Monday, December 24, 2007

Vegetables and Labor Pains

I thought you might appreciate a pic of my Nativity set. Sorry the pic is a bit washed out. As you can see Jesus is a french pea, Mary is a Carrot, Joseph is Asparagus, I have a Cucumber Wise Man and a Tomato Shepherd!

Working for a Church at this time of year means you get to think a lot about the Nativity Story. There's something that I've noticed in our various retellings of it. Every Nativity Service I've ever seen jump from a travel weary Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary being shown the stable, to a wonderfully cute image of Mary and Joseph staring lovingly down at the heavily swaddled baby Jesus.

There is a scene missing.

Very rarely do we ever see Mary giving birth. We may see a few labor pangs if the actress playing Mary is up to it, but Church productions of the Nativity Story never have a birth scene.

There again neither does the Gospels. Matthew just has the phrase '...she gave birth to a son'. Luke - has a little bit of 'in utero' movement when Mary meets Elizabeth. But once again the only phrase about the birth is '...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son'. (Interesting thought: Why did Luke think it important to tell us that she had a son - we already know that from Mary's encounter with Gabriel - surely there wasn't any doubt in the matter!)

Mark and John say absolutely nothing.

So, what did happen? Do we imagine a midwife present or did Joseph deliver the baby? I can't imagine he was much help, he was only a teenager himself and I'm sure he wasn't up-to-date on Lamaze or The Bradley Method. Would he have known about the Placenta? Would he have known how to cut and tie the umbilical cord? When I stop and think, I realize it must have been a terrifying scene. No Doctors, no Epidural, and a real possibility that Jesus could not be born at all if their were any complications.

I think we skip over the scene because we are desperate for the Christmas Card image - I don't think I've ever scene a card with blood stained straw, a very exhausted sweaty Mary and a Placenta thrown off in one corner. The very suggestion of it is shocking - believe me, I almost edited out that sentence numerous times, esp after seeing a picture of a Placenta on Wikipedia.

Christmas is messy.

We tell the Christmas story and try to generate warm fuzzies about peace on earth and goodwill to all people. We tell ourselves '...tis the season to be jolly', but for many of us it isn't. Christmas never lives up to it's portrayal, it has grown larger than life. The Mythic has consumed The Real.
We use the fantasy of Christmas to block out the realities of life. Hunger, Starvation, Injustice, Poverty, Oppression.

Fortunately Reality has a way of breaking through.

God born into abject poverty in a third world town. God could not 'sink any lower' if He wanted too. The ugly reality and misery is a telling of hope. Hope that is born in the dangerous pain of Childbirth. Hope that is born in abandonment, in homelessness, in poverty. Hope born to an Oppressed People reeling under the weight of Injustice.

This is a tough Christmas for me. I put on the sweater that mum knitted me today and had a little cry before I left for the office. But no matter how loudly the pains of the world scream, there is a tiny silent night, that swallows up the worlds misery and transforms it to Peace.


Longfellow's Carol
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.


In a few hours the Chancel Choir wil be singing a choir anthem of mine with a full String Orchestra accompanying them. It's been a lot of work as I haven't orchestrated anything since 1994. And it's also an honor to have piece of mine in the Christmas Eve service. It is a new setting of the text of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' which you can listen too here. I've always loved the last verse of this carol:

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

The presence of God being born in us is messy, it's as messy as any other birth, full of unexpected complications, difficulties and labor pains. That's what makes it real. The pain of the world may scream, but the angels are still singing.


Merry Christmas.

Flashback to 1957

Every year the Queen gives a Christmas Day message to the people. In 1957 it was broadcast on T.V. as well as radio for the first time.....you can watch it here

Somehow her message is still relevant.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Remembering the dead....with a mop.

Today would have been my mum's 83rd birthday had she not passed away this summer. This coming Wednesday will mark the 6 month anniversary of her death. All this combined with Christmas and the ongoing grieving of my dad's death means I have a lot of emotions flopping around.

I wanted to do something to honor mum's birthday today, so I took up my mop.

I hate cleaning, I hate cleaning with a searing white hot passion. I can push the vacuum cleaner around, and I will happily clean up the kitchen so I can bake, but there is something about the combination of buckets of water, bleach and a mop that sends shudders through my spine.

