Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.

Experiencing technical difficulties (a rambling update for my online friends)

My WordPress presence has been somewhat limited these last few weeks because of assorted (and unrelated) technical difficulties. At times I wonder whether these difficulties are a Sign that I should curtail WordPress activity and focus more attention on other writing.

(On a related note, I am awaiting shipment of my latest book, much of which appeared on this blog as meditations on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. I gave the book the title Blessed with Perfect Righteousness to emphasize the Gospel themes I identified in these meditations.)

As of the beginning of December, my job required me to spend considerably more time than before as a reference librarian in the research room. The new leadership of the library system decided that the department where I work was costing the library too much money, so our budget was cut, some employees lost their jobs, and the rest of us have to replace the missing workers on the schedule. Since I often spend two hours at the reference desk with no one to help, that seemed to be an opportunity to keep up with WordPress, both writing my posts and reading, liking, and commenting upon other posts. For a while that pattern was working. Then, one day, the computer at the desk stopped downloading WordPress correctly. I can still read posts, but all the interactive functions are kaput. Likewise, I can compose posts and publish them, but I cannot interact with readers through that computer. I don’t know what the problem is: it could be a security filter that IT has added, or it could be a fault within that one computer module. In either case, I hate to report the problem to IT since it does not impact the work I am paid to do for the library.

(Beginning today, the library computer is no longer an issue. To prevent the spread of Coronavirus, the library has closed its doors, locking out patrons and employees alike. We are being paid, just as if the library was temporarily closed for ice and snow. And some employees are still keeping the system functioning, but not in my department.)

Meanwhile, my home desktop computer is nearly eight years old, and it is very slow, especially connecting to the Internet. I can read a post, then might have to wait a minute or two before I can click the Like button. The frustration level with this computer was so high that my son donated his desktop as a replacement. It took a few days for me to transfer files from the old computer to the newer computer, but I finally got the new system up and running. I left the old computer assembled on a nearby piece of furniture in case any family members remembered something else that hasn’t been transferred. But last week the new computer began to malfunction. For some reason, the main computer is not corresponding with the monitor. When that happened on the old computer, I was able to fix the problem by removing the side panel and blowing out the accumulated dust. I did that this weekend with the new computer, and the first time I reconnected it, things started right away. Since then, it has become increasingly balky, to the point that today the computer system is not working at all. I am considering taking the computer to the nearest ubreakifix location to see if they can identify and fix the problem.

(Since I have competed the Sermon on the Mount book, my next project is to be a twelve chapter book, “Witnesses to the Lord’s Passion.” Each chapter will be the account of Christ in the latter half of Holy Week as seen from one point of view: Peter, Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, Barabbas, etc. Years ago I wrote and presented some selections for this book; these I have to find and copy (while editing and improving them), while others I will write from scratch.)

I am doing what I can on this older desktop computer. I am scheduled to teach a college class this spring. Ten students signed up for the class, but only four came to the first session last Tuesday, and only two were there last Thursday. Over the weekend, the school announced that all teaching would be done online, so I have to figure out how to give quizzes and other assignments through the school’s web site. Most teachers do this already, and I have had training sessions for online teaching. But I have always preferred the classroom experience, and it seems that the students who sign up for my classes feel the same.

(Meanwhile, we have had a wet, gray, and gloomy February and March, which is not good for morale. And our family’s fifteen-year-old cat, who was getting more frail, suddenly took a turn for the worse and was essential on hospice care last week. Family members in the area were able to visit her by the end of the week. On Saturday she was taken to the veterinarian, who diagnosed renal failure and recommended euthanasia, which was then done. So yesterday I buried a cat in the growing pet cemetery behind our house.)

My prospects for a new job still seem good, although I have not heard directly from those in charge of a decision. My guess is that they will wait until after Easter before moving to the next step, which would include interviews of prospective workers. That probably means that the position will not be filled until June or July, leaving a few weeks between the retiring worker and the replacement—which probably is healthy for all involved. This delay has not stopped family members from scouting new houses in the neighborhood of the church, while making lists of what has to be done to sell the house we have now.

