Friday, September 29, 2006

Truth on rye with mustard, please hold the wrath.

In Bible Study Fellowship this year we are going through Romans. We just finished Romans 1 and are starting on chapter 2. I had forgotten some of the fascinating things that the author, the apostle Paul, says about God's wrath, and his description of the progressive stages of unbelief and its consequences. I was struck anew by its relevance to our own oh-so modern times.

We don't hear much about God's wrath in the contemporary culture, and what little we do hear seems to be misinformed. Modern evangelicals don't find wrath very "seeker-friendly", I expect. I have heard some rather wild-eyed rants about God’s wrath from a televangelist or two. Liberal theologians generally eye it with the same disdainful regard that they reserve for the Garden of Eden, Noah, the Virgin Birth, Heaven and Hell and, well, most of what the Bible actually says. Rank and file Christians, along with marginal and nominal believers of all flavors kind of shift uncomfortably in their pews on the rare occasion that the topic wafts by. Agnostics, and so-called atheists, seem to have much the same viewpoint as the liberal theologians, actually. Hmm.

It is man’s propensity for sin, of course, that places us in the path of God’s wrath. But even the language we use when we talk about sin today seems often not quite right. We use terminology such as "falling into sin" and "stumbling into temptation" which makes it sound like we are victims of something, as though some outside force was forcing us to do bad things. Paul is very clear, though. We are not victims, but perpetrators. The sin is within us, not outside of us, and that is the message that nobody likes to hear these days.

Romans 1:16-17 gives us a taste of the antidote, though, and why Paul was so anxious to write this letter to the Christians in Rome:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

(c) New International Version

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hugh MacLeod (of the Clan MacLeod, no doubt)

I have been enjoying this post, entitled How To Be Creative, from Hugh MacLeod's bloggish website, It's not a brand-spanking new thing, I guess, and no doubt many have already read it. But it was new to me, so maybe it will be new to you, too. I don't agree with completely every single thing he says, which he would no doubt think was healthy, but he offers many, many valuable, edifying insights into living a creative life.

I really do like his "Sex & Cash Theory". It is an overly provocative name, but then Hugh is in the advertising biz, so that's that. So much of what he says makes a lot of sense to me. Some of his other ideas challenge me, in a good way.

Go read the whole thing, as Glenn would say. Its rated PG, as is most of life, I think. It's long, but well worth it.

Same As It Ever Was

Sharon has an especially thoughtful post on the trials of growing up, with some wise counsel for kids. In addition to her typically astute observations, be sure to take a look at her stunning artwork.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Girl With A Pearl Earring

We watched Girl With A Pearl Earring last night on IFC. I had previously read a review of the book by Tracy Chevalier and so was somewhat familiar with the story, but I was unaware that a movie had been made (in 2003).

This movie really drew me in, appealing equally to my interests in history, in art, and in imaginative storytelling. Anyone interested in fine art would find this movie enjoyable, I think. The award-winning cinematography is superb, the directing very artfully done. Many scenes in the movie actually look like paintings by Vermeer or Rembrant. The musical score is also very good. Always complimentary, never overshadowing the other elements, subtle and beautiful.

The acting was pretty good, especially that of Scarlett Johansson, who really does bear more than a passing resemblence to the young woman in the painting. Colin Firth's performance is not especially broad, but the movie didn't really require much. As Johannes Vermeer, his job was to play a brilliant, moody, and harrassed painter, which he did sufficiently. Most of the supporting roles were good, if not great. Tom Wilkinson was convincingly lecherous and despicable. Vermeer's wife, Catharina, played by Essie Davis was a difficult role. I wanted to feel sympathy for her actually, but there was just a bit too much whining and shrieking, not entirely uncalled for, but still.

Part of what appeals to me so much about this story relates to my previous post, actually, about my fascination with old photographs. What the author and filmakers have done in Girl With A Pearl Earring is give the backstory that I always look for in the antique photos. And it is a compelling and richly drawn story - never mind that it is fiction - it puts a stunningly beautiful work of art into a context drawn from the possibilites of life.

