Baking Day

Summer is when we like things not to break. If they do, they will most likely stay broken. Summers are relaxing but frugal here.

Last summer, then, the heating element in our oven starting malfunctioning. Only half of it seemed to be heating up, and it tended to stay on after the oven was turned off. None of this is good.

Replacing the element was easy, but there was apparently a short in the wiring or some other issue that is above my pay grade. Sometimes you need an expert. And sometimes you don’t want to spend the money.

On the positive side, my wife has always had affection for toaster ovens, for some reason, and we have a nice one, roomy and with convection cooking. We figured we could manage in the summer with that; the stovetop still worked fine, and it’s not the time of year when we’d spend a lot of time baking and just using the oven for what ovens are good at.

And it turned out that we could manage just fine, even when summer went away. Add that countertop oven to the microwave, slow cooker, and stovetop and you can cook pretty much anything, especially for three people or less. There’s a rotisserie* and everything.

There’s a lesson here, I think, necessity being the mother of many children, although in all honesty I think we mostly just forgot about the big oven. It comes up from time to time.

This is one of those times, actually. I’ve got several loaves of bread to bake this week, which is no problem at all, but also a few dozen cookies. Size matters here only because I can only manage to bake a dozen at a time, so it’s a little more work and twice the time.

On the other hand, these cookies are for church, and we’ve got a couple of sizeable ovens in the church kitchen. I could bake them all at once, assuming enough cookie sheets, and I might just do that. Easier, and walking into a church at dusk that reeks of chocolate chip cookies is not a bad way to do a Vigil, I think. Not bad at all.

The Vigil table from last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Spelled that all on my own.

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Occam and his stupid razor

I asked my son yesterday if he’d ever heard a tech person talk about rebooting something, such as a modem, and suggest unplugging the power cord from the device and the outlet. He said he had, so I didn’t feel dumb, but it still makes no sense. Probably just doubling down on the process, although it’s perfectly plausible that I just don’t understand enough about physics and electronics.

The point was, my Amazon Echo has been a little buggy lately, dropping in and out of wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the other day it just stopped connecting to my PC. I rarely use the Echo for any of its intended purposes; mostly I just use it as a Bluetooth speaker. And now, with my new rig and certain issues about the sound card and this particular motherboard, it was my only speaker. I have a pair of wireless headphones that use a USB transmitter, which work just fine, but I’m less inclined toward headphones these days. I need a speaker.

Sidebar: If you type “speaker” enough, you realize what a strange, primitive word that is. Like “movie,” we say it without recognizing the silliness.

Reviewing the situation, then, I decided to go through a process, step by step. Turn off and turn on. Reset the device. Forget the device and re-pair. And so on, everything I could think of. No luck.

And I was fighting logic, which would note that the speaker connected to my phone without problems, suggesting that it wasn’t the Echo at all. Although I did remove my Bluetooth dongle and plug it back in.

See, I don’t need tech support, even if such a thing were available; I could probably find a way to contact Amazon support and talk to someone, but I assume they’d just walk me through every step I took. And this, again, seemed to be a PC issue, not an Echo one.

I ended up jerryrigging a speaker system, which sounded fine, and figured it was just something that would resolve or just wouldn’t work anymore. Later on, though, when I moved to put my computer to sleep, I saw an “Update and Shut Down” option. I took that, which seemed to be a small update, and went out and mowed the lawn.

Turning the PC back on afterward, I noticed that it was hitting the disk drive and remembered that I’d stuck a disk in there to see what was on it and never took it out. I couldn’t figure out how that could be affecting Bluetooth, but it was the only thing different about my setup. I took the disk out and tried to re-pair the speaker. Bingo.

Except. I’d just gotten an update.

You see? Was it the disk, or some bug in Windows that the update fixed?

Not that this is a problem; I’m just glad the speaker is back. It’s just become one of those we’ll never know moments, and I hate those.

Except. I have a son, who actually is pretty good when it comes to logic, not to mention motherboards, and he had an answer, which sounds obvious but you had to be there.

“Put the disk back in.”