So today, I 'swiffered' my floors, then I mopped them and finally I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed each tile.

And with each wipe I remembered Mum.

I didn't remember her because she loved cleaning. I don't think there are many people in this world who would list 'Cleaning' as a hobby. I did it because of a lesson Mum taught me through the way she lived.

The energy used complaining about and avoiding a task is usually far more than the energy expended completing the task.

As a child I could quite happily waste hours complaining about being asked to tidy my room. I would rail about the injustice about how if it was my space I should be able to keep it just how I liked. Invariably the actual task of tidying would take far less time to do than I anticipated. It frequently surprises me how quickly I tidy up when I finally set my mind to it.

Mum didn't like to clean - but she kept a clean house.
Mum didn't like to cook - but she did, nearly every day.

Mum did what she had to do without visible moaning or complaint. She did the tasks quickly and efficiently so she could get back to her love - her garden.

And so, today, I stopped complaining and picked up my bleach. I stopped avoiding and started scrubbing. Now on my Mother's 'Scale of Clean' I'm sure the Bathroom Floor only moved from 'Unfit for Human Habitation' to 'In Need of A Really Good Scrub'. I can live with that. It's the Attitude behind the Action that is important here.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said "Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."

So to honor Mum's memory I mopped the floor- and by doing so I scattered some flowers in the garden she loved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Strange Happenings in the Workplace.

1. "Employee eats 32 vending machine items for charity"
A juvenile probation officer ate one of every item in a county courthouse vending machine in one day. She consumed more than 7,000 calories and more than 300 grams of fat, eating such items as beef sticks, candy bars, Pop Tarts and potato chips -- all to win a bet with co-workers and raise $300 for charity.

2. "Cola wars get physical as Pepsi worker attacks Coke employee"
Two employees from the rival companies got into a tiff over shelf space in the aisle of a Wal-Mart in Indiana. The Pepsi worker allegedly assaulted the Coca-Cola employee, hitting him in the face, giving him a black eye and breaking his nose. Police say the two were also accused of trying to run each other over with pallets full of soda bottles.

3. "Alleged robber asks victim out for date"
After two men robbed a Domino's Pizza delivery woman, one of them called the victim from his cell phone to apologize -- and to ask her out.

4. "Four women fired for gossiping"
Four women employed in a small New Hampshire town were fired for gossiping about a relationship between the town administrator and a fellow co-worker. They were fired on the basis that "gossip, whispering and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."

5. "Eau de Lawsuit: Woman sues over scent"
An employee in the Detroit planning department sued the city, saying a female co-worker's strong fragrance prohibited her from working. The woman claimed she is severely sensitive to perfumes and her co-worker not only wore a strong scent, but also plugged in a scented room deodorizer.

6. "Salt lands McDonald's employee in jail"
A McDonald's employee was arrested, jailed and is facing criminal charges because a police officer got sick after a hamburger he ate was too salty. The employee accidentally spilled salt on some hamburger meat and told her supervisor and co-worker, who "tried to thump the salt off." The employee was charged because she served the burger "without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it."

7. "Carpenter free to ply trade in the nude"
A carpenter caught hammering nails and sawing wood in the nude says he prefers working in the buff because it's more comfortable and helps keep his clothes clean. The carpenter was found not guilty of indecent exposure.

8. "Southwest Airlines employee tells passenger her outfit won't fly"
A Southwest employee asked a young woman in a short skirt to leave the airplane, saying she was dressed too provocatively for the family airline. The young woman was eventually allowed to complete her trip after covering up. On her return flight, she came home with no problem -- in the same outfit.

9. "Employee accused of faking being cop"
A Taco Bell employee was arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer and attempting to arrest his managers and co-worker. He passed himself off as an undercover narcotics investigator, going as far as typing fake criminal histories on the general manager, two shift managers and an employee and telling them they were going to be arrested.

10. "Employee took 1 million screws home from factory"
An assembly worker hid screws in a specially designed hiding place and took up to 7,000 home with him every day. Over a two-year period, he stole more than 1.1 million screws with an estimated value of $155,000. He allegedly sold the screws over the Internet at discount prices.

