindness survived this attempt to open my eyes.

This book wasn't a waste of my time to read. It gave me a view of an alternative approach to Christian living. It's good for me to see how other people are living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reading it reminded me that ministry happens outside the four walls of the church. But it gave me no ideas for law-abiding ministry in my rural community. Mr. Claiborne wouldn't find nearly enough excitement and challenge in my world. While people were struggling with drunk-driving citations and literacy and economic issues, the most likely action I can imagine for him would be to move into a tepee set up outside the gates of the local Navy base in protest against the war, inconveniencing the civilian employees there by forcing the base to go on high danger alert. (This scenario doesn't take all that much imagination on my part. It has already been done in protest of some other military action.)

In summary, I'm not unhappy about the time I invested in reading the book, but it won't get a permanent spot on my bookshelves. If someone wants to read it, I'll mail it to the first person who asks.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Funerals and universalism

We had a death in the family this week, temporarily stopping our world in order to deal with all that comes at such times. As a family member only by marriage, my role was observatory in nature as much as anything. It's interesting to listen to people at such times.

I spend a lot of time immersed in the evangelical subculture, where the world is neatly divided into "saved" and "unsaved", Christian and nonbeliever. The strongest mission of evangelicals is to evangelize - identify the unsaved and persuade them to get saved. We are warned often of the importance of warning the unsaved that they are hellbound if they don't become saved. Death ends all chances of salvation.

So then someone dies. And out come the platitudes.

"He's in a better place now."
"At least she's not suffering any longer."
"He'll be waiting over yonder for you."

Even if the deceased was the target of evangelism before death, one must be kind.

"May God have mercy on his soul."
"We never know what change of heart she may have had before she breathed her last breath."

In the end, we seem to vote for universalism, for all to be given a heavenly reward, regardless of the life they lived. Who wants to tell the grieving family, "Well, I guess that's it. Life is over. We'll just have to accept that she's gone forever"? Even worse would be to say, "You know, I'm not sure he was a proper Christian. I'm guessing that eternal punishment awaits him."

Death seems to prompt people to express some interesting beliefs about death and heaven. Someone told me that people refuse to die in the presence of those who love them deeply, that they will linger through endless days of round-the-clock vigilance and die when the one who loves them steps away for just a moment. It was the first I heard of this pattern. The message behind it seemed to be one of comfort for those who went to great lengths to stay close and then somehow missed the actual moment of death.

From what I hear, people believe that those who die are immediately escorted into heaven, that they can observe those who are left behind, that they experience instant healing, and that they are waiting anxiously for us to join them. When push comes to shove, they don't seem to have a very firm belief that anyone they loved would be in any danger of experiencing eternal punishment. Or maybe it's the ones who have such optimistic beliefs who do the most talking, while those who fear for the soul of the dearly departed, speak more of comfort for those left behind.

I don't have a problem with any of these beliefs. I don't know what happens after death. As I wrote in my last post, I'm "betting the farm" on some type of hereafter for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, a life with more than enough joys to compensate for any loss we might experience in this life. By which I mean that I'm not making choices as though this life is all there is. However, I'm not betting anything at all on the literal reality of some sort of eternal punishment. Universalism, the belief that all will be "saved" in the end, doesn't particularly bother me. It simply interests me that it seems to be so firmly rejected by many in regard to those who are living and so much more acceptable in the face of death and grieving. When kindness and compassion are in great need, people tend to view God as more forgiving than at other times. Or maybe those with more orthodox beliefs concerning heaven and hell stand silent while those who aren't afraid to express universalistic views speak up.

In this case, it doesn't really matter because the deceased had made a statement of faith before he died. Everyone present who believes in heaven in any form could rejoice that he had passed from suffering to his eternal reward. And mourn the loss of the good days when he was healthy and active in this life. Death is sad even with a strong belief in a blessed afterlife, simply because of the grief of those who are left behind.

It has been a difficult week and there will be difficult days to come. Belief in an afterlife never quite succeeds in eliminating grief in the face of death.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Postmodernism and Absolute Truth

In his book The Church in Transition: The Journey of Existing Churches into the Emerging Culture Tim Conder lists "seven deadly fears" concerning the emerging forms of worship. The first "deadly fear" is: Postmodernism and the loss of 'truth'. My observation is that Conder was spot on in putting this fear at the top of his list. I have encountered more hand-wringing over this one perceived aspect of postmodernism than any other.

I am postmodern enough to be quite resistant to those who insist that there is absolute truth and that they know what it is. It's not that I don't believe in absolute truth. I actually do. For example, I believe that there is either a divine Creator or there is not. Absolutely. The choices are existence or non-existence, and whichever is true is absolutely true.

So I'm right in there with all the people telling me there is absolute truth. Right up to the point where they present an example of an absolute truth. At that point, they've lost me. How can they be certain that they have discovered the truth? What is their absolutely reliable source for that discovery? Why does their version of absolute truth differ from another person's? Which version is the absolute truth about absolute truth?

In other words, as a postmodern thinker, I (a) absolutely believe in absolute truth; (b) doubt that it's humanly possible to absolutely determine the absolute truth about anything.

The reason so many people involved in organized religion are so afraid of that position is because to accept it would leave them in the position of possibly discovering that there is no truth behind their faith. If there is no God/Allah/Great Spirit/Creator, then all religion is a waste of devotion. If Jesus Christ was not God in flesh, Christianity has no validity.

Many people believe in Jesus Christ as the conveyor of absolute truth about God and man. So do I. Where we differ is that I am aware that I may be completely mistaken. And I'm all right with that. I have looked hard at the possibility and choose to risk being wrong. I'm not the first to figure out that there's less risk in mistakenly believing in a God and in life after death than in mistakenly denying the existence of more than I can see. I choose to believe because I'm capable of believing and have found that believing brings great reward even here and now in terms of joy and peace.