Maybe. And maybe tempting fate is a game for the young. I think I’ll pass.

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Looking Back, Ahead

It’s not like I’m unaware that the club is shrinking. The entertainers of my childhood, meaning the entertainers of my parents and, by osmosis and lack of options, me, are almost all gone.

The ones that came up via radio, carrying with them the aroma of vaudeville and a hint of the 19th century, Jack Benny and George Burns and Bob Hope and Henny Youngman and so on, are long gone. So are Sinatra and Crosby and Dino and Sammy; the entire Rat Pack, Danny Ocean and all. By whatever grace seems to fall on certain celebrities, the big screen icons of my era are in large part still around: Eastwood, Redford, Nicholson, Hoffman, Hackman. And that weird longevity that seems to bless brilliant comic minds, or even just good comic ones, is still in effect with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and Dick Van Dyke engaged and in some cases busy, well into their 80s and 90s.

And so we come to Don Rickles, may he rest in peace. He had a good, long run, a career that was taking off before I was born and never seemed to crest, just persist. For a bona fide headliner, he was a show biz second banana and seemed pretty comfortable with that, his friendships with Sinatra and Newhart understood as hierarchal and his spot nailed down. He was the court jester of famous people, and he seemed to relish the role.

I just never got Rickles, and it puzzles me. Even dumping the hagiography that happens whenever someone of his stature passes, people whose opinions I trust on these things have always had glowing things to say about Don Rickles.

Me? Never saw it, and I saw everything. I was fascinated by comedians, particularly the ones whose timing had that preternatural feel, like watching Ken Griffey, Jr. swing the bat. From W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers through Pryor and David Brenner and on, I knew their stuff. And I didn’t get Rickles’ stuff. I understood it. I just didn’t get it, and he never made me laugh.

So what’s up with that? Dunno. I have my share of odd tastes and strange things make me laugh; I just couldn’t get onboard with this guy. And it has to be me, not him.

***

I was brought up in a cultural Christian environment, by which I mean we celebrated Christmas in the usual way. I went to Sunday school for a year or so, and had a few other church experiences, but negligible.
Easter Sunday was another that we marked, and now it just baffles me. Objectively, I get it, absolutely. There’s nothing like an Easter egg hunt, or the candy, or spring taking off and pushing hope like a door-to-door salesman.

I just can’t relate to that these days, for good reasons. I’ve been married to a church musician and now minister for a long time, and this is Super Bowl week. Four services to be prepared, sermons to be written, music to be arranged. Holy Week for us is just hanging on and immersing ourselves at the same time.

On my side of the aisle, I just have to bake, learn a pretty simple song on the guitar to help out a couple of our musicians, and write a take on the creation story to deliver on Saturday at our Vigil.
Lots of churches do this. Lots don’t. Especially with the schism that’s always existed in the Presbyterian church, the Calvin wing and the Knox wing, you might find nothing particularly liturgical happening in one church and our crazy week in another. Ours, that is, anyway.

These are The Three Nights: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil. Easter Vigil is an ancient tradition that only was rediscovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it can take different forms, but the way we do it has to be the most fun. Theologically, the deed is done; the rock has already been moved away in our minds. We tell our oldest stories: Creation, Noah, Jonah, Isaiah, etc., and give ourselves free rein to explore creative ways to tell them. It can last a couple of hours, sometimes longer, and always ends with the Lord’s Supper and then a feast of Easter goodness, with a big focus on chocolate. You gotta have chocolate at the Vigil.

All of these nights are infused with joy at some point, gently on Maundy Thursday, muted on Good Friday but still there, awakening at the Vigil and erupting the next morning. If you do it, and approach it in the right way, or at least this has been my experience, it can carry you a long way.

As can chocolate. You really need it to make all this work. I don’t quite understand this, either, but you do.

(My wife talking about The Three Nights and her journey)

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Walking It Back

I bookmarked an article the other day, too long to read at the moment. I made it through enough of it, though, to find myself nodding.

