Sunday, May 31, 2009

As if I was going to join anyway

A friend of mine suggested that if I want another angle at trying to find employment, I should join Facebook and/or MySpace. I am plenty skeptical about the value for me to use these sites (this is my most googled entry, I think I touched a nerve) , and I enjoy finding reasons why I'm glad I haven't joined.

Granted, I don't fit in to the target demographic mentioned in this article. Also, while I trust my identity theft insurance product, I am still a little bit creeped out by the social networking site concept, on top of which I have heard some compare using the sites to crack usage. I'm saying no.

Thanks, Nancy Reagan!

North American Atlas Blackout Bingo

I like to take drives to places I have never visited--I like the perspective of a place where I have not viewed the particular topography, commerce, and institutions. If I end up talking with someone and hearing a unique local story, that is considered a bonus--though I don't seek out that interaction. This informal study of place is an introverted activity for me. I was blessed to be able to travel all over North America and especially South Dakota in my first season of ordained ministry. As I highlighted in my atlas all the places I had visited, my South Dakota map looked like a personalized bingo card: if I was playing blackout, I had one gaping hole in Harding County and surrounding counties. I knew I wasn't going to get there on a family trip, so I took the opportunity when I had it. The opportunity didn't just appear, and the trip wasn't along the way. I made the opportunity when I was close enough to rationalize the journey.

The Western Dakotas display their own kind of beauty, an inter-Badlands region, with impressive geologic formations and tiny ranch towns with one room school houses and fantastic views. The views are difficult to photographically capture, unlike the view I see whenever Mount Rainier is "out" just outside my townhouse complex, or like going to the Grand Canyon or to the cliffs of the Isle of Wight or the Aran Islands. Maybe there is a lack of color contrast in the Western Dakota. Mt. Rainier is easier to see. It's big. It's white. It's up against a blue sky. The bluest sky, as Perry Como used to sing. Thousands of evergreens enhance the coloring and contrast. The Dakotas, though drab, are an acquired taste of browns, yet still beautiful, though more wonderfully sloped than the Eastern Dakotas.

Buffalo was an enjoyable little town--staying longer would have been nice--but I was thankful to take a peek and move closer to playing a game of blackout that I will never complete, but I will enjoy playing. Part of writing this today is that I miss South Dakota a little. I never would have imagined that feeling 6 or 7 years ago--but a lot happened there. Not that I want to return, but because so many great and important things happened there for my dear wife and me, I am glad to say that I miss it in a good way, and that ministry gave me the opportunity to know it well.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A great evening at the beach

My dear wife spontaneously called some friends this week and suggested a picnic on the beach last night. I was a little surprised: not that my wife suggested the outing, but that we picnicked. We didn't picnic often in South Dakota--I was probably the road block most often. Spring doesn't last long in South Dakota (give or take 2 weeks), and by the time the summer roars in, it's usually too hot, too humid and too windy for the lack of water close by. With no air conditioning or fans in our new residence, my body temperature approached uncomfortable at 80 degrees outdoors (though by no means suffering), but merely planting my feet in a stream running to the Puget Sound set my body right. The sunshine and the light breeze off the sound set me at a temperature I have not experienced in 20 years. I was comfortable, as was my dear wife. To have both of us enjoy the temperature was a small miracle, and deeply appreciated.

Our daughters can't get enough of the Sound--with a relatively sparse crowd and lots of places to explore, they easily stayed occupied for over two hours. I am amazed how children don't seem to care about where the sand goes--they even seem willing to eat it. The tired youngest girl in our group led us to decide to break up for the evening. With enjoyable company and our girls active then pleasantly tired, it was easy to overlook the annoyance of the sand clinging to everything. The girls slept well--and though our bedroom became stuffy in the evening, what transpired earlier at the beach led us into pleasant rest.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Anecdotal Cost of Living Differences--South Dakota vs. King County, WA

The cost of living in the Pacific Northwest has a reputation of being high--I was reminded (though not surprised) that moving from South Dakota would involve a big cost of living increase. Housing is definitely more expensive, as is gasoline. However, our utilities are cheaper, and our food bill is significantly less. The produce is better and the selection in general is better. My eyes about popped out of my head when I paid $1.79 for a gallon of milk recently. We were still paying about 60 cents more in Sioux Falls last month, and that was if we went to (gulp) Sam's Club (we're glad to be going to Costco).