What intrigues me is how the absolute truth advocates sometimes stop short in their faith. They are positive there is a God. They are positive that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16 KJV)" But I sometimes wonder if they truly believe that God loves them and me and the lesbian couple next door. I wonder if they truly believe that the joys of heaven will overwhelmingly make up for the sorrows of this life. It seems that they are reluctant to step beyond what they "know" and make a choice to believe what seems less obvious to them.

Several "watershed moments" in my life have involved decisions to "bet the farm" on a particular aspect of the Christian faith. For example, there was a moment when I decided to "bet the farm" on "heaven" (or a new earth to be more scripturally accurate). That's not just a head decision, it's a radical lifestyle decision. It allows me to accept less from life with less grief. I do not seek to grab all the gusto in this life as though this is all there is. I may never do the things I have dreamed of doing in my lifetime, but I choose to believe that, in the life to come, I will not regret the things left undone on this earth.

Another "watershed moment" was when I decided to "sign up" for 'Sermon on the Mount' living. You know, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, forgiving those who trespass against me, that sort of thing. The absolute truth people warn me that one mustn't take such teachings too literally, that Christians have to fight for their rights, that we can't just lie down and be doormats. However, I decided to try it. I'm still trying. It turns out that I'm not a very good doormat. I keep finding myself back up on my feet. So I dig in a little deeper, try to lie a little flatter. And it seems to be a quite satisfying way to live in those times when I manage to pull it off.

Yes, I believe in absolute truth. Either (a) believing the teachings of Jesus Christ and incorporating those teachings into one's lifestyle brings abundant and eternal life or (b) it doesn't. Or maybe those teachings have limited value. There's absolute truth somewhere in the spectrum of possibilities. I'm sure that it's there, I just don't know what it is. But -- to bring in one more metaphor -- I'm putting all my eggs into one basket. And things are looking better and better all the time. At this point in my life (49 years and 10 months), I'm ready to say that even if the eternal life part doesn't pan out, the joys of living here and now have more than made up for anything I've sacrificed thus far in the name of Christianity.

Those looking in at postmodernity from the outside seem quite certain that one must be absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ is the only path to God in order to be a committed Christian. But doesn't faith by definition involve choosing to believe what has not been proven? Why would we insist on knowing for sure that our "faith" is not in vain?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Internal Timekeeper

For 16 years, I was out of the job market, a stay-at-home mom, no employment, no time-cards, no pay. Now I have a part-time job, no immediate supervisor, no time-card, modest pay. I'm finding it difficult to adjust to being employed. At first it was just a few hours a week and I was paid for what I worked. However, a couple of years ago, I moved to a salary and have been trying to raise my total hours per week since then. I'm only aiming for 23 hours a week. It shouldn't be that hard. But it is.

I think I have zeroed in on at least part of the problem: my internal timekeeper. It was developed during all of those busy years of being a full-time mother plus juggling multiple volunteer jobs plus trying to carve out time for personal interests. It operates somewhere below my conscious cognitive processes and has this capability of figuring out exactly how long any particular task will take under pressure.

The "under pressure" part is a key to this. Suppose that I need to prepare for a monthly library board meeting. I could spend hours doing so. I could review past board minutes for outstanding issues. I could work up a fancy agenda. I could send out reminders of the meeting to all of the members. I could write up a detailed report of my activities since the last meeting. I could analyze the statistics to report trends in the library. I could study the financial picture for the library and create charts and graphs. However, my internal timekeeper considers what must absolutely be done in preparation for the meeting and decides that it will take me no longer than an hour of working at maximum efficiency to prepare at some minimum level of adequacy. It then suggests to some subconscious part of my decision-making process that there's no need to start my preparations more than an hour before the meeting.

While all this is going on, the conscious part of my daily planner has decided to start early on my board meeting preparations and get them out of the way. However, other options for investing my time, some important, some not, some urgent, some not, step in and vie for my time. And my internal timekeeper says, "Sure, go ahead and do that. You really only need an hour to get ready for the meeting."

This creates some serious problems for me. That internal timekeeper is concerned only with checking off the most pressing tasks on my to-do list. It has no regard for investing time today in tasks that could be put off until tomorrow or next week or forever. It doesn't care about the whole 23 hours per week goal. It releases me to do actual work "on the clock" only if it determines the tasks I will be doing will be either interesting, important, or urgent. It likes to work under pressure. After all, I'm a much more efficient worker when I have only one hour to do what can be done in an hour but could be stretched to three. If I have three hours before the deadline for that project, I can either take three hours to do it or ignore the approaching deadline until only one hour is left. I find it impossible to do the one hour of work needed three hours ahead of the deadline and then fill those other two hours efficiently.

Something has to change. Now that I have become aware of how my internal timekeeper is undermining my conscious planning efforts, I need to find a way to control it.

Meanwhile, however, I find it fascinating that this ability exists below my conscious level to make a quite accurate assessment of exactly how long a task will take to accomplish at maximum efficiency. Packing for a trip? Three hours without pressure, 20 minutes with. Preparing a Sunday School lesson? Three hours to do dynamically, one hour to do adequately. And at some level, I have determined that the difference between adequate and dynamic is not worth the extra two hours.

Right now I need to be using my one day off this week to accomplish multiple goals. And right now my internal timekeeper is sorting through the deadlines for and importance of those goals and discarding most of them as less interesting, important, or urgent than making this post. It's reducing my to-do list to the bare minimum that must be done today and calculating how much time it will take to do only the bare essentials. While I was counting on accomplishing much in this day at one level, it was looking at my true interests and condensing everything else down to make room for the things that give me the most pleasure right now.