11. "Deputy nabbed twice for DUI -- by husband"
An off-duty jail deputy was pulled over and charged with driving under the influence -- by her husband, a fellow deputy. She supposedly left before he could give her a Breathalyzer test, so he pulled her over again and called for backup. She was placed on administrative leave.

12. "Workers killed after seeking raises"
A car dealership owner killed two employees because they kept asking for more pay. The employer told police he was having financial problems and was under a lot of stress.

13. "Man demands coupons from radio station employee"
A radio station employee was threatened at gunpoint when an angry patron was unhappy with the promotional bumper stickers he received. The patron demanded McDonald's coupons instead; when the employee didn't have any, the man flashed what looked like a handgun. She searched her car and found a coupon for a free cheeseburger. The man took it, made a derogatory comment about the radio station and rode away on his bike.

14. "Wienermobile gets cop roasted"
When a 27-foot-long, 11-foot-tall vehicle -- known to most as the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile -- was slowing traffic in a construction zone in Arizona, an officer ran its "YUMMY" license plate to make sure it was street legal. A bad computer entry erroneously showed the Wienermobile as having stolen plates, forcing the officer to pull it over. After further investigation, the officer learned that the entry should have read that license plate had been stolen -- but only if found on any vehicle that isn't a giant hot dog.

15. "Drive-through dispute gets suspect jail food"
Workers at a Burger King in New York got into a dispute with a customer after he refused to turn his music down while ordering at the drive-through. The customer grabbed the restaurant's manager, tried to pull her through a window and then attempted to run over a worker who came to help the manager.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Stones in the Road

(This is a rough adaptation of my meditation from the contemplative service this morning.)

I've done a lot of travelling over the years, and I've got my fair share of horror stories. Delayed flights, lost luggage, missed connections, major reroutes (landing in London when I was supposed to be in Amsterdam!) and my personal favorite - exploding shampoo!!!!

These trips are frustrating at the time but now I look back on them with a certain level of nostalgia. "Remember when the car overheated and we got stranded over night in Roswell?"

I wonder if Mary and Joseph looked back on the trip to Bethlehem that way? "Remember when we had to make that trip to Bethlehem for the census when you were heavily pregnant and we had that stubborn lame donkey and when we got there the Motel Six had lost our reservations and we had to sleep in the stable?!"

Some journeys go fine, others we limp along. Sometimes we got a stone in our shoe - a minor irritation and others we get rocks so big that we can't see where we are heading anymore. Sometimes we things get difficult we lose sight of Bethlehem.

I can think of times in my past where there were problems that seemed insurmountable but with God's help I made it through. Boulders that looked impossible to move and totally overwhelming were eventually surpassed.

In the Hebrew scriptures people of faith often piled rocks together to make Altars at significant places where they wanted to remember God's faithfulness. When we look back at the 'rocks' in our life that with God's help we have survived I think those very Obstacles become Altars. Altars of God's Faithfulness, God's Mercy and God's Grace.

So as we journey to Bethlehem this Advent take a look at the stones in your path. Maybe you are just limping along or maybe the rock is so large that Bethlehem is nothing but a distant fantasy. Offer those 'stones' in prayer to God - and ask Him to transform those Obstacles into Altars.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Vodka and Redbull Cake

A few days ago I posted a spoof recipe for Vodka and Redbull Christmas Cake which is worth a read if you fancy a chuckle. Well I was at a Christmas Party last night and one of my blog readers presented me with this:

Looking at the fine icing job, they obviously followed the recipe exactly!!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre

Monday night I sang in a sing-a-long Messiah

This pic is one that I took of an original score of Handel's Messiah - he has messy penmanship. It's the end of the Hallelujah Chorus.

After the sing-a-long a friend came up to me and said that it doesn't feel like Christmas to him until he's sung the Messiah. I nodded politely but I was aware that I don't feel that way. I have sung the Messiah at other times of the year so it doesn't have that connection for me.

So I tried to think about what does make it feel like Christmas.

The following morning when I stepped outside my apartment I knew.

I could see my breath and there was frost on the roof of the nearby buildings. Cold and frost bring Christmas closer to me, as does 'The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre'.

You see my mum had some very distinctive Christmas Cake Decorations that she would put on the fruit cake every year. One was just the head of Father Christmas and the other was the head of a snowman. Both of them had big spikes that held them in the fruit cake. She also had a miniature evergreen that she would place on the cake as well.