My father (in the grocery business) said that prices will probably going lower in the coming months because of price wars. The Northwest has some big players in the grocery business trying to flex their muscles and create their mark in the marketplace. Costco is a big Northwest company. Sam's Club/Walmart is trying to make its way around here, and they have the resources to do it. WinCo is an aggressively priced warehouse-style, no frills chain. Safeway's size and willingness to go below cost on certain items to draw customers is a big player--at which we will have to take a closer look as we move our household to a restrictive diet to help our oldest daughter (more on this at a later date). Top Foods/Haggen and Albertson's also seem willing (forced) to compete. We also have a Trader Joe's and Metropolitan Market nearby. Fred Meyer draws us in because one can buy just about anything there. They have good prices (they probably rank in the middle), good specials, and we can (and often do) walk there. Fred Meyer also gives loyalty rebates and gas discounts. King County is a very competitive grocery market. With no food tax in Washington (my dear wife and I advocated for dropping the food tax in South Dakota--to no avail), one can feed their family well on a tight budget. The capitalist in me is pleased to watch this market for markets at work.

I often wondered with my father about why groceries were so expensive in Sioux Falls. We hypothesized that transportation costs and lack of competition drove prices up. Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee dominate the market in Eastern South Dakota. Each retailer has their market niche (Wal-Mart-price; Hy-Vee-service) These two big chains have some meager competition from Sunshine Foods, Econo Foods and local independent grocers (a dying breed in Washington, my father informed me). King County dwarfs the entire state of South Dakota in population--more people probably creates more competition.

I might develop an expanded anecdotal comparison at a later date as I learn more about specific costs. I really am a geek.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Dictionary of Useless Information

I've been having a lot of fun with the website from the magazine Mental Floss. I am having a great time with the quizzes. I tend to do a little bit better than average, but am also reminded about how much I don't know. My favorite baseball journalist and blogger Keith Law has contributed some great quizzes this week--#1 songs written by Prince (note the trick written), and the ASEAN countries (Association of South East Asian Nations).

Though I can be a dictionary of useless information, it's clear I'm on the lower echelon of those dictionaries. It's still fun.

The State of the Mariners, Jack Zduriencik's Leadership, and my Vocational Life

Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners General Manager can evaluate talent and has a plan that will not bankrupt the organization. He is building the team based on pitching and defense, and will eventually develop a few power hitters or find one in the right place. He's already finding some low-risk, high reward hitters (see Russell Branyan), just not enough at this point to carry the club this season.

I admire Zduriencik on many levels, because he has made the Mariners a much more interesting team to follow in terms of grit, effort, strategy, player development and acquisition. He also exudes the qualities of a leader who can develop a plan that is clear about the ends and flexible about the means, while developing strong relationships with colleagues and players. My quota of Mariner yammering each day is higher than it should be these days, but the angles about this baseball club are exciting. The only angle under Bill Bavasi involved slapping my forehead over his latest move, making it hard to follow the team.

My admiration of Zduriencik becomes a reflection for today because watching him work reminds me of what I miss about serving a congregation. I am looking for work these days, and the search is painful. We haven't reached the point where I need to deliver pizzas or work as a night custodian. I deeply value my time at home with my daughters, helping them adjust to their new surroundings and managing the entire family's transition. Sometimes I wonder what God is up to with me here--but I've been down this road before. When we moved to South Dakota over 8 years ago, I struggled with my place for about 3 months before I embarked on a fulfilling eight-year path. I trust that provision can happen. Sometimes I just don't happen to like God's timing in the present moment. Forgive my impatience.

Jeopardy with Will Farrell--still funny

My father used to judge entertainment by telling my brothers and me that certain forms were not worthy of time because they had "no socially redeeming value." At first glance, Saturday Night Live may lack that quality. But a tip of my hat to the Jeopardy spoof from SNL. I've learned two words from Sean Connery that I hope appear someday on my GRE.

Mountebank and poltroon--my Granddad would also be pleased I'm still picking up vocabulary words. But first he would want me to spell the word.