Self-control. I need to take responsibility for my schedule, for my priorities, for how I invest my time. Because what gives me the most pleasure right now is seldom the same thing that will make me feel good about a day at its close. Which means I need to reach down into the realm of my internal timekeeper and break it to my conscious will. I need to get a harness on it and use its surprising skills consciously rather than allowing it to derail my schedule by authorizing procrastination.

I wonder how that is done.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Banned books

We recently came through "Banned Book Week". Did you have the traditional celebration where you are? The proper way to observe "Banned Book Week," of course, is to display a collection of banned books and encourage people to read them, as demonstrated by this blog entry from the Office for Intellectual Freedom. You may ask, If the books are banned, how will my local library be able to display them? This would be a very good question in my opinion. However, it seems to be a question that never occurs to anyone at the American Library Association. I subscribe to an active listserv for librarians and in all the discussion leading up to the big week, not a single person raised that most obvious question. I was tempted to give up my lurker status to address the question, but decided I had better things to do in life than deal with the flood of heated responses that would likely result from such a post on a library listserv. I'll stick to posting here and take my chances with the search engines.

Of course, the way that libraries can display "banned" books is because they aren't banned. There are no banned books in the U.S. The week's title is a misnomer. The lists used for "Banned Books Week" trace back to challenges from people who would like to see a particular book taken off the library shelf. There is no requirement that even one of those challenges be successful and result in the book being made inaccessible to anyone. The proper name for the list is "most frequently challenged books". One would think that people who worship the god of intellectual freedom would also go in for honesty, but, unfortunately, honesty has never fared well in the world of marketing and there's much marketing involved in "Banned Books Week".

We have few book challenges at the public library where I work. However, we did have one recently. A parent returned a book with the comment that it was not at all appropriate for children and did not belong in the children's area. When the report of the protest reached my desk, I was curious and decided to read the book. The title? The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix, first published in 1967. Wikipedia says of it: "The novel's plot is extremely different from the Disney film's. It should be noted that the novel is much more complex than the Disney version and was originally intended for an adult audience." Well, yes, this book is not a happy-ending Disney story. It's a glimpse into the life of a fox and the efforts of a hound to track it down, told from the point of view of both animals in turn. There's much fox lore within its pages and I found it quite interesting. I've been compulsively sharing little tidbits from it the way other people seem compelled to tell me about television documentaries in which I have no interest.

Was it offensive and inappropriate for children? Well, that depends on your setting. Is it offensive for animals to walk around naked? Is it offensive to introduce children to the mating habits of animals and teach them correct terminology for animal anatomy? Is it offensive to include death in a story about a wild animal? I'm not sure children were sheltered from such subjects and vocabulary in 1967 like they are today. How has our society become so much less open about the sexual activities of animals and the life-and-death reality of wild animals while becoming so much more open about human sexuality in movies and television shows? I guess those shows aren't shelved in the children's section of the library.

I decided to move the book to the adult shelves even before I read the Wikipedia article saying it was intended for adults. I think it would be an excellent book for anyone wanting to learn about the life of foxes, but the reading level is better suited to teenagers or adults than the 8- to 12-year-olds who generally browse the shelves where it has sat for at least the thirteen years since the card catalog was automated.

It's too bad that people of any age have been allowed to read this book over the years. It's rather the worse for wear. I see that copies in good condition sell for $50 to $150 at Abebooks. That's unusually high for used books. Maybe we should lock it up to protect both the value of the book and the innocent minds of children who might discover it over in the adult section of the library and learn the raw truth behind such cliches as "sly as an old fox".

Things can get pretty dangerous in the public library.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talking vs. Listening

I’m not getting around very fast this morning - as usual. Thus far, I have spoken to five people – one in person, four by phone. I initiated two of the phone calls, a high count for any day. If it were up to me, our telephones would all have like-new keypads. Two calls (one received, one initiated) were strictly business-related information exchanges. The other two were less formal.

Meanwhile, I’m mulling over a meeting I sat in on last night. During the two less formal phone calls, I alluded to that meeting. However, neither party was interested in hearing my thoughts on it. In fact, neither one seemed particularly interested in hearing my thoughts on much of anything. The one who called me was more interested in talking – and had interesting tales to tell me, so that was all right. The one I called was more interested in responding to whatever it was I needed and then getting off the phone and back to other things. That was all right, too.

So I sit here alone with my thoughts and can’t think of a single person who wants to hear them. And maybe there would be no value in sharing them, at least not outside of my ‘prayer closet’, where I share them with the One who truly cares for me.

Yet, here you are at the bottom of my post. You now know more about what’s going on in my life this morning than any of those five people with whom I have interacted in real life.

I wonder. Am I more interesting in print than in person? Would you like to hear my thoughts about last night’s meeting?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Are you still looking for something new here?

It turns out the blogs have a life of their own. This morning I noticed an e-mail from Bravenet (the people running my hit counter). It was a rather cryptic message saying that someone had used my e-mail address to access my account. They wanted to know if this was really my e-mail address and if I had "initiated this action". Huh? Yes, it is my e-mail address but I haven't accessed my account lately. Anyway, I followed the link and ended up signed onto Bravenet where I discovered that my blog is still getting a steady flow of 'hits' - an average of five per day in the last week. Most of them are people coming off the search engines, generally looking for information about "front porches". I've never figured out why they follow the link to my ponderings on the subject but if I were getting paid for every hit, that one entry would account for most of my income to date. MSN picked it up first. Now it's usually Yahoo that sends them here.

So, anyway, since the e-mail from Bravenet enticed me to first visit my counter stats and then wander over here, I figured I may as well update my reading list. I finished a book this morning. That's a rare event that calls for some sort of celebration. The book was Prayer by Philip Yancey. As usual with his books, it was written exactly where I live and I enjoyed it very much. I'm tempted to add a study of the book at a local church to my already crammed schedule. It started last evening and I already had three other events competing for my time. Next week is out, too. Why am I even considering this idea?