I think of them as the first generation. My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s (now just referred to as high-functioning autism) nearly 20 years ago. It made sense, it explained a lot, it helped us to understand more and adjust our behavior, but it wasn’t, of course, something that could be fixed. He’s been on medications for all of those years, but not for autism. He had a constellation of diagnoses, as his pediatric psychiatrist referred to it.

And the medications helped, there’s no doubt in my mind, as troubling as the whole thing was to me. He’s now down to almost nothing, a tiny bit to help with anxiety. He remains a square peg in a world of circles, but those edges are starting to blur a little. It’s been remarkable.

But it’s a difficult path for these young people, as the article points out. I can speculate on why this is, why some of them manage to do fine in school with help, even college and graduate school, and others can’t even imagine it.

His path is brighter now. It’s always been bright in my mind, knowing that we just needed patience and persistence. His skill set is expanding and really amazing, all things considered, and his various job training stints have been generally positive. Most of the places he’s worked loved him.

I don’t write about him much anymore, but that’s mostly because he annoys me. It’s part of the process, and it helps if I think of him as a 17- or 18-year-old rather than the same age I was when I was hired to manage a small company. He’s becoming independent, and we have a few clashes. Mostly, though, we’re doing just fine.

As he is, and there’s a quick and obvious way to assess that, as has been noted by the healthcare and social services people who’ve been dealing with him for a few years now. That is, the tall kid (around 6’3”) whose weight jumped when he began taking a medication with that particular side effect and who tipped the scale at over 270 maybe a year ago looks very different now, in the low 230s. This is the result of changing his diet, mostly cooking his own food and cutting back on soda to nearly nothing, the occasional treat. And walking.

I’m sort of nervous about typing those last words. I’ve been approached in the past month or so by two different young entrepreneurs, running websites with health-related themes. They’ve scraped out old blog posts that relate in some way to the particular subject they specialize in, and they offer me thousands of readers if I’ll write about their sites and link to them.

The thing is, I have thousands of readers. Just not for this blog. Something I’m actually pleased about, and the reason I almost never promote anything I write here. I write for wanderers, stragglers, lurkers, strangers in this space, but mostly I just write for myself. Keep writing, and so on. It’s gym.

So, maybe. Maybe one day I’ll take a good look at their sites and decide to write about it, but my story is so entangled with exercise and weight loss and health—and I’ve told my story enough times—that I’d rather not be seen as a niche writer. Although not having a niche is why I’m pretty much a failure at this writing business. So far, anyway. You really should have a niche.

My son is the one who should be documenting this. Note to self.

It fascinates me, really. The reason these people contact me is that they’re interested in self improvement and transformation, and they’d like to share information and help others and, in the process, maybe win the jackpot. Or a piece of the jackpot. More power to them.

I completely understand the impulse, too, assuming they were the original subjects of this transformation. When I began to lose weight, having drawn up my own plan, not really expecting it to work the way I hoped it would but wanting to experiment, the urge to shout my success story was strong in this one. I’d broken the code, gotten back to basics and figured it all out. It worked almost exactly as I’d hoped.

But that was me, and this is you. Even if I believed today that much of what I did could work for anyone—and I do—there’s a lot more to the process.

It’s like my chocolate chip cookies. People really seem to like them, even if they’re hardly the most exotic cookie, but every time someone has asked for the recipe they’ve lost interest fairly quickly. There’s no secret ingredient. Good, quality ingredients, yeah, but nothing special.

What baking these cookies, and having them turn out the way they do, requires is mostly time. Patience, really. Some things that people don’t really want to do.

Same thing, then. My son wasn’t quite ready to do all the deep drilling down that my way of losing weight and getting fitter involved, but he took the basics to heart: Pay attention to what you eat, move more, and weigh yourself. A lot. Every day would be good, but he manages a few times a week.

And I believe this. If weight is your issue, if you want to weigh less (or, I suppose, more), then using the instrument that measures that weight might be useful, you think?

I get the frustration, the dread. The fear of plateaus, the boredom of discipline, the temptation of easy calories that come in the form of really good chocolate chip cookies. And then there’s that pesky metabolic syndrome, which can affect a lot of people and make weight loss even more of a challenge.