Tom Hanks and the versatile Kristen Wiig as Kathie Lee Gifford are good replacements for Jimmy Fallon as French Stewart. The show doesn't really succeed without the Sean Connery and Burt Reynolds characters.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Target (Entry #4 in the madhousegazette South Dakota Lexicon)

The word target may mean something to shoppers all over the United States (except those in Vermont, and Target apologizes for not having a store there). South Dakota has its four Target stores where people travel sometimes hundreds of miles to shop there. I know this because I could look in the parking lot of the Sioux Falls Target and find license plates from all over South Dakota, and also from many counties in surrounding states.

For all of Target's popularity in South Dakota, it may not be the most popular target. Outside of Sioux Falls, almost any inanimate object can become a target for shooting practice. The most frequent targets are public trash receptacles and road signs. If I knew earlier I was building a photo lexicon of South Dakota, I would have taken photos of more examples of target practice. Even though South Dakota is a very gun friendly state, one doesn't see many gun racks in South Dakota, just evidence that guns are present in less obvious places like garbage cans and speed limit signs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Seven Pounds, watching films in this life chapter, guilt and redemption

Before I reflect upon this film, I realize I do not live on the cutting edge of film reviews. Months have passed since this film has faded from public discourse. A perfect storm must rise before I see a film of consequence. How rare is it that I can get the kids to bed on time, have me or my dear wife be home from work and not be mentally or physically occupied, be awake enough myself, and have something available at the video outlet that I care to watch? Digital cable is not the answer with the household frugality rule. My dear wife and I (pre-children) viewed about 4-8 movies per month--stories that sparked discussion, wonder, and became grist for the homiletical mill.

The reviews for Seven Pounds are almost as interesting as the film. Reviewers felt manipulated, confused, and one wrote he felt "beaten to a pulp." I happen to like vague story lines and teasers. I don't watch films for certainty or comfort, and not necessarily to be entertained. I look for a good story, for perspective, to have my thoughts and assumptions provoked. Seven Pounds accomplishes this provocation in rare form addressing themes from the core of human existence--especially guilt and redemption. I won't tell too much about the story, because surprise is an important factor of the film. I think in this day and age of anxiety and uncertainty, people might look for something more certain and entertaining in their films. I do not relate to the feeling of most of the reviews I read.

From my own faith tradition, guilt is best addressed in the context of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in the context of a congregational community. I couldn't imagine how the guilt expressed in this film could ever be healed in the communities of which I have been a part. For all the bad things said and written about Christian communities, I see that we can be woefully inadequate in sharing a peaceful presence or a word of hope to the guilty. I don't know if I could be a voice of guidance and peace for people crippled by guilt. Considering my sermons over the years, I have high hopes that God does something with the word I speak, because the word I share at my examination seems meager to address the guilt I saw in Seven Pounds and the guilt I have seen in Christian communities (most frequently while doing prison ministry).

The open ended reflection coming out of Seven Pounds for me is "what does redemption look like?" As a Christian, on my good days I believe in redemption through Christ. What I saw in Seven Pounds was a strong desire for human control of redemption. Even though we humans may be able to control some factors in redemption, our sense of justice is flawed, and often tragic. As I said, on my better days I trust that God is at work. Redemption for us humans in the end doesn't come down to our trust or actions, but the actions of God. Such is grace--we cannot control it--and when we receive it, even then we don't want to believe it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Faith

I took this picture of the entrance to Faith, South Dakota (in Ranch Country--which is not far from another exit/entrance to Faith) with thoughts I may use it for a sermon illustration or presentation some day. I try to keep a small bank of images for that purpose. I will stay away from the faith journey image (ugh--old and tired). Faith is actually a challenging discussion for a pastor, because parishioners who come to me to discuss faith are usually looking for assurance. Assurance is only a fraction of faith as far as I am concerned. Assurance is an important topic--but not the only topic.

A good friend and I shared lunch recently. He makes his living as a philosopher/teacher. We enjoy asking each other questions about our craft/academic specialty. He is a far better philosopher than I am a theologian--he reads and writes to the point where I wonder if he ever sleeps. Yet he still is devoted to his wife, family and faith, and still has time to dissect episodes of House with me.