As to the book, there are many types of writing that are far beyond me, that I don't have the imagination or creativity or even desire to emulate. There are other types of writing that I'm arrogant enough to think I could produce on my own but wouldn't bother -- using flowery language to state the obvious. When I read books by Philip Yancey, I see the gap between his writing ability and mine as having more to do with experience and effort (research and diligence in writing) and the editorial process than anything else. His writing is the type I think I could do when I grow up if I would put my mind to it. He puts into words the wordless concepts that float around in my head simply waiting for release and gives me a goal for my writing aspirations.

I once saw a collection of book titles by Christian authors. There were two lists. I'm going by memory here, but I think the first list was of classic works about Christianity. Alongside it was a list of bestselling present-day writing in the Christian market. Philip Yancey was the only author who made both lists. Classic Christian writing that is enjoyed by today's consumers. What a talent!

Anyway, writing that requires initiative on my part (as opposed to responding to someone else's thoughts) isn't fitting into my life well. The three-month gap between this post and the last might lend credence to that statement, if anyone is inclined to doubt it. But my reading list is now updated and here's something for you to read if you happen to come here to see what's new rather than to read about front porches. Thank you for persisting!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Basic appliance requirements

So we're getting a new dishwasher. The old dishwasher has at long last given up the ghost. Instead of pumping water, it makes a terrible noise that we have interpreted to mean that there will be no more dishes washed until a repairman shows up. There will be no repairman. Rather, there will be a delivery and the old dishwasher will be added to some mountain of trash somewhere.

This is a bit of a relief. The dishwasher is 11 years old. I'm not sure of the ratio of kitchen appliance years to human years, but I would say that it would be eligible for the senior discount on Cascade if such a thing existed. However, that's not why we're relieved by it's refusal to wash dishes. You see, three years ago, we did call the appliance repairman. The dishwasher was leaking water on the floor. And the timer sometimes stuck partway through the cycle and would run indefinitely if not manually moved on to the next stage of the cycle.

When the repairman walked through the door, I realized that I had already incurred some sort of financial obligation whether the appliance was repaired or not. After an examination, the diagnosis was given -- $275 to fix the water on the floor, another couple of hundred to fix the timer. I considered the matter. The repairman was standing there. I owed him money already. Life was crazy and did not include time to shop for a new dishwasher. However, fixing the old one completely would cost more than buying a new one. I compromised and had him fix the leak but not the timer. My husband was not thrilled with that decision but we were back in the dishwashing business with less pain than any alternative fix.

Time passed. As my husband and I headed out to shop for a new dishwasher a couple of weeks ago, we were discussing what features we wanted on the new one. As we considered shelf arrangement and noise and number of cycles, I decided to throw in a dream feature. Would it, could it, be possible that we could find a dishwasher that would wash the dishes completely unattended? Would we be able to find one that required only a push of the button and no further attention? Could we start a load of dishes on our way out the door or to bed? If it had a delay start, could we use it?

For just short of three years, the routine has been: 1)start the dishwasher; 2)set the stove timer to 20 minutes; 3)arrange to be within hearing range of the kitchen in 20 minutes. 4)at the sound of the buzzer, return to the kitchen to turn off the stove timer and nudge the dial on the dishwasher to move on in the cycle.

In the days before the dishwasher quit working, the stove timer seemed to tire of this constant babysitting of the dishwasher and was going off less reliably. It looked like we would need to recruit the microwave timer to take over. The dishwasher had become a burden to the entire kitchen. Only the refrigerator was spared. (It has its own issues.)

We're still washing dishes by hand at this point, but the order is in and the new unit should show up this week. The report is that it does indeed require no human intervention once the button is pushed.

Life is good.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New vistas

During the winter, I started riding our stationary bike during daily morning phone calls from my daughter in Denver as she commuted to work. The distraction of the phone call kept me from being distracted by other things and wandering off after a few rotations of the pedals.

Now it’s summer and phone calls from Denver come much less frequently. And riding a bicycle inside is less attractive when the mornings are so nice outside. We have several bikes sitting around, left over from the days when our household population was greater, however, only one of them has been kept functional. I started taking a morning ride on it.

I’ve been riding in a bowl. Every morning I turn right at the end of the driveway onto our gravel road. Down a little hill, up a bigger hill, down the other side on a gentle slope to where it tees onto a paved county road. Then I turn left and start to tackle a long uphill slope. I can’t make it to the top. I go as far as I can up the north rim of my bowl and then turn around. At that point I don’t have to touch the pedals for maybe a third of a mile until I reach the base of the steepest hill on my route. I can’t make it up that hill. I go as far as I can up the south rim of my bowl and then turn around and coast down the hill and start the arduous process of repaying all of the energy I saved while coasting the other direction. It’s not at all a steep slope back to our gravel road, just long and mostly uphill. Once back on the gravel, everything comes easily and I’m soon back home, albeit with legs of rubber in my current state of unfitness. The whole process takes between 10 and 15 minutes.

Over the weekend, my husband looked into getting another bike on the road so we could both ride. First he tried the big one. It needed new tires that would cost almost as much as a replacement for the bike. He donated it to the bike repair shop and turned to one of the smaller ones. One tire wouldn’t hold air. Last night, he pulled out another bike and got it going. That’s the one I took this morning.

It’s nice. Big tires. 21 speeds! (Up from 15.) Smooth shifts. I like it. (Thanks, Sondra.) I still didn’t make it to the top of the north rim of my bowl but I topped the south rim. I stood on the top of the steep hill looking at the uncharted territory ahead. Now what happens? Dare I venture outside my familiar little bowl?