(And I needed to jumpstart my car after church a week ago, so I stopped by the auto parts store on the way home and bought a new battery, which they installed for me. Plus I’m trying to get my income taxes filed, which has been complicated by these computer problems. Yesterday a lot of churches canceled their services, although I did get to attend the one I had been planning to attend. I’m not sure whether the cancellations will continue for many weeks on Sundays and Wednesdays, or if yesterday was a one-time event.)

So I will try to return to WordPress when I can to continue building my political platform, to comment on current events and on the life of the Church, and to keep up with my friends. God’s blessings to you all: Keep Calm and Stay Healthy. J.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

I stopped by Walmart on my way home from teaching last night. I had to chuckle as I walked past the Valentine cards; three white-haired men were inspecting the cards, all standing in front of the “Wife” selections. There’s nothing like last-minute shopping for romantic gestures.

Every Leap Year I read the works of Soren Kierkegaard as part of my daily devotions. I just happen to be halfway through Stages on Life’s Way, which is very appropriate for St. Valentine’s Day. For those unfamiliar with Kierkegaard, he was a theologian in the Danish church (therefore Lutheran), although he never served a congregation. Instead, he published (at his own expense) essays on philosophy, theology, and life in general. Many of his books were written under pseudonyms, which gave Kierkegaard the freedom to pursue lines of thought that were not his own. That’s why it’s risky to quote Kierkegaard—you can never be sure that he meant what he wrote, that he wasn’t setting up a straw man through his pseudonym.

Stages on Life’s Way presents itself as a series of works found in a bookbinder’s shop and published by the bookbinder because he had no idea what had happened to the author. The first work is based on Plato’s Symposium: five men gather for a banquet, and each delivers a speech about love. The second work is a scholarly discussion of love and marriage, attributed to a certain Judge William. The third, “Guilty? Not Guilty?” is a diary supposedly fished out of a Danish lake. The diarist writes in the morning, recalling a love affair/engagement of a year before; then he writes at midnight about his sense of guilt for having broken the engagement. Since Kierkegaard had done exactly that—been engaged and broke the engagement—one might suspect that the diary is somewhat autobiographical. In actuality, the work is an exploration of romance, anxiety, depression, worry, and the like. Great reading for Valentine’s Day!

Kierkegaard is sometimes blamed for the Existentialist movement in modern philosophy. He actually was a defender of traditional Biblical Christianity. Kierkegaard insisted that faith must be subjective, but he didn’t mean that in a post-modern sense of “believe whatever you choose to believe.” Instead, he meant that theological statements must be deeply personal to have any value. A list of proofs for the existence of God is helpful to hardly anyone: the believer already believes without the proofs, and the unbeliever already rejects all the proofs that are presented.

Which brings me back to the white-haired men searching for a preprinted card that will express their love for their wife—and doing so long after the most suitable cards have already been purchased. Wouldn’t a handwritten message be more suitable than a Walmart greeting card? Or have these men run out of ways to say, “I love you”? Flowers and chocolate are nice, but nothing is more endearing than a piece of paper that has been handled and rejected by countless husbands over the past three weeks before it finally leaves the store in the hands of a desperate man a few short hours before midnight on February 13. Or so it struck me last night. J.

My acting career

My review last week of the musical Wicked has prompted memories of my own career on stage many years ago. The high school I attended put on a play every fall and a musical every spring; the productions approached a professional level and were popular in the community. My sophomore year I played in the orchestra for The Music Man. The next year I was back in the pit for Fiddler on the Roof. My senior year I finally found the courage to try out for a part on stage. That year the faculty chose to produce Hello, Dolly! and I was given the part of Horace Vandergelder (clear evidence that, even in high school, I was already recognized as a curmudgeon).

The high school had enough talented students interested in these productions that they were able to double-cast every major part. On Fridays and Sundays the main cast would have the major parts, while the “understudies” would perform smaller parts. On Saturdays (and for the school assembly promoting the production) the “understudies” performed the main roles while the main cast took the smaller parts. This meant that many students had to learn two characters for each production.