I may not see him for awhile, so I should probably continue this stream of conversation via email. During our last talk we touched on the recent wave of neo-atheist authors. First of all, they (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris) seem more interested in selling their books than working on their craft. Then guys like Bill Maher (whom I happen to enjoy his commentary on the news) makes a movie lampooning religion and supposed adults who have an "imaginary friend (a god)." Though I have read only excerpts of their work, I am initially persuaded by their critics in that the neo-atheists are not necessarily intellectual heavyweights, but people who are more pissed off at God, or at the state of the world because of religion, or a combination thereof. I asked if Nietzsche was a better atheist--one with teeth. My friend was interested in my question, but we didn't finish the thought. We had so many topics to cover that day, and at least initially we found that House was a much more worthy topic of discussion regarding atheism than Hitchens.

My hope for the writers of House is that they do not give House faith, but that they give him a better direct challenge from a person of faith to his thoughts on faith or religion than the two I've seen in five seasons: a diminutive nun, and a crackpot Christian faith healer were probably the worst possible matches for House's intellect.

The next step for me is to read more of Hitchens, Dawkins, or Harris. Rather than raise their rating on Amazon or give them more money by buying their book from Barnes and Noble, I'm going to head to my local library. My faith and theology always need work--I subscribe to the idea that resistance training, even on matters of faith, is good for the body.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

One more sign of the Apocalypse:Yuniesky Betancourt at the plate 5/24/09

Sometimes I attempt to build up family events only to be later disappointed. Earlier today I lived in bloated anticipation for my eldest daughter's first Mariners game. She did pretty well--played on the Mariners playground, stood in line for an Ivar Dog (more on this later), picked up a bag of Cracker Jack, scared off by an order of garlic fries, scoped out Safeco Field with binoculars, took a trip to the bathroom, stood up an cheered for the final out--all this took about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Not bad for a first game. This will not be a normal trip for our family--at least not to any place more expensive than the bleachers.

This was a fun game today--a beautiful sunny day. All of the Mariner heroes performed well, Felix Hernandez, Ichiro!, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Adrian Beltre laid the foundation for the win with good pitching and hitting. In addition, some important role players stepped up. David Aardsma shut down the Giants in the ninth without really flinching, and Yuniesky Betancourt actually walked--twice. He laid down an ugly bunt that barely did the job. He did his job. A good Norwegian wouldn't applaud this work. I noticed in my time in the Midwest that some subcultures don't give affirmations for doing your job, and sparingly even if one executes with exceptional quality. But I'm glad for him, because Betancourt is not a good situational hitter and struggles to take a pitch, move the runners and do what is good for the team. Today, he performed. The debate I've heard on the radio and on my frequented Mariner blogs is whether Betancourt can actually change his behavior. A good question for humanity. Can we really change our behavior?

I always feel some satisfaction where preparation and strategy produces results. A little history, a little pride, a little relational joy and I let loose and scream for my favorite team. Friends, family and complete strangers giving each other high fives. I can't imagine giving a stranger a high five in church...but then again I'm not from the more charismatic persuasions where this kind of interaction is encouraged. Though I'm not sure what my daughter experienced on this day, she saw the best of what a baseball game has to offer.

Post Script

I will tell you the story about "The Ivar Dog" from a Seattle favorite Ivar's. My daughter asked for a hot dog for her game meal. I saw "Ivar Dog" on the menu and thought--ah, yes, I can get some clams, and with one stop shopping, get my daughter a hot dog as well. The server slung toward me fried clams and chips and a gourmet bun with something I didn't expect inside: a MOUND of cole slaw and two pieces of fish, laid out like a hot dog. It had some appeal, but, this meal wouldn't do. No way would my daughter eat this. She's the more adventurous eater of the two girls, but I knew this would not pass for lunch. I gritted my teeth and gave her the clams. She loved them. Only in Seattle would something be called an Ivar Dog and consist of fish. I was stupid and made a novice mistake. It was a tasty mistake, and we both ended up happy with our lunch. It was a good laugh for my family and added to the charm and blessings of the day.

A Seattle Mariners Tradition Passed On

I believe it was June, 1977, when my Dad took me to my first Major League Baseball game in Seattle's Kingdome. The Seattle Mariners' first season. It was picture day, and I had a blurry Polaroid taken with cast off Diego Segui. I was equipped with my fairly new Catfish Hunter signature baseball glove and my trident Mariner M cap.