Not this morning. I’ve been around long enough to figure out that adding another downhill segment to my outbound route means adding another uphill segment to my return route. (I’m sure there’s some profound lesson to ponder in that, but not today.) There are certainly new possibilities now, however. Civilization lies over that south rim – church, town, the library. Who knows where future outings might take me!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

First draft

I am a habitual reader of the Christian scriptures. I start nearly every day with four short passages from the Bible and have done so for quite a few years. I was also a “Bible quizzer” as a teen, spending an entire year studying and memorizing passages from either one long book or a couple of shorter books from the New Testament.

In the world of theology, I am part of the Wesleyan/Arminian camp as opposed to being a Calvinist. Among other things, that affects my view of scripture. We believe that scripture is “given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation”.* This is not the view that says God dictated every word nor that every word concerning every subject is factually true in a scientific way. It is a confidence that everything we need to know in order to form a relationship with God can be discovered in the Christian scriptures. They were written by ordinary people as the story of how God has revealed himself to mankind. Those who wrote were not aware that they were writing the Bible.

Those who believe that the Bible was dictated by God and is inerrant in all things, that those who wrote were simply scribes recording exactly what God told them to say, see scripture as miraculously given. Although I don’t hold to that view, I am still amazed by the process by which the Bible has come to us: Someone had to write the words; someone had to see value in those words and preserve them; people had to carefully copy the words and distribute them widely enough that not all the copies were destroyed by fire or flood or other disasters; someone had to gather them up and decide which ones were worthy of being called scripture and which ones were not. I know that the writings of the Greek philosophers were preserved from the same time period, that it didn’t take divine inspiration for ancient literature to survive, but I am still impressed by what has come to us, not only the richness of the collection we have, but the coherency that runs through it.

The other thing that impresses me is the quality of the writing. I not only read, I also do some writing. And I am a compulsive editor of my own words. Even now as I type, I keep going back to tweak a word here and one there, strike an entire sentence or even a paragraph. If I were writing with pen and ink, there would be strikeouts all over the page. And for what? A blog entry! How many will even read it?

I think of the apostle Paul writing letters to churches he can’t visit because he is imprisoned. Perhaps he is dictating to a scribe. He is concerned about the churches and has some points to make. Does he start with an outline? Does he realize that people will be outlining what he is about to dictate for hundreds and thousands of years? Does he know that they will build entire sermons and even doctrine around his choice of Greek words? How much thought did he put into those word choices? Is this where inspiration comes in?

I have written difficult letters. Sometimes, for the most difficult, I have typed out what I wanted to say, edited it, let it simmer for a while, gone back to it and done more editing and then transcribed it onto paper so that it would have the personal touch of being handwritten rather than coming off my computer printer. Did Paul do any editing at all? Were there scratch-outs on his paper? Did he have an edited version copied onto fresh parchment before sending it out? Or are we looking at first drafts in the New Testament?

Even with a good word processor and plenty of opportunity for revision, I can’t imagine writing something that would stand up to the type of scrutiny the Bible gets. And on scrolls of parchment?

I have read that some parts of the New Testament are written in less elegant Greek than others, that one task of the translator is to decide whether to reflect the coarseness of the Greek manuscripts in the translation. Still, there in not a book among the 27 that doesn’t have an inspirational message.

I guess I just need more inspiration. Or more editing.

*from Article IV from the statements of faith, Church of the Nazarene Manual.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Taking time to be sick

One morning last week I woke up with the type of sore throat that generally signals the onset of something more. Sometimes I can shake these things off if I take it easy for a few days -- sleep a little more, relax, eat right, etc. Alas, this was not one of those times. Maybe if I had slept in on Saturday morning. But somebody had to open the library and the lot fell to me on this Saturday before Easter. Maybe if I had taken Sunday off. But it was Easter! I had a Sunday School lesson to teach and multiple songs to accompany on the piano. Sure, church could have happened without me, but it certainly wouldn't have gone off as planned. So I took cold medicine and headed to church. I did take a nap for an hour or so on Sunday afternoon, but there was a party at our house in the evening. That took some serious energy even with lots of help from my husband and daughter.

Now it's Monday morning. I'm sick. My nothe ith all clogged up. My voice is scratchy. I cough and sneeze. I had a headache all night and didn't sleep well. If you don't mind, it would be really nice to stop the world for a day or so and let me get off. Or if the world must go on, maybe I won't be missed too much if I opt out of today.

I sometimes think of Jim Henson (creator of the muppets) at times like this. He didn't have time to be sick. He was too busy for sickness. But he had time to die of pneumonia at age 53.

I don't think I'm anywhere close to a fatal case of pneumonia, but it makes for good justification to take a day off now and then and just be sick.

Would someone please pass the tissues and aspirin?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The power of the clock

OK, I give up. The clock has won.

For 35 years or so, Indiana did not participate in the illusion known as Daylight Savings Time. Now we do. The county where I live managed to put it off an extra year by strategically changing time zones, but we eventually were forced to change our clocks last fall. As you know if you’re a faithful reader, I declined to do so. I have had my clock radio set to get the 6:30 a.m. (EST) local news and weather for years. I had no desire to get up at a different time. So when we went on Daylight Squandering Time (aka Central Standard Time) in October, I refused to get up an hour later just so we could have sunset at 4:30 pm in the winter. For a couple of months, I didn’t change my clock at all, but when it became clear that the request to return to Eastern time would not be granted any time soon, I finally gave in. However, I set my alarm for 5:30 am CST. That’s 6:30 am EST. I would still wake up at the same time as always and not sleep through precious winter daylight.