The problem was one of size and perspective. The heads were almost as tall as the tree, so either Santa and Frosty had enormous deformed craniums or we had a bonsai Christmas tree.

The cake looked like someone had gone on a chainsaw massacre - and I miss it. The decorations were kitsch and I miss them.

Last year I didn't think too much about Dad being dead because all my focus was on mum being just out of hospital and making sure she had a good last Christmas - even though none of us acknowledged that is what we were doing.

So this year it feels like I am grieving both parents.

It sucks.

That final Christmas with Mum my present from her was a sweater that she handed knitted for me. It is a copy of one she knitted for me as a child - similar color and same pattern.

I don't wear it often in Houston as a) It's a bit tight and b) It doesn't often get cold enough.

But when I do, it's like getting a hug from Mum - I may be in my 40s, but I think all of us need a hug from Mum at times.

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Early Review of Sweeney Todd - Needless to say I am excited!

A friend found this on the internet and sent it too me - I can't wait till the movie comes out!

The screening of Sweeney Todd was hosted by Stephen Sondheim. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were also in attendance. This being a New York theatre crowd, they applauded and stood for Sondheim, but remained seated for Burton and Depp.
Sondheim gave a little welcoming speech and a small warning. What we were about to see, he told us, was not the stage musical we all knew by heart, but a movie. If we were to enjoy it, we needed to put the stage show out of our minds. I'm not sure that was entirely possible. In that room, anyway, which was packed with theatre community types. Burton and Depp didn't really say anything. They just waved. Later Burton hugged Sondheim and shouted out to us, "If you hate it, it's our (his and Depp's) fault!"
Sondheim was right, It's not a film of the stage musical. It is an entirely new beast. And for this, I am thankful. Unlike the movies of RENT, DREAMGIRLS, THE PRODUCERS, PHANTOM, HAIRSPRAY and even CHICAGO, this is as much a director's film (and triumph) as it is a version of a beloved stage musical. It's a hushed, beautiful film for the most part. But when it roars, it's deafening. And chill-inducing.
None of this is to suggest that it isn't true to its source. The "Ballads" are all gone, as is "Kiss Me." A few inner snips aside, that's about it. But Burton here has gone beyond a filmed stage musical. He's created a movie operetta of sorts. If you didn't know the piece, you might almost believe it had been written for the cinema.
Depp is exquisite. Bonham-Carter will split the theatre crowd. Her acting is deliciously low-key, but her unsupported singing voice doesn't really match her speaking voice. That said, in the end, hers might be the most haunting performance in this movie. Rickman, Spall, Cohen, and everyone else are superb. The design is breathtaking. The cinematography is sumptuous.
And the music! You think you liked the music before? Wait. Bravo, Mr. Tunick.
I've been a Tim Burton fan since Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. But he's hurled himself to a new level with this one. And in the process, he's shown the way in making movie musicals. By grafting his distinctive visual style and storytelling technique to a bolt-solid musical, he has transformed both the art and the artist. This is a new Sweeney Todd. His best movie since Ed Wood, and the best movie musical since Little Shop Of Horrors.
So go. See it. Leave behind your preconceptions, if that's possible. Enjoy it for the wonderful film it is. I'll be there opening day to see it again.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vodka And Red Bull Christmas Cake

It's nearly that time of the year… and now is the time to start baking that Christmas cake. So to help you, here is a recipe for:

VODKA AND RED BULL CHRISTMAS CAKE

INGREDIENTS
1 cup water
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
Lemon Juice
4 large eggs
Nuts (any kind)
1 bottle of Vodka
1 can of Red Bull
2 cups dried fruit