I felt like it was time for my oldest daughter to see her first Major League game, to see local baseball heroes and take in the atmosphere of Safeco field. Even though the Mariners are not quite as bad a team as they were that first season with Glenn Abbott, Bill Stein, Dan Meyer and Rupert Jones (though they are bad enough), the entire baseball experience in Seattle is better. Safeco Field is a great venue. The Mariners have actual baseball heroes in their history and on the club today. Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr, and some developing stars--one whom we will see pitch today in Felix Hernandez. The club is heading in a better direction with General Manager Jack Zduriencik--who appears to have the baseball and leadership acumen along with a plan--a step up from former GM Bill Bavasi. These points, of course, matter little, if any, to my daughter. Though she may never be the baseball fan I am, female baseball fans may have a genetic link in our family. My Gram and I share love for baseball, a love she learned from her father listening to the Portland Beavers from their home across the Columbia River in Camas, Washington. Occasionally they would make the trip to watch the games as well. I imagine that most of the day will involve taking in the sights and sounds, while looking forward to the next treat. These treats have advanced as well, as have the prices. I'm still amazed I can buy a piece of sushi called an Ichi-roll (with a third mortgage to do it).

We will attend the game with my father and cousin, so they have a chance to witness my daughter's reactions to all she sees and hears. My only hope is that she remembers some of the experience, and that the experience is a joyful one.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Not abandoning content on Memorial Day weekend--recent finds for my Google Reader

How irritating that my favorite blogs take a holiday on Memorial Day weekend. Not here at madhousegazette.

My household is mostly in recovery this long weekend. My youngest had a trip to the ER last weekend when her fever would not go down. I think waiting in the ER during the wee hours of the morning took my immune system over the hedge. Excuse me while I hack up some lung butter...

My oldest daughter is struggling the most, not necessarily with her health, but with the change in routine and place. South Dakota was all she ever knew outside of vacations, and that is gone. I think she appreciates seeing her grandparents more often, and she is doing her own form of nesting and verbalizing the changes in her life: "here we are in our new house," she announced as we returned from a trip to the park. Can't say I felt like an outing today, but I knew life would be worse this weekend if we didn't get outside at some point today.

My dear wife is off with her college girlfriends for the Memorial Day weekend--so we get to make a few more choices this weekend. Hot dogs, chips, cookies and lemonade for lunch--the menu chosen by the oldest child. Naps for #2 and me. #1 continues her nesting.


John Paget Films Blog John makes some great stuff. We played basketball together years ago--he was interested in film years ago, and he's taken his work to many higher levels. Check out his piece on sprawl and cul de sacs.

Patchwork Nation on the Christian Science Monitor website. I can play with this demographic information for hours on end. I appreciate how the Monitor digs deeper than simply blue and red states.

Does place really make a difference for the Church (Part 1 of an ongoing series)?

I consider the question of place and the Church to be the driving question of my life. The answers to this question will often be subjective and anecdotal, but I also hold on to the belief that the social sciences can lend something objective to the discussion. Though I have yet to be able to follow my dream of studying this theme in the halls of academia, the discussion has become more immediate in my household because my dear wife has her own questions and observations about Church and place. For only the 2nd year of her life now, she is living outside the Midwest. It is a large part of her work to interpret the context of the Pacific Northwest and use that interpretation for the benefit of the Church. What I appreciate about my dear wife's new curiosity is that she has already begun to challenge my assumptions about the relationship between place and Church.

I still hold on to my hypothesis that the Pacific Northwest has some unique variables in relationship to the Church, but I also recognize that the way that PNW Church folk sometimes address this information in a narcissistic way, with a chip on their shoulder, an excuse for not fulfilling their calling, or in extreme cases--with a nihilistic despair. After only 3 weeks here, my wife and I have heard the statement, "THIS is the PACIFIC NORTHWEST" when attempting to be ambitious about our callings. I can see that the struggles of Mainline/Oldline Protestants in this region create a certain amount of defensiveness. Though we in the Church work with such high abstractions as theology and ideas, we also deal with livelihoods and a basic sense of belonging. As we have observed closely, our denomination can no longer just throw money at a situation and hope congregations spring up. A literalist reading of the Parable of the Sower is not operative (or is it?). Throwing seed willy-nilly appears to be bad stewardship. Mainline/Oldline Protestant congregations are hurting financially as in many sectors of the nation. The level of anxiety for stewards of Christ's Church is rising. I hope we don't lose our way by failing to ask good questions about context and place.