So along comes March 11 and the big move to Central Daylight Savings Time. CDT is actually the same as EST, which is what we were on year round until our governor decided that we should change time like everyone else. (I hope everyone else doesn’t start jumping off cliffs.) Finally, we’re back on “normal” time. I can change my alarm to 6:30 and everything will be back to normal.

Except I’ve grown used to waking up when the clock reads 5:30 am. And I’m an aging morning person. I don’t need as much sleep as when I was younger and I tend to get less by waking up earlier. (Even when I was young, “sleeping in” for me meant not getting up until 8:00 am.) My internal alarm clock simply noticed the new time on the clock and started going off an hour early. The radio comes on at 6:30 but I generally wake up by 5:30.

I actually find the internal alarm rather amusing. Usually, I simply drift into wakefulness in the morning. Occasionally -- usually because I’ve been up late -- the radio wakes me up. But every once in a while I’m sound asleep at 5:30 or 6:30 or whenever my inner clock is set for and the internal alarm goes off. A silent nudge will intrude into my dreams and say, “Hey, it’s time to wake up!” I then experience the same irresistible surfacing as when an external alarm yanks me out of sleep. This consistently happens at my usual waking time. Some part of me knows what time it is even when I'm sleeping.

The internal alarm would be quite handy if the part of me that fears oversleeping were confident that it could be trusted. It doesn’t work that way. If I need to wake up at a definite time before daylight without an alarm clock, that worrywart part of me handles it by waking me up every hour on the hour starting around 3 am, a rather annoying solution. So I set a real alarm when it’s important that I wake up before daylight. The internal alarm mainly gets exercised on Saturdays when I have no reason to get up early and there’s no 6:30 news on the radio so I have the alarm turned off. I’m all set to sleep until, oh, 7:30, or even 8:00, and actually managing to ignore dawn creeping in until here comes that nudge dragging me out of sleep. And now it is set an hour earlier! Thanks a lot, Benjamin Franklin and Mitch “not my man” Daniels.

Now if only I would start going to sleep at the appropriate time for this new hour of rising. I’m not saving electricity. I’m just burning the candle at both ends.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Poor, neglected blog

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I forget that I have a blog. Maybe you're not surprised to hear that.

Anyway, it's not like nothing has been happening. I just haven't been writing about it here. I've been busy. I've even finished some books and started others. Maybe I'll check out this new easier template stuff on the new blogger and see if I can update my reading list.

My husband and I went to a conference in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. That was fun. We even got to eat pizza with Andrew, Terry, and Josh, our favorite KC residents.

The conference was called M7 (short for Mission 2007) and was sponsored by the USA/Canada division of the International Church of the Nazarene. There were around 4,000 people there, a much smaller venue than the General Assemblies that happen every four years. There were 240 workshops being offered in six time slots. It was difficult to choose six out of the 240, but I was pleased with the workshops I attended. The key words in their descriptions were either "spiritual formation" or "emergent".

I shared my four points for worship from my last entry with someone. That person noted that I am on my way to having an outline for a bestselling book.


I'm three points short of a full acronym. Maybe I'll conduct a contest to come up with the other three points. Tell you what. I'll give the winner 5% of my take off the bestseller when it comes out. Of course, if you have the other three points, you can simply add my four points to them and write the book yourself and keep 100% of the profit -- after tithe and taxes. (I presume that one of the points might have to do with giving and that tithing the proceeds of the book would be sort of a given.)

I'll pass on the notes I brought away from one of the workshops. They actually had nothing at all to do with the workshop. I copied them off the back of a t-shirt worn by a college student sitting a few rows in front of me.

Top Ten Reasons Why Dr. Martin Is the "New" Chuck Norris
10. He can watch 60 minutes in 20 seconds.
9. He knows the exact location of Carmen Sandiego.
8. He counted to infinity. Twice.
7. He doesn't wear a watch. He decides what time it is.
6. He knows the last digit of pi.
5. He can divide by zero.
4. He doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
3. He can win a game of Connect Four in three moves.
2. He can judge a book by its cover.
1. If at first you don't succeed you're not Dr. Dan Martin.

I do not know the identity of Dr. Dan Martin. Actually, I only know the identity of Chuck Norris because someone told me. I'm not sure I've ever seen him. I do know who Carmen Sandiego is but don't know her current location.

Anyway, I'm quite impressed by this list. Counting to infinity -- twice. Now THAT is an accomplishment.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Worship

With increasing involvement in local worship services, I’ve been giving some thought to what I see as prime values for a worship program. One factor going into my thinking is the ‘perfect’ worship service I visited last fall. I’m sure it wasn’t truly perfect, but from my point of view as a visitor, it appeared that everything was done with excellence. The musicians were top-notch; the service had good flow; everything was planned and the execution of that plan was impressively smooth.

Excellence. That has been a buzzword pulled from the business world into the church. I find it to be a word of pure discouragement. If ‘excellence’ is the standard for all church work, then I need to step aside in my bumbling and let someone with greater skill take over. I work very hard at what I do but I realize that I have many areas of weakness (as those who know me best will readily confirm) and would not easily find a place of service in an ‘excellent’ church which was closing in on ‘perfect’. As I left that ‘perfect’ worship service, I realized that if I lived near that church, I would not be a member there. Not only because I myself am not perfect, but because I care deeply about other people who aren’t perfect. I would want to be part of a church where imperfect people would feel comfortable and have opportunities for involvement in the worship program.

All that to say that ‘perfect’ or even ‘excellent’ is not my primary concern when thinking about corporate worship.

So, if not excellence, what are my top values for worship? That has been the question on my mind. I’ve come up with four aspects to my answer.