The Music Man portrays a traveling salesman who sells musical instruments for children, as well as uniforms and instruction books—in spite of the fact that he has no musical training. The town’s librarian, who also gives piano lessons, is the chief threat to his sales campaign. Being a comic musical, a romance develops between Professor Hill and librarian Marian Paroo. That year the school boasted a fine crop of actors and musicians, especially among the young men. The smaller parts for said young men were the school board, who begin the play bickering in public but become united when Professor Hill introduces them to barbershop quartet music. In the cast room after the production, and on other occasions out of the public eye, the two quartets would combine into a powerful octet, singing barbershop songs from the musical. I was one of the three trombonists in the orchestra (a far smaller number than the seventy-six trombones mentioned in the show). I also got to produce the blats of the tuba for the children’s band that appears in the finale of the show.

Fiddler on the Roof depicts a Jewish community in Russia during the nineteenth century. What a learning experience for white, Protestant, suburban kids, learning how to portray a vulnerable and persecuted community of outsiders. Although the script has comic moments, the tenor of the show is very serious. The cast became very close during the rehearsals and put on a powerful performance.

Hello, Dolly! is a comedy about a New York widow early in the twentieth century who also serves as a matchmaker. As the heart of the story, Dolly decides to choose a match for herself—a wealthy but dour merchant in the suburb of Yonkers. Several subplots become entangled in the story, including the merchant’s two assistants, a milliner and her assistant, the merchant’s niece and her prospective husband, and a famous restaurant in New York City. Those of us who had been involved in Music Man and Fiddler found Dolly to have less substance and life than the previous shows; I, for one, was rather glad when the curtain came down on Sunday afternoon. On the other hands, I became good friends with some of the sophomores who were getting their start in theater, which made rehearsals, performances, and cast parties a lot more fun.

I have not been able to return to acting since high school, although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of amateur community theater everywhere I have lived. I cannot count the number of live productions I have seen over the years. My family owns dozens of DVDs and VCR tapes of famous musicals. I understand that a number of people are not fond of productions in which the story is interrupted periodically by singing and dancing, but I agree with a friend of mine who wrote a song, “Life Should Be More Like a Musical.” J.

Review: Wicked

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains information about the plot of the musical Wicked. If you have not seen this musical and are hoping to see it in the future, read no further. This is your only warning.

Earlier this week I promised a review of Wicked, the very successful musical that opened on Broadway in October 2003 and now has a traveling company that performed downtown for two-and-a-half weeks this month. The story, based on a book, gives an alternate view of The Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 and made into a popular movie in 1939. Wicked focuses on the witches of the land of Oz: Elphaba, her sister Nessarose, and Galinda (Glinda), who are to become, respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wicked Witch of the East, and the Good Witch of the South. Beginning with the celebration after Dorothy has melted Elphaba, the musical looks back to the conception and birth of Elphaba, her college days (in which she meets Galinda), and her subsequent career.

The traveling production that I saw was impressive. The performers were all talented actors, singers, and dancers. The sets, costumes, and props were superb. The musicians did a fine job, and the production was well-received by the audience. From a technical viewpoint, the show was a rousing success, and if that were the purpose of this review, I would give Wicked the highest marks.

On the other hand, the script and story of Wicked are heavy-handed and disappointing. In fact, I have not been so repelled by a reboot of a familiar story since Star Trek came out in 2009. In both cases, the writers and directors did a fantastic job of conveying details from the original tale but failed to create a likeable story in their re-creation. The songs in Wicked are not memorable, and the story told by the production is disappointingly preachy.

To begin, Elphaba is green. Much of the story concerns diversity and self-acceptance, as Elphaba’s father and classmates are largely opposed to Elphaba because of the color of her skin. Her mother eats white berries during her second pregnancy to prevent a second green child; as a result, the mother is poisoned and dies in childbirth, and the daughter (Nessarose) is born with damaged legs. Elphaba blames herself for the tragedy. When the two sisters leave for college, they meet Galinda, who is portrayed as a dumb blonde, Homecoming Queen, feeling entitled to every privilege in the book. Galinda gives Elphaba the trademark black hat as a joke, but later befriends Elphaba as she learns to have compassion for those who are different.