The relationship of place and Church is not without humor. During my tour of South Dakota Ranch Country, I found a congregation in Perkins County with a feature I had never seen. Maybe this configuration was more common in pioneering days--but check out the outhouse for this Catholic Church. I can count on 2 hands how many times I've had to use an outhouse, and stories of outhouses are part of various local legends. I thought it interesting that the outhouse was still there--though I was afraid to open the door and see if it was still operational. Though I came to know and love many people in South Dakota Ranch Country, if I didn't know some of the locals, I still had visions of someone coming after me with a rifle and shouting "get off my land!"

I am looking forward to all of the comparisons and contrasts of place and Church as I reexplore the Pacific Northwest--and learning what my dear wife's eyes see as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Frugal Living With A South Dakota Cell Phone

I recall a feeling of pride when I purchased my first Treo smart phone. I must admit having felt a mild inferiority complex about the semi-Luddite culture I live in with the Church; whenever I could acquire a piece of newer technology, my complex subsided. Is 450 dollars worth the complex-calming effect?

Frugality is the household rule, inferiority complexes are in remission, and higher priorities and the bigger picture guide purchases today. I pause to remember an artifact for the transition into frugality. The phone you see above cost 10 dollars. I rarely used it, but it helped when I traveled for part-time ministry opportunities in Iowa and South Dakota Ranch Country. Cost of use for the Treo over 2 years: about 1800 dollars. Cost of use for the Tracfone over two years: less than 400 dollars. The switch was good for the budget. About 6 months ago, the battery cover popped off the Tracfone. If South Dakotans taught me anything, it was to be resourceful--not everything is readily available in South Dakota. Sometimes duct tape is the way to go. They may not be attentive to recycling as my fellow Pacific Northwesterners, but duct tape as a make shift battery cover provided the bridge. I regret buying a new crappy/frugal cell phone upon arrival to the Pacific Northwest--I was too lazy to figure out if I could change numbers on my tracfone. Maybe I still can.

Someone will always be able to one-up my technology (more like 10 or 12-up). No one will be able to better my South Dakota duct tape cell phone.

They're listening...

Today I was taking the dog out for a morning constitutional. My youngest didn't appreciate my departure. When I returned, she greeted me with a scowl and said, "get back in here, MISSY!" Where did she get something like that?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finding the center of the nation

If this collection was part of fundamentalist blog land, I could wax poetic about how God is the center of this nation...

Sorry, you can look elsewhere for that--not my belief system. Allow me to be a geographic literalist/geek for the center of the nation.Here is me trying to manage my crappy tripod in the wind (remember, South Dakota wind) and not quite getting it right. As one of my favorite avocations of geography geek, the geographic center of the United States took a shift in the 20th century after Alaska and Hawai'i were added to the Union, placing the spot firmly on some one's ranch, just off a gravel road on a central road of Northwestern South Dakota (I had to write it that way, I thought it sounded funny). Not much time is given maintaining this exact spot. It's one of those spots on a Rand McNally marked with a red square that lends a little historical and/or geographical perspective to the locality and region. Though it's not a spot filled with much information and pageantry, to get an idea of the literal center of the United States and its place on the Earth lends to me a sense of awe about the land mass of the United States, the Earth, and the realm of creation. I connected to these thoughts of my April trip after reading Psalm 19: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork."

Where is the simple place of wonder? As the crow flies, about 25 miles northeast of Belle Fourche (pronounced Bell Foosh) on US Highway 85 (ahh, a blue highway). Look for the signs pointing you toward a gravel road. Don't be shy--it may look like a place where someone will show up with a rifle and say, "Get off my land!" But you will find a nice little drive and a stop for a meditation, ponderance, reflection, or whatever your favorite method of pause.