I intend to read the book now, of course, and I expect it will be even better than the movie. Tracy Chevalier has a wonderful suite of linked websites, designed by her sister, one for each of her novels. Each is very creatively done, different, and interesting; I encourage you to visit them. They will make you want to read her books to be sure. For those interested in the "writing life", she includes biographical info and some generous insight on her own creative processes.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Speak to me with thine eyes...

I am fascinated by antique photographs, especially pictures of people. Nearly every antique store has either a file or a pile of old photos and very, very few ever have any accompanying information to identify the subject, date, setting, or significance.

I peer into these old pictures, focusing all my powers of observation, intellect and intuition, attempting to pierce the shrouds of mystery with the force of my will. Like new-found evidence uncovered by accident at the scene of a very old crime, old pictures of people provide clues, but no satisfaction. I want to know who they were, who loved them, where they lived, and what their lives were like. But answers and identities remain ever elusive, ever intriguing. Conjecture and imagination slink in and nibble on these scraps and go away hungry. It is like having a beautiful, perfect key to a door, but the door itself has been misplaced or destroyed so the treasure that waits behind the door is forever lost.

Who are these people? Where are they going and what are they thinking about? Who do they love and what did they do with their lives? How is it that a moment, perfectly preserved in two dimensions for a century or more, can be at once so revealing and also completely impenetrable?

Sometimes I think that if only the right person would see this picture, then the mystery could be solved. Someone somewhere might know...must know, must have a memory of this. But the truth is, in all probability, the right person doesn't exist, or rather, doesn't exist any more.

In this life, some mysteries will remain unsolved for the duration. In this life, you can't know everything. You don't get to understand everything you see in this life. But there will be time for that later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Stand and Deliver

All day long I've been thinking about this one idea, basically.

I'm going to do something new and exciting to my workspace. I'm going to elevate my desk about 2 feet so that it will be a standing desk rather than a sitting desk. Somewhere I read about some executive who has a standing desk and he does his work while walking on a treadmill all day. I don't think I'm quite that radical, but I do think that standing and moving around should be healthier than sitting.

I'm going to go think about it over a piece of pie. Wick's Pie Factory is located about 14 miles from here. Mr. Wick was an old friend of my grandpa's from way back and these folks know pie. You may have seen them in your local grocery. They are famous and they ship pie all over the country. The pumpkin pie is exceptional. The sugar cream pie is also very good, but it is serious businesss....folks have been known to break into a diabetic sweat just looking at one of those. I can have about 1 piece per year.

Yes, there is probably a link between pie and my interest in metabolic modification. Let's not dwell on it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What I Did This Weekend.

I am highly amused and humbled by my weekly Sitemeter reports. Apart from just a handful of virtual friends and acquaintances, my anonymity remains intact. A big day around Pike Speak is when there have been 6 hits and 2 or more last for more than 4 seconds. Even my family doesn't read my blog, which is really funny to me. And perfectly fine.

The fact that I do almost nothing to advertise my presence will no doubt keep my blogospheric impact at this microscopic level. That's really okay with me because it keeps the expectations low so that I can safely post gratuitously self-indulgent and mindless missives like this one. Plus, if I want to post pictures of postcards, fungus, or mummified monkey paws (its coming), I can do so without disturbing the balance of power in Washington DC or irritating the Muslim anarchists in the Middle East. I can't imagine the pressure that Glenn must feel.

A furiously busy weekend: Bible Study Fellowship Leader's meeting at 6:25 AM on Saturday. Followed by a mad dash to the Post Office, an hour-and-a-half late, and the delivering of the mail at a brisk pace on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Then straight from there to worship band practice at church, roughly an hour late, then a quick dinner on-site, a meeting, and then the Saturday night service, which went well. Home at last around 8:30 PM. Relaxed by watching the DVD of Toto's 25th Anniversary concert in Amsterdam, which was very, very good.