Two love triangles develop at the college, involving the three future witches and male students Fiyero and Boq. Meanwhile, an unnecessary subplot is added as some malevolent power seeks to deny the animals in Oz the privilege of speech. (Once again, diversity and acceptance are hammered home as the themes of the musical.) Elphaba is excited to meet the Wizard of Oz, assuming that in the Emerald City she will finally be accepted, since everything there is green. But the Wizard is revealed to be the power depriving animals of speech, and so Elphaba becomes his enemy.

Elphaba’s magic is responsible for the winged monkeys, as she tried a levitating spell on one of them but somehow got the spell wrong. She and Fiyero free a lion cub that was being held at the school; somehow, in the second act, the lion has become an adult (the Cowardly Lion). Magic spells likewise turn Boq into the Tinman and Fiyero into the Scarecrow. Boq blames Elphaba for the transformation and is her outspoken opponent, but Fiyero remains faithful to Elphaba. Meanwhile, the Wizard campaigns against Elphaba, labeling her as wicked, and forcing her into hiding. Madame Morrible, once a teacher at the college the witches attended and now the Wizard’s press agent, summons the tornado that drops Dorothy’s house on Nessarose, attempting to draw Elphaba out of hiding. Here the witch’s shoes are explained: they were silver when her father gave them as a gift to Nessarose, but they turned to ruby slippers when Elphaba enchanted them, giving her sister the ability to walk. Elphaba is furious when Glinda gives the shoes to Dorothy, but (in one of the better lines of the play), Glinda tells Elphaba to “get over it; they’re just shoes.”

The idea that Elphaba could be melted with water is originally a joke started by her intolerant enemies. Near the end of the musical, Dorothy indeed throws a bucket of water on Elphaba, who appears to melt and disappear. But this is revealed to be a trick, allowing Elphaba to end her ordeal of being hunted by the Wizard and his minions. Fiyero (now the Scarecrow), is part of the trick; he and Elphaba escape together. Finally, it is revealed that the Wizard was actually Elphaba’s biological father, which explains her green skin and her magical powers.

I found the retelling of the Wizard of Oz to be sadly lacking in quality for several reasons. First, the appearance of the three friends to help Dorothy was totally undermined by their backstories as presented in Wicked. Second, changing the Wizard from a well-meaning humbug into a scheming evil dictator also disappoints. Galinda as a dumb blonde who learns acceptance of others is overplayed. And the attempts to change the Wicked Witch of the West into a likable character, although an interesting idea, is spoiled by heavy-handedness.

That said, if you want to see a powerful performance with superb effects (including an astounding animatronic dragon who hovers above the stage but has no connection to the plot) and join the many others who have viewed this spectacle, be sure to buy a ticket when Wicked comes to your area. If you are fond of the Baum book and of the Judy Garland movie, though, stay away from Wicked. J.

Bagging leaves, and a book is born!

This afternoon I raked and bagged eight bags of autumn leaves—using biodegradable bags, of course. I stopped with eight, because eight is all the curb can contain—and that’s two rows of four bags, no less. Besides, eight bags was about as much as my lower back and my allergies would tolerate.

Mrs. Dim makes my job a little easier. When she clears her yard of leaves, she also blows the leaves in my yard several feet away from the property line. As a result, I hardly need to rake at all; I can just scoop the leaves into the bags, and the job is quickly done.

When I had finished the eight bags, I went inside, cleaned up, changed clothes, and submitted a book to Kindle and Amazon. From their point of view, it’s my latest book, but I actually wrote it in 2002. Because it is satire, I’ve been reluctant to put it out there. When I first wrote it, I had a few copies made at the local printer and shared them with family and friends. I even brought one to a writing workshop in 2003. A pastor who was there read it and giggled over every page. “You have to get this published, J.,” he told me. Well, finally, after all these years, I have followed his advice.

The premise of the book is that a congregation, called FirstChurch, was trying to figure out why they were not as successful as the other churches whose advice they were following. They noticed one difference: the successful congregations had pastors who had written books about the church. So they asked their pastor to write a book. Desperate for material, he gathered material from the various organizations in FirstChurch and sent them to be published, reasoning that showing how to do it is as helpful as telling how to do it.