Though a lot more time and effort was placed on the monument for the center of the US in Belle Fourche proper, it doesn't seem to inspire the wonder of the makeshift monument and painted sign. I suppose it's something to attract tourists, which I'm not totally against. I merely have a different preference for my time apart to explore. The time alone to take these geeky little side trips has been reduced since my life of fatherhood. I doubt my children will find these interesting in the years ahead, though I will certainly try.

Today's post represents my most recent geeky escapade--with plenty of photos creating a backlog of writing from moving and nesting. Knowing my history, I won't get to them all, but one is a good start.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wind (Entry #3 in the madhousegazette South Dakota Lexicon)

I find current public discourse on differing views of global climate change tiresome. I still find fascination in climate and humanity's relationship with the Earth and its atmosphere. I know I'm not the only one--how else would The Weather Channel been able to survive so long? I suppose it was on the leading edge of reality television.

Wind is a term relative to region. In the Pacific Northwest, it's something that cools your house down in the evening after a warm summer day. Wind makes the guardian evergreens dance in the near sky. Wind occasionally challenges the floating bridges across Lake Washington. Wind can kick up the sand in your face during an otherwise chilly day at a rocky beach. But wind is an accessory in the Northwest. It kicks up, but it dies down.

Though I have never lived in hurricane country, wind is more associated with violence. As the Atlantic waters warm, so comes the potential of evacuation and damage to homes and businesses.

In South Dakota, the wind really doesn't stop. A South Dakota weather forecaster shouldn't point out that it's windy, rather, they should point out that it's not windy. There is nowhere to hide from the wind. It alters a human's walking course. It chafes skin. To an uncovered set of ears, the wind in South Dakota bears a sharp edge, like needles to the brain. Even on warm summer days when I ran, I would wear some sort of headband/ear covering to protect my hammer, anvil and stirrup from torment.

South Dakota may be on the edge of Tornado Alley, but the wind does not mess around. There may not be as many tornadoes compared to Kansas and Oklahoma, but the wind won't let you forget it's presence. Matching God with the wind and my Pacific Northwest experience was always a simple connection. South Dakota was different. Wind is an agitator. Wind is a destroyer (as in this photo from South Dakota Ranch Country) And there was no place to hide. I tried to plant trees for a refuge, and the wind would bend those trees to the brink of their survival. When I hid in my house, I could hear the wind howling outside.

The wind moves--sometimes in ways I don't like. Such is the power of God. I can't hide from it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Listening...(May 19, 2009 Edition)

Only The Good Die Young--Billy Joel
Yesterday's News--Whiskeytown
Feeling No Pain--Jason Falkner
Dani California--Red Hot Chili Peppers
Folsom Prison Blues--Johnny Cash
And When I Die--Blood, Sweat & Tears
Misery Business--Paramore

Billy Joel appeared several months ago on Oprah (yes, even Mr. Moms like myself watch Oprah (maybe once per week), except I don't do the Oprah nod like the women in the audience). Billy was appearing with his wife, some 20-30 years his junior, talking more about his new family life first and his music. I'm not the biggest Billy Joel fan in the world, but I decided to take another look/listen at some of his songs from my collection after this interview. He was candid about his music, saying that he was disappointed in some of his songs that didn't have staying power--though he recognized this state of his repetoire is reality. What gives music staying power? Not being a musician myself, I would guess that staying power is rooted by a musician being a student of their craft, passion, persistence, an openness to critique, and a healthy dose of reflection (which I think comes naturally to an artist). I have settled on Only The Good Die Young as a favorite. I struggle to think of a better philosophical look at young love related to religion, culture and values--with some signature great lines: "Come out, Virginia, don't let me wait, Catholic girls start much too late." Though the piano is well represented in this song, it's not piano driven. Though an amazing pianist, Joel's pounding piano can be exhausting--probably the reason Jerry Lee Lewis is not a personal favorite.