METHOD
1. Sample the vodka to check the quality (VERY IMPORTANT)
2. Take a large bowl, check the vodka again
3. To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup of vodka and mix with a little red bull and drink
4. Repeat
5. Turn on the electric mixer and beat one cup of butter in a large, fluffy bowl
6. Add one teaspoon of sugar - beat again
7. At this point it is best to make sure the vodka is still ok
8. Flavour with Red Bull to taste
9. Try another cup. Just in case, turn the mixerers off
10. Break two eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in a cup of dried fruit
11. Pick the fruit off the floor
12. Mix on the turner
13. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry loose with a drewscriver
14. Shample the vodka to check for tonsisticitiy, flavour with a little Bed Rull
15. Next, ssifffft two cups of salt. Or something… Who giveshz a shizt
16. Throw a pinch of Bed Rull over your shoulder
17. Pick up the can, mop the floor
18. Check the vodka (shee steps 3 & 4)
19. Now shift the lemon and strain your nuts
20. Add one table
21. Add a shpoon of shugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find
22. Turn the cake tine 360 degrees and try not to fall over
23. Dont forget to beat off the turner
24. Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the vodka and lick the dog
25. Fall into bed

CHERRY MISTMAS

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crazy Cooking Day!

I received a phone call from my friend Glen this morning who was too impatient to wait for the blog update of how the 'Dishwasher Lasagna' turned out as he was going to make it today. So once again here I go cooking where very few have cooked before.

I made up the Lasagna according to the instructions and it looked yummy!




I carefully triple wrapped it in foil and placed it in my dishwasher - and discovered a problem.


There was no way to fit the packet between the tines of the bottom rack. Careful examination of the pictures with the recipe printout led me to believe I could just rest the packet on the tines. Oh if only I had Internet at my apartment to do a more careful check! I proceeded anyway and when I opened the dishwasher to check how cooking was going, this was the sight that met my eyes.



The power of the jets had caused the packet to move against the tines and the tips had drilled a hole through the foil packet leaving me with a very clean soggy lasagna and this in my dishwasher!





That is a very tasty mix of freshly chopped Spinach and Ricotta Cheese clogging my dishwasher drainage area!!!

Undeterred I devised a plan - after all I was hungry and this was my scheduled lunch for the day! I drained the lasagna packet of excess fluid, put it in a Pyrex dish, added some fresh cheese and put it in the oven for 15 mins at 350C

Voila! Lunch was saved!


Careful examination of the Wiki how instructions show that the dishwasher used had collapsible tines so that the packet would fit on the bottom rack horizontally.



So my efforts in dishwasher cooking were foiled by my old fashioned dishwasher.
I've added a tip to the wiki how site suggesting that if your tines don't fold down like mine that you lay the packet in a dishwasher safe dish to prevent my disaster. Hopefully my friend Glen will do just that and let me know how it goes.

In other cooking news I made the Christmas Pudding. See this post for details and history of this most decadent dessert.

I carefully soaked all the fruits overnight in brandy - this is one boozy dessert.

Added all the other ingredients - eggs, flour, grated apple, spices etc.

And carefully wrapped it, and steamed it for 3 1/2 hours!

The aroma in the apartment was awesome! Now it will sit in the bottom of my refrigerator (even though it would survive fine in the pantry) until Christmas Day where it will be steamed for at least another 2 hours and then be consumed with Brandy Butter!!!

It was quite a cooking day - and I also did 6 hours of Defensive Driving, watched 2 movies ('Adaptation' and 'Singing in the Rain') and an episode of 'Lost'!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Spirituality of Recipes.

(Warning. These are random thoughts being typed out in an attempt to coalesce them for the service this Sunday!)

I like to read cookbooks. I will often sit down with a cup of tea and peruse my latest Nigella Lawson or Jamie Oliver seeking culinary delights.

The trouble with cookbooks though is that the recipes often cover over the difficulty of the actual task and make the fiendishly difficult seem easily obtainable. For me, for a long time it was omelets. For years they always came out scrambled. To see how I finally overcame this debilitating culinary condition read here.

I quickly learned that reading the recipe is not the same as cooking the dish.

Sometimes the recipe has to be modified because of the conditions I am cooking in or the nature of the ingredients. I have a recipe for a Blue Cheese and Walnut bread that I have made many times over the years. One thing I've noticed is that it takes a different amount of flour to get the dough to the correct consistency at different times. The brand of the flour and the humidity of the kitchen all play a part. Those of you who have ever tried to make meringue on a humid day know what I'm talking about.

Sometimes it is very difficult to make it work in life the way it works on paper.

I often heard the bible referred to almost like a cookbook. Bible = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. The idea is that if you just know what the bible says and what verses to read and apply you can get through anything. I used to believe this too.

I've changed.