Up again at 6:00 AM Sunday in order to be at the 7:30 AM run-through, which went well. Two services on Sunday morning, left the church about 12:30 PM. Went home, changed clothes, and then high-tailed it up Fountain City to Levi Coffin Days, a glorious spectacle of small-town, midwestern Americana. Lunch was a Taco-in-a-bag for Nancy and, for me, barbecue chicken fixed by the local Boy Scout Troop. Flea markets, garage sales, and neighborly loitering and then home to drop off Nancy. Drove back to Richmond to hit the OfficeMax, Sacred Grounds for a jolt, and the grocery. Home around 6:45. Worked until about 8:30 on Bible Study Fellowship prep, conversed with JP at length on IM about his Jazz Improv class at IU. Then, finished out the evening with a snack and the last two-thirds of Kill Bill 2 on the tube.

Yes, that's right. My blog is now about what I did over the weekend. Maybe later we'll talk about theology, Renaissance music history, or lawn-mower repair, but not today. Look, with respect to Pike Speak, all I can really promise is that I will usually check my spellng.

Go visit Rick, Jeff, or Sharon if you really want to see how creative blogging really takes place. Unless, of course, you are Rick, Jeff, or Sharon, in which case thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth

Normally, I am one who enjoys reading and who reads a lot across a fairly broad range of topics. My ancestry includes teachers, theolgians and librarians, my minor in college was English/Literature, I was taught at home how to use the Dewey Decimal System when I was in the sixth grade, and I have been employed by a prestigious research library. By both preference and genetics, I have an affinity, even a love for the written word. I often have strong and specific opinions about books and the ideas they convey.

But at present, I am coming out of a kind of reading slump. For the last 4 months, I really just couldn't read anything, fact or fiction, with any kind of sustaining interest. Taking the summer off from Bible Study Fellowship, a seasonal and especially disciplined reading program, I haven't been in His Word with any degree of intensity or regularity, either. I can't even get through Guitar Player magazine before the next month's issue has shown up already. I have a shelf of unread books glaring scornfully at me from across my office.

This week I read three of Louis L'Amour's books in 3 days. They are not long or hard to read, by any means, nor are they especially well-written. But there is something they have that I find very appealing, a distinct moral clarity of classic proportions, expressed in the romantic ideals of the mythic American West. I find the same is largely true of Tom Clancy at his best, back in the 1990's, although his backdrop is obviously our contemporary culture and his approach more effusive. It is not hard to distinguish right from wrong, virtue from vice, good from evil in these books. They are often not so much about the happy ending, as some might suppose, but about integrity, personal motivation, community, legacy, and the spirtual and ethical importance of "doing the right thing" regardless of the cost or consequence.

Is it literature? Who cares? It reminds me of some of the things that are really important in life and brings back into focus many of my core beliefs. And it gets me reading again.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mushroom Art

One of the most interesting antique art works that we own is this amazing little oil painting of a country church. Strictly speaking, this would likely be considered an "American primitive" piece, less, perhaps because of its age and more so because of its composition, technique, and its highly unusual surface. This painting is rendered on a giant preserved fungus, not unlike those featured in my previous post.

The painting itself is quite good. Simple and folksy, but expertly and artfully realized. There is no signature or date, nor anything else to trace the paintings provenance. Its age is uncertain, but my wife the antique dealer is sure that it is well over 50 years old, possibly much older. Here in eastern Indiana, there are many little country churches that look like this, but it is not one that I have been able to locate.

Here is a picture of the back of the mushroom. It appears to have been dried and then preserved with some type of shellac or clear varnish. There are some nicks in the fungus on both front and back, and the crazing of the paint is clearly visible, but the mushroom itself is really not fragile. It is light, but solid. It feels a lot like papermache'.