So, no. I’ve written enough on the subject, and I’ve read much more. I know people who are desperate to change their bodies, take the pressure off aging joints and just feel better about themselves, who completely reject the idea of tracking calories. I don’t blame them at all. It sounds like an awful way to eat, turning food into numbers.

But I’ve done it, every day. For almost 10 years. These days I tend to track the actual food itself, since there are more sophisticated apps and I can now get an idea of how I’m doing from a nutrition standpoint, but mostly it was just numbers. Guesswork, references, eyeballing; consistency is the key, and as I said, it’s been 10 years.

My weight hasn’t budged out of a range of 3 pounds since the fall, when I gained some of that weight back I’d lost the year before. And I can eat whatever I want, and I do. Just not every day, and I’m not all that interested in doing the same thing every day.

But, again: This is my story, not yours.

It’s just that it’s now my son’s story, and success is sweetest when it’s shared.

John these days; upper left corner was fall 2016.
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One Removed

A few months ago, maybe longer, some article started popping up in various feeds, or maybe it was just a graphic. Really, the way we (or at least I) receive news is messing with our retention, I absolutely believe this. And I’m not the only one; I heard an attorney/journalist talking about wondering if news she hears today she already knew about last week but can’t quite place it.
Anyway, this one slice of information that showed up just described familial relationships, explaining all those third-cousin-twice-removed connections that nobody else understands. I know I don’t, even though I just now found a picture that seems to explain it.
And at some point it ends up in the ancestry game, something I’m not interested in at all. I understand the interest of others; it’s a fun hobby, and slide in some history and you can find some stories if you’re inclined. I’m just not, particularly.
There also seems to be some significant evidence that these sort of long-distance relations are irrelevant in any meaningful way once we get past a couple of generations. I can draw a line, in other words, from my great-great-great-grandfathers to me, but as far as genetics are concerned it doesn’t really affect me. Just a curiosity.
I found out something interesting, though, back whenever I first noticed this topic trending. To simplify, I know that my father’s brother is my uncle, and his daughter is my cousin. First cousin, actually, but we don’t need to qualify. Cousins. We know.
I also know that my uncle’s uncle is my great-uncle. Again, pretty obvious. And that great-uncle’s child is, of course, my uncle’s (and my father’s) first cousin. What I didn’t know is that my father’s first cousin is my first cousin, once removed. I guess I always assumed it was my second cousin (which would actually be my father’s cousin’s child).
Enough, then. You’re either interested in this stuff or you’re not. Me, not so much.
But I noticed something that I was completely unaware of, coming from a small family (one uncle, two aunts, and between them four cousins): My cousin’s daughter, for example, is my first cousin, once removed, but colloquially (and I assume this comes up in larger families) would usually be referred to as my niece.
I like this. I don’t know my cousins very well, since they’re so few in number and spread out. I’ve met most of their children, but that’s it. Just a hello. It seems that if I were to think of them as nieces and nephews, I’d maybe make more of an effort to learn about them, get to know them a little from a distance. Their great-grandparents were my grandparents; we’re family.
I just think it would be nice to think of my cousin’s daughter as not some never-met, never-known stranger, but as my niece.
But I won’t. And I can’t.
My cousin’s daughter was murdered a month ago, although the body has yet to be recovered. The suspect was arrested the other day, though, after a long investigation in which everyone was told to stay quiet. My niece was just missing. People were asked to be aware, to be on the lookout. But they knew she was dead.
Knew. My cousin. My aunt, this poor young woman’s grandmother, with whom she lived most of her life and apparently viewed as a parent figure. They knew, and maybe the writing had been on the wall; this kid had been in trouble a few times, with some troubling associations. Old story.
Murdered by a gun, but again: Old story. Guns are quick and available. You can make the argument that they’re too quick and too available, but that’s pretty irrelevant here. I’m all for sensible gun control, for background checks, mandatory gun safety classes, waiting periods, etc. A lot of this we have. We could certainly do better and not infringe on responsible people, but again: I think irrelevant in this case. I have reasons to think that; not going to get into details.
I never met her, this young woman who in another life I might have thought of as my niece. Her pictures resemble her mother at the same age, in a striking way.
And so I’m left here, not grieving as much as feeling the sorrow of the loss, the sorrow I can’t even imagine, the sorrow of family members I don’t see very often, and wondering if I shouldn’t try harder to change that.
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Preparing For Dinner

My Lenten season has not turned out the way I imagined it would. I’ve still got time, I guess, but mostly I’m just once again surprised at the way things just don’t work out, and yet they do.