Spiritual Formation is more than just memorizing 'Biblical Recipes'. I've tried applying bible verses to my life like band aids on a wound. I've 'Sprayed a little Jesus' over my life without ever dealing with the insides. The bible was never intended to be 'God's Little Instruction Book for Life'. It is a rich complex book full of diverse styles of Literature ranging from Narrative to Poetry. To make it some kind of Instruction Manual does disservice to it.

Also, we are complex, diverse people, everyone unique. To make our spiritual lives about reguritating scripture in a 'One Size fits all' mentality does disservice to the wonderful creations God made us to be.

Reading the recipe is not cooking.

Learning the book is not living the life.


As I've sat with this idea over the last few days and even as I've sat at my computer and begun to process my thoughts by typing I've discovered some anger that I didn't know was there. I want to throw the anger outwards and blame others for it, but the truth is it was I who bought into this simplistic view of the spiritual life. It was I who was afraid to question. And it is I who is growing.

Sometimes the dough needs more flour than the recipe says to reach the right consistency, sometimes it needs less. The specifics change but the goal remains constant.

I see in my life how I've been afraid to let go of 'specifics', thinking them somehow more important than the goal.

I'm changing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

now bring us some figgy pudding.......

Friday I am planning to spend the day, making Christmas Pudding (figgy pudding) and taking defensive driving. If I'm feeling brave I also might make 'Dishwasher Lasagna' - for more information about that click here.

But here are some little known facts about Christmas Pudding (with thanks to Nigella Lawson for the info)

Historically the Christmas Pudding was seen as a religious affront. In 1664, Oliver Cromwell banned it as a "lewd custom," considering the rich pudding "unfit for God-fearing people," and the Quakers rather gloriously condemned it as "the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon." I think the Quakers make Christmas Pudding sound rather more exciting than it is, but I shall try to cook a Christmas Pudding that the scarlet whore of Babylon would be truly proud of.

(And don't tell anyone, but the version most English people make does not have figs in it anymore!!!)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blogging Dearth

I have lots of great ideas for blogging.

Creative pictures too.

Trouble is, Advent and Christmas are fast approaching like a lumbering behemoth trampling everything in their path.

And I'm not ready to tame that beast.....the Cages are not finished yet-

I still have service outlines to fill in
Advent liturgies to compose
Soloists to find
Conflicts to avoid

Consequently something has fallen by the wayside. And as I don't have Internet at my apartment and I don't want to be blogging in my office at midnight, ideas for posts have been jettisoned. Pictures have been deleted. Tasks have been left undone.

Trapping and Killing the beast of Advent feels like all I have time for.

Call me Ahab

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BoardGameGeek Convention Day 4

For day 3 click here, day 2 here and day 1 here.

The last day of the Con (teardrop whimper deep sigh!)

Quotes of the Day

"Ugly Kittys need love too"
"The Rabbit is not a cat"
"You can do it with three!"

Games played:

Pick and Pack - A very enjoyable and unique two player game. The designer Simon taught this too me, and I won (though whether he let me remains to be seen LOL) I bought this game the day before on somebody else's reccomendation, but it was nice to be taught it rather than have to read the rules!

Felix - A repeat play of this game! This time I taught it. Lots of fun, but this time I lost badly!

Lumberjack - The game looks impressive to passers by, but the actual game play is not that great.

Race for the Galaxy - This was one of the three 'hot' games at the Convention. The other two being Galaxy Trucker and Agricola. It was o.k. It plays as a more complex San Juan. I felt out of my depth most of the game and didn't really pay attention what anyone else was doing and yet somehow I tied for 2nd place!!!

BoardGameGeek Convention Day 3

For day 2 click here For day I click here

Another full day complete with a massed version of 'The Match Game' (Or 'Blankety Blank' to us Brits) - I also had a minor winning streak this day, winning 4 games, three of which I had never played before :)

Three quotes of the day

"Free Monopoly with every $10 purchase" - said by a vendor at the Flea Market desperate to make sales

"A Minuet is compulsory during 'Fluffy Bunny Tea Party'." and "It's Death by Powdered Sugar!"

Games played (For more info click the link):

Arkadia - This game was on my list to try at the convention. It was ok, but probably not one I would purchase.

Geistertreppe - A light children's game, fun as a filler.

Fire - How did I get talked into playing this twice? Once was more than enough!