Here is my blurb for the book cover: “This is not just another book telling you how to make your church grow. Instead of telling, this book shows you what to do. With the help of Salvageable, Pastor Scribble has collected reports and letters and minutes from various organizations in FirstChurch. Together, they tell the story of a place where, as their motto says, ‘The Church comes first.’ Not everyone appreciates satire. This book might not be for you. But if you want a few chuckles over the quirks and oddities in the life of a typical American congregation, this book might be exactly what you are seeking.”

The point of the satire is not to mock any Christians I have known. Instead, the book portrays a mindset of a congregation, one that other bloggers have labeled Churchian. “The Church comes first” says it all. Obsessed with organizational structure and knowing that they need to bring in new members, the leaders of FirstChurch have lost sight of why the Church exists and why they have a mission to bring in new members.

Here is a sample of what the book contains:

NOTICE TO ALL FIRSTCHURCH MEMBERS:

It has come to our attention that some of our members are parking in the three spaces clearly labeled “Visitor Parking.” Because some of our members have recently joined FirstChurch, we are willing to consider this an “honest mistake” for now. Please remember that these three spaces are meant for visitors to the congregation, not for our members. After all, we want to be known throughout the community as a friendly congregation. If members continue to park in these spaces on Sunday morning, action will be taken to remove them from the congregation. Thank you very much.

Your friends at FirstChurch

The Kindle version, when available, will cost three dollars; the print version will cost six dollars. I recommend the print version for two reasons: I was able to use a different font for each organization, something that Kindle does not allow; and I was able to add a running joke regarding, “This page is intentionally left blank,” which would not have made sense on Kindle. I will add links to this post when the book is available. J.

 

Untitled post about new printer

As part of the Mayan apocalypse in October 2012, our family desktop computer failed, followed a few days later by the printer. Of course we had no choice but to replace them both, even with expensive car repairs already on our credit cards. I am still using the same computer today, although at seven years old it’s a bit slow on the Internet and does not always behave properly. But over the past several months the printer has been failing, and I finally replaced it with a new printer last night.

The failure was in the mechanism that draws paper into the printer. The printer repeatedly reported a paper jam, even though the paper was inserted properly. We got through the summer and into autumn using a procedure of rattling the stack of paper, then unplugging and replugging the power cable and computer cable on the back of the printer. Sometimes that process would work the first time; sometimes it required a repetition or two. Sometimes the printer worked without any phony paper jam report. But the problem was increasing, and finally I had had enough.

The new printer cost only $49 at Walmart. But money is only part of the problem, especially when it comes to lingering effects of the Mayan apocalypse. I bought the same brand of printer that I was replacing, hoping that I would be able to use the same cords. The computer cord turned out to be usable, but the power cord attachment is completely different. So I had to spend more than five minutes identifying the printer power cord among all those going into the power strip, unplugging and removing that cord, and then snaking the new power cord behind the computer to the power strip.

Next, I had to get the printer working, following very sketchy instructions. Those instructions detailed the working of the lights and buttons on the panel, but neglected to tell me the location of the power button. I had to find that button myself. It was clear where the paper goes in and where the paper comes out, but it took some experimenting to find exactly what panel has to be extended, and how far, for the paper to feed properly. Then I had to reinsert the ink cartridges, because I had only set them into place, and they required a firm push to be installed correctly. Once that was accomplished, the printer was kind enough to print a page giving me some information about its wireless functions.

But I wanted to be able to print from the desktop computer, and that required an app called a driver. Manufacturers used to put that app on a compact disk that came with the printer, but now they prefer that the user downloads the app. I made the mistake of trying to find that app through the computer’s capabilities Things were going fine until the computer asked me to choose the new printer from a list of printers. My new printer was not on the list. But an option was offered to update the list of printers through a Windows app, and I selected that option.

How many printers do you suppose have hit the market over the last several years? The correct answer must be in the hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. All I can report is that it took my seven-year-old computer twenty minutes to update its list of printers… and my new printer still wasn’t on its list.