My idea of jumpstarting a spiritual awakening by making more of an effort to stay engaged with the unknown was fine, I recommend it, but it was sort of hit and miss.

Then again, sometimes you head off in one direction, and a better direction shows up along the way. Like I need to explain this stuff. Humanity 101. We try. We fail. We are imperfect. We try again.

And then it showed up, whatever I was hoping for, expecting, imagining. None of my problems got fixed along the way. I wasn’t expecting a miracle, just maybe a tiny bit of transformation, and as is usually the case in these sorts of things, transformation is all about perspective.

I wrote a stewardship letter this year, sent out to the members of our church with copies of budgets and pledge cards for the upcoming fiscal year. This is a small church and the budget is relatively tiny. There are people in the congregation who earn more in a year than our annual budget, I’m pretty sure.

In it, I mentioned my experience, years ago, different church, with sending out to the local newspapers our Holy Week schedule, and how the pastor asked me to omit Maundy Thursday (the first of what is called The Three Days; it marks the night with the disciples when Jesus was betrayed but had dinner first). Maundy Thursday in this church involved an actual meal, followed by a brief service, and the pastor was worried there wouldn’t be enough food, so I told that story in this letter. How it made perfect sense, and how it still felt spiritually dissonant. The symbolism involved in welcoming all to the table gets a little watered down when you keep it secret. We should believe, even with perfectly sound reasoning suggesting otherwise, that there will be enough food, always.

Last night was our fifth and final Lenten meal at the church. My idea. My hope. My raising something up the flagpole and seeing who salutes. You get the picture. I had a notion, and I was curious.

And roughly half the church, or at least the members who attend regularly, showed up for these dinners. It felt like a successful experiment in fellowship and our drive to engage with each other. There was no program. We started a few with someone saying grace, and a few we just dug in and figured God would get it. Otherwise, there was nothing about church or God or Christianity or Lent or Easter or anything else along those lines on the table. Just food.

Afterwards, I’ve had choir practice, and still the entire area, dining and kitchen, gets spick and span somehow. Different people on different nights, but it gets done. I mostly just turn out the lights and make sure the doors are locked.

The way the food shows up has been left mostly out of the equation. People would come up to me and ask, and I’d suggest something, a casserole or bread or veggies or whatever. I’d usually make something myself.

Last night, though, with only a couple of offers to bring salads, I had nothing. No one had mentioned anything  on the Sunday before otherwise, and no inquiring emails were sent. I made a pot of soup, and a super-simple, cheap casserole that I threw together in five minutes and then tossed in the microwave, remarkably enough. And then I just waited.

Maybe the stars aligned in a certain way, and people had other things to do. I knew we’d have six or seven at least, maybe a few more. Our head pastor walked in, looked around, and asked me if we’d have enough food. I just shrugged. He went out to pick up rolls, and I stirred my soup and set the table. And waited a bit.

Here’s why this was an experiment: I’m not the social director at this church, and I’m certainly not going to cook for a bunch of people once a week. It was time to trust my instincts. Also time to trust some more profound ideas, but we were talking about dinner.

And at some point about halfway through our meal, with again half the church in attendance, everyone showing up with some dish to offer, no big deal, my pastor turned to me with a big grin and said, Who knew? There was enough food.

I had to smile and nod. Yeah. I almost said something like, oh we of little faith, but that wasn’t really applicable. Our faith was fine. We just wanted things to work out.

They worked out, and for just a second there was a sense that I was going to burst into tears. Happy tears, but kind of embarrassing, and it passed.