On the subject of musical staying power, my dear wife and I had a great evening listening to the music of Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears on a double date. It was one of those pleasantly surprising evenings that I wasn't dreading, but I also wasn't imagining how great it was going to be, either. We had a fabulous Middle Eastern meal in Sioux Falls (yes, it's possible at a place called Sanaa's) good conversation where our companions for the evening were interested in us beyond being pastors, and a great evening of music. We were going to the Symphony--something I appreciate, but don't crave. What I did not know is that we were attending a pops concert, featuring symphonic accompaniment to the two aforementioned bands. I was in awe of the two musicians who composed the accompaniment for all those classical instruments. These two bands are rather horn heavy--and with the strings, the music was positively beautiful and stirring. This is also staying power--music can contain some underlying quality--where style doesn't particularly matter. Maybe this is the core of music theory--where math, creativity, beauty and sound meet to provide musical interpretation that can span the generations. The vocalist during that evening of pops was also a dead ringer for the B,S & T singer--fascinating. I've admired his voice since I was a child hearing their songs on the radio.

I wonder how often music theory has influenced music used in the life of the church? At this point, I'm only wondering, though considering developing the thought...

I had a dream recently about Johnny Cash coming to a congregation I was serving, and he opened the worship service with "Folsom Prison Blues." Of my thousands of dreams in my lifetime, why do I remember this one?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gathering rulings on Puyallup pronunciation

After around 20 years away from the land of my birth and rearing, I'm not sure if this is the land of the familiar for me anymore (more on this later).

I know how to pronounce Puyallup. I also taught my dear wife to share her pronunciation knowledge in public as a tool to make her way in conversation--something in which she has greater gifts than me, but it doesn't hurt to learn the lingo. However, someone told me I pronounced Puyallup incorrectly (pew-Al-up) at a dinner gathering last weekend. Washingtonians are passionate about their place names--gatherings in my Granddad's living room only solidified this point. I even have the textbook of our discussions from his library in my own collection. Puyallup is a pronunciation like potato/potato, tomato/tomato, like the song. I think this place name pronunciation is a matter of preference, not law or rule (Pew-awl-up and Pew-Al-up are both correct) South Dakota has Huron (Hyur-on and Urine are both correct). The dinner partner tried to argue with me--he hinted that because I just moved from South Dakota I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. I'm collecting pronunciations from my fellow native Washingtonians. Feel free to comment.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Loving the air

The Pacific Northwest brings a lot of enjoyment to my life for several reasons. Certainly, mountains and water are great physical features to view on a daily basis. When I turn on to the main road to travel anywhere in the region, on a partly sunny day or clearer I can see Mt. Rainier in all its splendor. This peak is like a magnet to even the longest term resident of the area. However, I will no longer be a West Coast person who reduces the Midwest to fly-over land. The Plains states have their own beauty. Though I knew I would enjoy a return to this PNW climate, I forgot the way the air fills my nose and lungs, and how it feels against my skin.

Midwest air is filled with oppression about 40 weeks per year, whether its the humidity that lasts from late May to early October, or the wintry dry air that makes my hands bleed. Life indoors is an important consideration (maybe this is why Midwesterners have such a reputable work ethic). Not to mention the mosquitoes that the cities attempt to keep at bay, but bugs that will terrorize your flesh at any opportunity. When talking about weather with PNW locals, they always wonder how I could stand the winters. No problem, just put on more clothes and keep my hands bathed in hand lotion. New snow on the rolling prairie and its few trees is quite beautiful--like watching a child slumber sweetly. The land takes a sweet nap in the winter.

I love the air here. Though we have our share of smog here, it feels like it is always being brushed clean by the evergreens and rinsed by the rain.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Discombobulated web life and forgiveness

I thought of titling this post: "Qwest sucks"

But I decided not to because everyone has a bad day, including those in the customer service business. Qwest had a horrendous day with me, and like a true neanderthal I snapped at my two-year-old child because of it. With tears running down her face I apologized profusely, ran my fingers through her hair and said, "I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the computer people. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" She smiled and gave me a hug. If that wasn't the sweetest thing and the best grace...

I am borrowing my parents' computer tonight because I am receiving poor customer service in getting connected, and I have another week to wait. The story is not that interesting. One company continued to pass me off from department to department, while another company said expediently, "I can help you with that."

I miss my web life. I am hopeful it will return next week.

I miss writing online. I suppose I could get all primitive and type out a few thoughts on Word.

Keeping up with writing can be hard enough--dealing with adversity on top of that challenge is too much to take as I am recovering from this move.