I backed out of that procedure and asked Google for help. Google sent me to the proper page on the web site of the printer’s manufacturer to download the driver. It still took another fifteen minutes before I had a working printer, but I was able to print five pages before I had even completed the installation process.

As part of the installation process, the computer was urging me to activate an app in the printer that would automatically order new print cartridges to be sent to me in the mail when the ink supply is getting low. Assuming that I would have to pay by credit card for the privilege, I backed out of that process. The option remains, and I’m sure to get reminders that I still haven’t finished setting up the app. That’s fine with me. Keep reminding me to do something I don’t want to do, and I can keep on ignoring you.

Insert snappy conclusion and publish. J.

My ongoing apocalypse

There should be a limit to the duration of apocalypses. The Mayan apocalypse, which I calculated to have begun on October 10, 2012, should have expired today. Instead, the Mayan apocalypse is still going strong.

After I came home from work, my daughter informed me that water was dripping from the laundry room ceiling. I went down and looked and, indeed, water was dripping from the laundry room ceiling. I tried to guess what item upstairs was leaking, but I did not succeed. There are two bathrooms roughly over the laundry room, containing a bathtub, a shower stall, two toilets, and three sinks. I checked under the sinks and saw no water, so that left the other four possible sources.

My first guess was the wax seal under the toilet. I replaced one of those before, and it was not a fun job. Since I didn’t know for sure that was the problem—nor which toilet—I decided to call a professional. I expected to make an appointment for someone to come in the morning, but the firm I called said they could send someone this evening.

The plumber arrived. He looked at the dripping water. He explored the bathrooms, checking under the sinks. Then he said, with an apologetic smile, “I’m going to have to cut a hole in the ceiling to see where the water is coming from. Sorry—I won’t be able to fix it afterward. You’ll have to bring someone else in.” I gave permission for the hole, and he brought in his ladder, his flashlight, and his saw. Taking out a big panel of sheetrock, he was able to look up and see that somewhere in the pipes above was a leak, but he still wasn’t sure where.

When this house was built (roughly 1980), the designers didn’t consider the possibility that a plumber might ever need to work on its fixtures. Since the two bathrooms share a wall, they brought the pipes up through the wall and left no access to them. So the plumber and I had to empty the cabinet under the sink that is across from the wall to the bathtub. Then he cut a hole in the sheetrock there. As he was cutting, he said, “I know I found the leak—this sheetrock’s wet.” He had to enlarge the hole twice, but he finally located the leaking pipe.

As is always the case with this house, he did not have the kind of fitting he needed for this repair. So he had to run out to the hardware store for the part. Every professional who has come to fix something in this house has needed to go somewhere for extra parts; it seems as though every feature of the house is eccentric. The dishwasher is not under the sink; it is around the cabinet corner from the sink. When a new dishwasher was installed, the installers had to run out for a longer line. The kitchen was designed for a drop-in oven and stove. Hardly anyone makes those any more, and the few that can be found are more expensive—even double the same size oven in a standard model. We were blessed with an installer who was able and willing to cut out the extra boards so a standard oven could go into the space.

He got the part installed and checked to see that everything was working properly. I had to pay him, of course, and I’ll have to pay someone else to fix the holes he made. But that’s one thing about an apocalypse—nobody ever said they would be cheap. J.

A new man from head to toe

I have a radio in my car. I like to hear music while I’m driving. The station I’ve chosen plays songs from the last forty years. I’d like the station even more if it expanded the selection to the last sixty or seventy years, but I enjoy most of the songs it plays. Their DJs chatter a bit too much for my tastes, but on the other hand the music is free.

Of course nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay the costs of running a radio station, and that someone consists of sponsors. In between the songs I like are advertisements trying to make me discontent with my life. They seek to create a need that they then can satisfy by selling me their product. Our national economy depends heavily upon this creation of needs and desires, along with the sale of items to meet those needs and satisfy those desires.