It’s just that at that moment, I got Lent. It’s not about sacrificing pleasure, or practicing disciplines, or seeking out clarity, although all of things can happen and do.

For me, though, it turns out to be setting the table, and preparing for what might come, and being ready when it does.

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Hepped Up

I’m going to blame it on the coffee. That seems fair, and harmless. There’s enough blame.

For someone who’s spent most of his life in the Coffee Capitol, I was nearly 50 before I developed the habit. Just a taste thing; I grew up drinking gallons of iced tea (Phoenix may be the Iced Tea Capitol, now that I think of it), but it needed to be really sweet. I started using artificial sweetener when I was around 20, for that reason, and I still love sweet tea even if the sweet comes from Splenda.

But coffee seemed just too much. I’m not a big hot drink person anyway, but it turned out that I was spending a lot of evenings in chilly rooms for a couple of hours. A hot drink seemed prudent.

So I had my usual two cups yesterday, tired from a late night that always leaves me wired, and then an Americano (venti) at Starbuck’s when I met some friends for a conversation. I felt like a fully functional human being, then, for a couple of hours, riding the perfect caffeine level until I dropped.

Somewhere around then was when I bought Poser. Ergo the coffee shaming.

Poser is 3D animation software. I’d been seeing half-price ads for a while now, but just idly reading about the product on the website reminded me that I had a coupon code from long ago, somehow still good and applicable to the sale price. So I got a sophisticated piece of software for practically nothing.

The operative word being sophisticated. It’s a whole new level for me, and I’m not sure I’m up for it. I spent a couple of hours messing around, watching tutorials and just exploring. I’ve got some ideas, but I’m not sure I can reach enough expertise to pull off what I’m looking for.

This all came from making these videos, which were essentially talking-head moments that I thought were a little visually uninteresting, given that these were personal stories and I had few photos I could slide in there for a break.

So I fooled around and came up with some minor animation that I could pull off using just video editing software, and that’s where the notion came from. I’m fairly comfortable with key frames and the such, essential concepts when computer animating, but let’s be serious: It’s hard to learn new things when you’re an aging dog. It just is. I’m not all that optimistic.

***

What I am optimistic about is Texas, where I’m heading in less than three weeks. I see pictures of that boy and I don’t see the toddler anymore; it’s time.

And given the fact that we’ve yet to hit 60 degrees here in 2017, about to set a record for that sort of thing, I expect that I’m going at just about the right time.

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The Year In Review

Yeah, I didn’t have any trouble remembering this one. Last day of March and all; it’s an easy date to recall.

And as embarrassing as it was to overreact and become as frightened as I did, I know exactly what was going on. The fear of screwing up a good thing, taking grace on a silver platter and forgetting you ever had it, runs pretty deep in me, and with good reason.

Funny; I just thought of a moment when I was 19, a moment I remember vividly as being an opportunity I ran away from, and part of that opportunity actually involved me getting a silver platter. I still have it, probably.

Anyway, I went to the doctor a year ago today and got scared, sure I’d completely reversed years of trying to be a healthier person. That, or some pathology was winding its way through my system, which is really what I thought after those screwy lab tests came back. They were suspicious for all sorts of possible reasons, but actually represented a pretty simple one: I was just a little malnourished, particularly for an American of my age and status and everything else.

In fact, if you ignore all of my hand-wringing behavior and just look at the events, this is how scenarios like this are supposed to play out. People go through periods of depression, probably most of us. When you lose your appetite and sleep becomes a question mark on any given night, it’s time to see a professional.

And I understand – I’ve always understood – that losing interest in eating could be called a contemporary blessing. Nobody needs to be told that if you stop eating, you’ll lose weight. And losing weight is the American pastime.

I lost, on average, about a pound a week in 2016, although that didn’t start until the beginning of summer. A total of 42 pounds, from my visit the year before. I knew all about this. I have a scale and everything.