1. Worship needs to be about worship. It seems like this would be intuitively obvious, but I am from a generation where worship became so overshadowed by personal testimony in what was called "worship services" that it took me years to define worship in my own mind. Worship needs to conduct those present into the presence of God Almighty and remind us of who He is – our God – and of who we are - His worshippers. If we have not humbled our hearts in the presence of God during the time we are together, we have not worshipped.

2. Worship needs to be orchestrated. We come together to worship. The task of the worship leaders is to conduct worship in a way that brings those present into the presence of God. This takes planning and practice.

3. Worship needs to be participatory. Leaving everything in the hands of professionals is too exclusionary for my tastes. Sure, there are those who prefer to sit in their pews and worship with high-quality music. However, there are others who prefer to participate in the worship service, even though they may not have the skills to be part of a program of ‘excellence’. Those who crave high-quality programming can join the audience at the ‘major league’ program down the street. I want to be invest my time on the farm teams where professionals get their start. I see a continuing need for training camps for those who haven't made the big-time yet. It seems that God often looks past the acknowledged frontrunners when choosing servants to do His work. I want to be where God is working.

4. Worship needs to be responsive. I’ve written previously about my aversion to the phrase, “It’s not about you.” The truth is, worship requires worshippers. We need to listen to those who are interested in being part of our worship services in order to discover the path to the throne of God for them. Is it music? Is it silence? Is it scripture reading? Is it corporate prayer? If music, what style of music? We need to hear what they say regardless of age, gender, culture, and personal baggage and incorporate what we hear into our programming, not to allow any one voice to control the whole program but to let every voice count.

Responsive, participatory, orchestrated worship. If we approach excellence now and then, that would be wonderful. But let’s not make excellence our primary aim. There are many more 2nd-string than top-notch worship participants. Perhaps a better aim would be to develop the full potential of those who choose to be involved in the worship program, both those who take up instruments or voice to lead music and those who respond with humbled hearts to the felt presence of God.

That’s what I’ve been thinking. Any thoughts on the subject?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Those pesky lines at the post office

I live in a small town - but it's big enough to have a post office. Having local offices is a wonderful thing. I hope the postal system doesn’t decide to streamline like the state of Indiana did in closing our license branch.

So ... today I need to mail an oversize envelope and don’t know how much it will cost. I head to the post office. And what do I find there but a line! Right there in the post office in the middle of the day. Can you believe such a thing?

There is one postal worker taking care of two customers. There is a woman standing to the side whose conversation with the postal worker has apparently been interrupted by the intrusion of customers. There are two more customers waiting their turn. I join them. That makes seven of us all together. I can name three of my six companions, including the employee. The loiterer has a familiar face but I can’t come up with a name.

As we wait, the postal worker pauses to look us over and says, “I sit here for an hour with no one and then you all come at once. I swear that people get on their phones and plan these things.” We all pleasantly agree that such a thing is not beyond us. I mention that I sometimes tell the checkout people at the grocery store that we customers conspire back in the frozen food aisle so that we can all head to the registers at the same time.

By this time, the two front customers are leaving and the next person steps forward. The lady now at the counter comments that the parking lot at the grocery store is typically full when she arrives and empty when she comes back out. The postal worker reports that she went to the store for a dozen eggs yesterday and they cost $24.95. Yep, I can identify with that. That’s about what it costs me to go in for a gallon of milk.

It was the chocolate milk that was on sale that was part of the problem, she says. Hmm... milk is on sale this week? I make a mental note.

The door opens and closes, admitting a local businessman and a woman I presume to be his wife - an Old Order Amish couple. (How is it that in 28 years of dealing with this family business, I don’t remember ever seeing his wife before?) He looks at the crowd and expresses the opinion that such a line can only be caused by a lack of efficiency. I look at the busy postal worker and say, “It’s a good thing she didn’t hear that.” His response is quick. “I’d say it to her face.” As a twinkle comes into his eyes, the image of another younger face comes into my mind. His grandson! I had never noticed a resemblance between them. But there it is, that same little smirk. I consider commenting on what I have just noticed but my slow wit combines with remembering the report that the grandson and his young family have been “shunned” for nonconformance to the Amish lifestyle to shut my mouth. His wife fills the silence, reminding him that he has a business and that she has sometimes seen lines there.

The door opens and closes. One customer leaves, another comes in. The loiterer gives up on whatever conversation she had been having before the pace quickened and tells the postal worker she'll catch her later. I am now on deck for service but still part of the stand-by group.

I say to the newcomer: “If I’d known I’d see you here, I would have brought your pictures from the library.”

She responds: “I almost stopped by after you closed to see if anyone was still there.”

We then discuss the charming old photos of her parents as children which she left at the library this morning to have copied.

Meanwhile, another postal worker comes in, perhaps returning from a late lunch. The customer ahead of me has been served but is still gathering her paperwork. Both workers now offer me service. I hesitate and choose the new line. As I hand over my envelope, I hear an argument behind me about who should be next. The businessman insists that he has more business to transact and should give up his place. The newcomer insists that she is in no hurry and will wait her turn. She wins and the businessman takes his place beside me and lays down his parcel.

“I need you to clear up a little point of contention," he says. “Aren’t I always nice in here?”

“Oh, yes. Always,” the workers respond with maybe a hint of sarcasm. As he turns in triumph to his wife, one of the workers tells her, “You must be a saint!” The other points out that he is completely outnumbered by the five women present and should be careful what he says about women. (Is there maybe some history between these people?)

My envelope is weighed and the postage computed. As I walk out the door, there is no longer a line at the post office. Man, it can really ruin a day to have to stand in a long line like that. I can see why people complain so much about it.

Or not. A nice warm break on a cold day with friendly, smiling people and light banter in a nice little post office in a nice little town. What’s not to like? These are "the good old days".

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blogged out?