So the radio sponsors want to remake me from head to toe. One warns me of hair loss and promises to stop and reverse the loss of my hair. Another offers to improve my hearing so I will know what I’ve been missing. A third offers eye surgery so I will no longer need glasses or contacts. A dentist’s office offers me a better smile, assuring me that people who smile more are happier and live longer. Yet another sponsor offers to remove pockets of fat, leaving me looking younger and fitter. Still another criticizes my wardrobe, promising to interview me about the clothing I like and send packages of clothing to my home—I only have to pay for what I like; I can send the rest back at no cost. Finally, one sponsor assumes that I am miserable because of foot pain; this sponsor says my life can be fuller and happier if I buy foot supports at their store.

I’m glad that these services exist for people who want them and need them. We all need dentists, and a few people need foot supports. But on the whole, I’m content with my body. I know that Christian stewardship includes caring for the body God created. I keep it clean, eat properly, and try to get enough exercise. But no radio ad is going to persuade me to spend money to reverse my hair loss, fix my eyes, or fill my closet with a whole new wardrobe. I accept the way I look. So far as I know, my appearance does not frighten animals or small children. So I think I’ll keep my money until I spend it on things that matter more to me.

After all, I only get to use this body for a lifetime. Some day it will be dead and buried, and I won’t be using it any more. After that a Day will come when it will rise, healed of all its problems, and then I will have it forever. It will be new from head to toe, and in the new creation nothing will ever go wrong with this body.

So I do not need to envy the full head of hair other men sport, nor their 20-20 vision, nor their fancy clothes. The Bible tells us not to covet. Advertisers have different ideas about coveting, but my confidence is in the Lord, who promises me a brand-new resurrected body at no cost to myself. J.

The Times: they are a-changin’

 

Sixteen years ago (plus a few weeks), my family and I moved into the house where we live today. I arrived alone one Sunday—the others were staying with friends until the truck arrived with our stuff. I had a sleeping bag, a coffee maker, and a few other things I would need. I ran out to the store and bought I few things I had forgotten I would need—including a coffee mug—and made myself at home in the nearly empty house.

Early in the morning, when I was half-asleep and half-awake—for who can sleep soundly in new surroundings?—I heard a car stop outside the house. Somebody threw something at the house and then drove away. I wondered about that event as I drowsed, but when I was awake and dressed, I found a copy of the local newspaper lying on the front steps.

That morning, I phoned the circulation number of that newspaper, told them that the previous owners had moved, but I wanted to receive the daily newspaper. I gave them a credit card number, and for the past sixteen years I have had a newspaper to read each morning. There were a few days when delivery failed to happen because of ice and snow, but otherwise I’ve been able to eat breakfast and sip my coffee and read the world news, national news, local news, sports items, human interest items, comics, and opinion pieces at my leisure.

The newspaper is a mild luxury—rates rose to the point that I’ve been paying roughly a dollar a day to receive the news printed on paper. But I’ve read newspapers ever since I was a little boy and my father brought the afternoon paper home each day and picked up two different Sunday papers each week. When I was in college, my friends and I split the cost of a subscription and shared the daily paper. Rarely have I been without a newspaper to read each morning—generally only on vacations, and even then I sometimes was able to get access to a newspaper.

This morning, a note was included with my morning paper. The carrier is no longer going to deliver to some subscribers on her route. I assume that, since I received the note, I am one of the subscribers who will be dropped.

The newspaper is making a transition to becoming purely electronic and digital. The editors expect to keep charging a dollar a day for people to read the daily news on their phones and other devices. I am not going to be one of those digital readers. I already pay for an internet connection, and I can get news and sports information and even comics for no additional charge online. The newspaper office is closed today, but tomorrow I am phoning circulation, canceling my subscription, and asking for a refund of any outstanding balance.

For years the decline of the newspaper has been predicted, announced, and considered. The newspaper I’ve received for the last sixteen years is imitating many more famous newspapers in making this transition to a digital format. Many other newspapers have gone out of business. I suspect this newspaper will go out of business soon; I don’t think many of their loyal readers are going to pay a dollar a day for information already available online.

Change happens, whether we like it or not. I’m not really complaining—after all, I am sharing this news in a digital format. But I will miss that morning read, and getting the news off a computer screen will not be the same. It may take a while for me to adjust to this new way of life. J.