And it wasn’t all that scary, or it wouldn’t have been if it had happened with the intention of losing weight. Sure, ten pounds or so would be nice. Twenty would put me at what I thought was an ideal place, but I wasn’t counting on that. Or what happened, as far as that goes. Still, I had a Body Mass Index of just under 22 (below 20 is considered underweight, statistically), which is where plenty of healthy, active, and happy people live. If I’d started running and had been working toward the goal of running a marathon, it would have been nothing, just a nod in the direction of cause and effect.

This all worked out the way it was supposed to, then. I took a megadose of vitamin D for two months, then a regular dose every day, and probably for the rest of my life. I started an antidepressant that seemed to jolt my appetite back into gear and helped with sleep. I thought maybe that had some sort of effect on creativity, because I felt numb for months in that regard, struggling to find anything interesting to write about. To just think about.

But that seems to have lifted. And while you can certainly count me among the skeptics when it comes to antidepressants, this is an atypical sort and, y’know. There’s a pattern here. I’ve got a silver platter to prove it.

It was stupid. It was dangerous. I was crazy for a while, and wasn’t exactly all that intimate with reality, even though I saw it every day in the mirror.

And I didn’t get a platter, but this whole thing had a lining of the silver variety. My appetite is better but comes and goes, leading to light days and more indulgent ones; it seems to happen in weeks, in fact. I’ll have a busy week and I’ll drop a pound, then I’ll get nervous and focus on calories, resulting in the longest period of stability in terms of weight that I can remember as an adult, a sweet spot that hangs around 10 -15 pounds heavier than I was a year ago. Sweet because everything fits the way it’s supposed to, which is really the only thing I’m concerned about. The battle between too tight and too loose has been won by me, and at least for the moment I’ll take the victory and you can keep the platter, which is just a fancy word for a plate, anyway. I’ve got lots of plates. I plan on continuing to use them, too.

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Films Of Dreams

Four of my Lent dinners down, one to go, and I think my remarkable theory that, given the chance, people enjoy being with other people has been proven. Feel free to pass it along. “Idea by Chuck” or something like that would be appreciated.

And my involvement has become what it should have been, just the guy who functions as the clearinghouse for casseroles and sets up the tables. Last night we had breakfast for dinner, and I should have skipped the first breakfast I had. This was more food than I’d seen in a while, waffles and Danish and eggs and sausage and biscuits and gravy and a ton of fruit.

So one dusty idea with pretty worn treads turned out to work. If you cook it, they will come. They will also cook it if you ask nicely.

***

My little video interviews have gone well, too, although they’re personal stories  and mostly center around these people finding this little church, hidden away on a residential street in a modest neighborhood. If you watched these, and watched them many times, as I have in the editing process, you’d discover a pattern: These people are comfortable with their faith, and don’t seem to feel particularly compelled to talk much about that. What they talk about is finding a place where they felt at home, where they felt welcome, where they felt that anyone was welcome. That comes up all the time. This is the little church that did, and keeps doing.

I’ve thought for years that I had something to say, some long essay or book or something that took on perceptions and demonstrated a different reality. I wanted to write about the vagaries of faith, the different paths and journeys and philosophies that bring people into a room to do some pretty strange things. Things that feel natural and familiar.

And my experience is very different from others. Of course. I suspect anyone who visited our church who was used to attending a church would find little to be surprised at. It’s pretty conventional, if small. I belong to a mainline Protestant denomination that is considered among the most liberal, in general, and you’ll hear our prayers and concerns for all sorts of people we don’t know, including people our government is trying to keep out of the country. There’ll sometimes be stuff about our stewardship of the planet, which seems to be a liberal idea these days.

There would definitely be differences if your experience is, say, Pentecostal. Although we place a high premium on music, and we definitely do some rocking and rolling when the spirit moves. And there’s definitely a Spirit at work among us.

None of this is what I’m hearing on these videos. This isn’t about people discovering God; that journey has already, for the most part, been started. It’s about people needing a community, and how they found one.

Yeah. I think it would be hard to write what I’m feeling and thinking. I just know it when I see it, and I’ve seen it a lot lately.

Part of us, anyway, last night.
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That Arethra Thing

I do believe I’ve mentioned The West Wing a few times.