This blog will be two years in existence next month. I’ve contemplated here such subjects as writing and gardening and empty nests and front porches. I’ve vented my pent-up frustrations concerning daylight savings time, various church-related issues, and Christmas. Such therapy I have experienced here, publishing all these thoughts for the world to see. My soul is cleansed. Peace has come. Ahhhh...

I’ve heard of writers who fear that there are only so many books or articles within their souls and that they will run out things to write. And I’ve read books by people who show evidence that this may be true in their case. They keep on writing but it’s just the same story in different words. Comic strip writers are perhaps the ultimate example. My understanding is that Calvin and Hobbes rode off into the sunset on their sled because the cartoonist wanted to quit before he ran out of fresh ideas. (That last sled ride was a great disappointment to many of us.)

So will I quit writing? Will I lose interest? Will I quit blogging rather than sign up for a Google account and make the switch to the new ‘blogger’? (And on a side note, will I teach my wordprocessor words like “Google,” “blog,” and “blogger” so it doesn’t keep underlining them when I compose my initial drafts in the more stable environment of WordPerfect?)

I won’t quit writing. The therapy is too valuable. Writing takes the tangled thoughts in my head and spins them out into the orderly world of words. Sometimes there’s some loss in the process. I read somewhere that people can’t conceive of notions for which their language has no words. I’m not sure I totally agree (which is sort of silly since the person who published the statement has presumably invested much more thought and research into the matter than I have). It seems that my head and heart sometimes contain feelings and nagging impressions that go beyond my ability to line up words to express them. But maybe the problem lies less in a mismatch between what’s in my head and what can be captured by the English language and more in a simple lack of writing skills.

Writing is good therapy. Writing appropriate/useful/interesting thoughts for anyone and everyone who stumbles across this blog presents a different challenge. Many of the thoughts fighting for expression in my head are not particularly appropriate for public consumption. Deciding what to share with the world and what to keep to oneself can be complicated. Some are much more brave than others in that area. How does one find a balance between a) protecting the privacy of one’s own heart and that of others whose words and actions factor into one’s thoughts and b) allowing others to catch glimpses into one’s heart and soul?

You may be thinking that this is a “good-bye blog” post. It is not. I’m simply thinking out loud in light of the fact that it is time for a new post but there are no current topics in my head begging for public consideration.

So ... how many posts can I make about having nothing to post before you quit reading?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Best books ever?

Oops! I fell out of “active blog” status by letting more than a month elapse between posts. The holidays sprang upon me and I was sidelined for a while. But that’s all over now. We’re on to a thus-far-snowless January while Colorado hoards the entire country’s snow quota. OK, we’ve had a few flurries, but it has been mostly unseasonably warm with plenty of rain.

I’ve picked up my reading rate a little. Since my last post, I’ve read (or finished):
  • The Story of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
  • The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McLaren
  • Growing Spiritual Redwoods by William M. Easom & Thomas G. Bandy
  • Gutsy Faith by Jeff Edmondson
  • Leota’s Garden by Francine Rivers
  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, & Greg Call
  • The Gauntlet by James Street
  • Two books about Nazarene missions.

Plus, I’ve been working on the magazine backlog. I subscribe to too many magazines to keep up on reading them but I like them all so I keep renewing and they keep coming.

I’m not necessarily recommending the books on that list, by the way. I read them for various reasons. None were “the best book I’ve ever read”. Nor were they anywhere in competition for the worst.

Let’s see. What IS the best book I’ve ever read? (Of course, I need a disclaimer for not including the Bible in the competition since including it would immediately end the discussion and my ramblings.) How would one judge such a thing? Christianity Today recently made an interesting list of The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. Is influence a good criterium for judging the value of a book? Should I pick the book that most changed my life? Would that speak to the overall value of the book or would timing be a factor? Was it the best book ever or simply the best book for me at a particular point in my life?

I suppose that for overall shift in direction prompted by a book other than the Bible, I would have to stretch back over 20 years to when I first read A Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whithall Smith. But then I’m delving into ancient history. A copy of that Christian classic still occupies a spot on my bookshelf, but I don’t know as I’d call it the best book in my collection. It simply came at a good time for me.

Oswald Chambers’ daily devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest (put together by his wife after his death) would be another nominee for a “best book I’ve ever read” award based on influence. I’ve been through it several times and it has shaped my beliefs and left quotes in my head. It’s also still sitting on my shelves. I don’t know when I’ll read it again. Not this year.

Spiritual Leadership
by J. Oswald Sanders is a more recent entry into the competition. I need to read it again. I keep trying to find the original edition but that has proved difficult. Apparently, it was a book that begged for revision and commentary in its original form.

I suppose I ought to branch out beyond Christian nonfiction in my competition for “best book I’ve ever read”. In fiction, I’d head right to the classics - Dickens, Hugo, Twain. But which would be the very best? I’d need to review them all to pick one. Every time I pick one up, I am reminded that there’s a reason why the classics are still in publication. They truly have enduring value. I haven’t read any modern fiction that can compete with them, but maybe I’m just missing the good stuff. And in spite of a market flooded with new entries, George MacDonald who wrote in the late 19th century is still my favorite Christian romance writer.

Still, I keep reading new books, looking for another one that will open my eyes to new visions of truth. And I am changed by them. They tug on me and move me in this direction or that. Sometimes the move is almost imperceptible. Sometimes it’s more obvious, at least to me. Because I’m moved by them, I try to be quite selective in my reading diet.

Many have moved from print sources to film for their major influences. That’s not for me. The publishing world may be quite restrictive in whose words get into print and whose don’t, but it’s not nearly so limited as the world of film. How many movies come out each year that are worth watching compared to the number of books worth reading? Maybe I’ll investigate the answer to that question sometime. Meanwhile, I have a few more books to read. (I even updated my list of current reads on the sidebar.)