Its dimensions are approximately 7.75" x 6" x 1.5". We keep it on a little easel with a small, antique quilt sample.

It would be interesting to know if more of this type of work exists, if anyone else has ever seen such a thing, or has any additional info at all. (Yes, I'm talking to both of you who occassionaly read my blog...)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fungus Humungus Amongus - Part I

There is a tree in our yard that has been dying for, oh, say 20 years or more. For the last three years it has exhibited the strangest growth, that of a giant fungus, growing out of its side like some kind of appendage.

There is something innately repulsive, yet also beautiful, about it.

Here you can see how the rainwater has pooled in the nexus, reflecting the side of our house in the background.

Here is an interesting definition of this type of growth, from the 2006 edition of the venerable Random House Unabridged Dictionary,
"any of a diverse group of eukaryotic single-celled or multinucleate organisms that live by decomposing and absorbing the organic material in which they grow, comprising the mushrooms, molds, mildews, smuts, rusts, and yeasts, and classified in the kingdom Fungi or, in some classification systems, in the division Fungi (Thallophyta) of the kingdom Plantae."

I really like the word "multinucleate" and will be attempting to work it into casual conversations over the next few days. I am also intrigued by the notion of the Kingdoms of Fungi and Plantae.

Soon I will offer a follow-up post showing a very unusual form of art using fungi as its basis.

Listening To: "SONGLINES" by The Derek Trucks Band

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Simple, not easy.

Jeff at anti-itch meditation has a great post in which the answer to the ills of society is revealed. Why do people expect the solutions to the really big questions to be easy and glib?

The answers to the plaintive "how can we stem the tide of _________ in the world today?" questions are not ever going to be found in some deep, solomonic pronouncement which, when spoken aloud, somehow will awaken the world to its plight and release the cosmic energy necessary to set the universe aright. Nope. The only bastion against sin remains a redeemed heart

Friday, September 01, 2006

I have several jobs. One of them is working part-time for the US Postal Service as a "Rural Carrier Associate". In our little area of Randolph County we have only two rural routes. Most of the folks that live in Lynn proper actually have a box and come pick their mail up on a semi-daily basis. My job is that of a substitute carrier, meaning that I run the route every other Saturday and on days when Jennifer, who is the real mail carrier, is sick, on vacation, or feeling otherwise postally disinclined.

Like all jobs, there are good things about it and not-so-good things, but overall, I like it very much and it has been a blessing to our family. There are only 7 people total who work at our Post Office and all of them are great. Because we are very small and in the country, the whole vibe is much more relaxed than it is in the city facilities. Rick, the Postmaster, couldn't be a nicer, more easy-going boss and alot of the bureaucratic formalities and regimental unpleasantries one finds in the administration of a metropolitan Post Office just do not exist in our office. We don't wear uniforms. We drive our own vehicles to deliver the mail and the USPS pays us a per diem to cover this usage. This is a good thing because postal delivery is really hard on the brakes.

As I mentioned, it is a rural route and, after sorting, casing, and generally organizing the mail, it takes about 4 hours to drive around the backroads putting mail in people's mailboxes and delivering packages. There's more to it than that, really, more detail than most people want to know about. But, in truth, alot of my day is about driving around out in the country, which is pretty fun. Except when it snows or ices, then it is not fun, but hard, hazardous, exhausting work.

I like to take pictures of some of the areas I see on my route. This a pond that is on County Road East 700 South (I told you it was rural). This photo was taken in the late spring, but this is an interesting place all year round. I almost always see geese at this pond, but I've also seen all manner of other waterfowl, including herons and what appear to be seagulls or a near relative. This area is beautiful in the winter, too.

I don't think I would enjoy postal work as much as I do if I had to do it everyday, but it isn't bad being the substitute. Its relaxing to drive around out in the country, listening to NPR and rock-and-roll on the radio, putting letters in boxes. Lord willing, I plan to do it for at least another three years or so, until my son gets out of college.