And I guess if it’s possible to have a favorite TV show (or movie, or book), which is a weird concept to me, that has to be it, just because I can always go back and get sucked into it immediately.  Let’s just say it is.

I also mentioned the podcast, The West Wing Weekly, which I’ve been listening to since it started a year ago. Just a fun hour, special guests sometimes, funny and smart hosts.

They’ve spent the last two weeks discussing the season #2 finale, The Two Cathedrals, since it’s often considered the best episode, and among the best episodes in television history, in fact. I have no opinion on that. I do remember it being pretty powerful on first viewing.

For those of you who didn’t and don’t watch, the president (Martin Sheen) has been hiding the fact that he has a remitting/relapsing form of multiple sclerosis, diagnosed four years before he ran for president. He later explains to his press secretary that he never imagined he’d have a chance at winning the nomination; he just wanted to keep the eventual nominee honest and raise some important points, as some candidates do. And then he was stuck with a secret.

And just as the secret starts to unravel and the president and his team are trying to figure out how to make it public in the most responsible way, the president’s long-time secretary is killed by a drunk driver.

All of this combines to make The Two Cathedrals what it was and is, a story of deceit and atonement and confession and sin and some attempts at redemption, but among other things we get a president who is very mad at God. And after his secretary’s funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., he asks for the building to be sealed so he can have a moment.

And he does have a moment. He addresses the cross, yells at God in English and then Latin. Pretty serious stuff, in a pretty serious show.

So they’re talking about it on the podcast yesterday, and had the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, on as a guest. He mentioned that while filming the scene, he noticed a group of priests at the back of the cathedral, so he felt it would be polite to explain what was going to happen next. He went to the first priest he saw and said, “Excuse me, father, I just wanted to let you know that in this scene, Martin’s going to get mad at God and do some shouting.” The priest smiled. “Yeah, it’s going to be GREAT.”

And that’s not the good story.

They were talking about the Latin and how they didn’t want it translated on screen, etc. And then Sorkin tells about the Sports Night episode when they all have to work late on Passover, so Jeremy (Josh Malina, also one of the cast members of The West Wing and cohost of the podcast) holds a Seder in the meeting room. Sorkin said he just wrote, “Jeremy begins Seder prayer,” because he knew Malina was an observant Jew and would know the prayer, and then they’d fade to black.

And that’s how it went (they played a little of it), and then after it aired they got complaints because Malina said/sang some wrong words. So Sorkin thought he could razz Josh about it a bit, but it turns out he was using these nonsense words some Jews substitute for the names of God when they’re not actually praying. Which he wasn’t; he was an actor playing a role. Like if someone asks you what’s in the Seder prayer, you would use those pretend names for God when you explain, because, again, you’re not really praying .  I just thought it was cool that (1) Malina knew that, (2) he was aware enough to do it, and (3) it was important enough for him TO do it correctly. Also just the whole “not in vain” concept. I was very charmed by the whole thing.

***

The charming part is the respect. I’ve long since given up expecting to see much of that. It used to be a cradle quality, instilled by parents and a culture and society in general. I’m not talking about respect inspired by fear, although there was some of that; there always is. Just general respect for others, for diversity of views and opinions and, in fact, religion.

It would be dumb to ignore centuries of religious bigotry, particularly anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic (the Mormons didn’t have an easy time, either). It just seems we used to be more tolerant. It’s understandable how a country that is still a statistically very religious society (some of those statistics smell fishy, but sometimes they do), primarily Christian and minimally Muslim, would over-react to zealots who slam planes into buildings.

This is why President Bush bent over backwards after 9/11 to point out that the U.S. wasn’t at war with Islam. This is why President Obama avoided tying the terrorists to Islam in his references; he didn’t want to give the impression that the United States considered terrorism and Islam to be synonymous.

This sounds suspiciously like there are kids approaching my lawn as I type, so I’ll stop before I get nostalgic for a simpler time when kids had respect, dammit. And drank out of garden hoses, which for some people seems to be a big deal. I’ll take mine out of the tap, thanks.

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