Uptown - The Distributors were demo-ing this game, and whoever won the game won a copy of the game! I now have it in my collection, due to some nifty tile playing on my part :)

Cuba - Another game released at Essen. Very similar in feel to Caylus, but slightly more chaotic. I was pleasantly delighted to win this game at my first play!

Los Mampfos - It's a stupid children's game about pooping donkeys! And I won!!!!!

Cash a Catch - A game of buying and selling fresh fish. It was ok but there was nothing in it very original.

Master Thieves - I purchased this game after the convention last year and it is the most expensive game I own. It was fun to play it and teach it again, and it was even more fun that I won!!!

Fluffy Bunny Tea Party - A prototype game by Marc (who designed Honey Pot which I played the first day. It was interesting and everyone laughed a lot and adopted strange british accents, I'm not totally sure how much of a game there is underneath the laughter. I'd need to play it more to see.

Quelf - More of a group 'experience' than a game. It generated a lot of laughter and comments from passers by, but we did quit the game early as it was getting tedious (plus it was past 2am by this time!)

BoardGameGeek Convention Day 2

For Day 1 click here

I played less games on day 2, but played more complex ones, plus we had the 2 hour puzzle hunt to contend with.

Quote of the day "Oh look, it's my 'Special Friend'!"

So here is what I played (click on the links for more info):

Notre Dame - Each player manages an area of town near the cathedral. The challenge is improving your quarter with limited with resources without being overcome by rats! I was infested early on in this game and never really recovered. I ordered this game when I got home Sunday night.

Shogun - A wonderful game that took us over 2 hours to play. I'm no good at it but it's lots of fun.

Njet - A nice twist on a trick taking game from one of my favorite designers.

Maharaja - An interesting area control game, that looks visually apealling but I have discovered I suck at!




And now a movie clip of Steve and Greg in full battle!!!

video

BoardGameGeek Convention Day 1

Well I'm back! I'm exhausted but I'm back.

I'm gonna post a little bit about what games I played each day and post some pictures and some quotes.

But first some statistics

In 4 days -

I played 29 Games, competed in a 2 hour puzzle hunt and a 2 hour mass version of The Match Game.

Of the 29 Games - 24 of them were totally new to me, and there was a total of 27 different games.

I came home from the Convention with 10 New Games and 2 T-shirts, and I ordered 2 other new games online sunday night!

So here is DAY ONE! (Click the links for more info about the games)

Quotes of the Day

"My ass kicking monk is gonna take out that whore!"
"Show me your junk you gypsy whore!"

Honey Pot - A two player abstract game that I was taught (and lost) By the designer.

The Circle - One of the crop of new releases from Essen. We stopped playing as the group found it rather dry and slow moving.

Saturn - a visually appealing Dexterity Game

Ruise and Bruise - A card game I wanted to try and have since purchased :)

Piratenbilliard - A dexterity game - silly but fun

Burg Appenzell - Another Essen Game. A Mix of a memory game combined with the old classic 'Stay Alive'

Die Siedler von Catan, Dus Wurfelspiel - Settlers as a Dice Game? It didn't work for me. It felt more like multiplayer solitare.

Felix the Cat in the Sack - the Essen release from Friedemann Friese(who was at the convention) Lots of fun and bluffing in a small box.

R-Eco A Light fluffy card game, ok as a filler I guess, but there are better fillers out there.

Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg - a wonderful game of bluffing when played with the right crowd!!! This game was responsible for the two quotes of the day :)

Fire - another dexterity game, it looks good but there are better games out there.

Here are some pics :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

BGG CON Here I Come

So I leave today for my board game convention in Dallas. I got up this morning, packed, sorted out a Toll Violation with my EZ Tag and now I'm sitting updating my blog at the car wash!

I'm driving to Dallas this afternoon, I meet friends for dinner (Yay!) then pick Steve up at the airport (Double Yay!)and then head to the hotel for lots and lots of board gaming (Yay!)

I'll post pics when I get back to H-town.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Firework Fotos

I went to the Texas Renaissance Fair yesterday. I didn't take many pics as I've been before and it's mainly the same. This time though we stayed for the fireworks so I got to try out the firework setting on my digital camera.

I'm quite impressed with the photos considering I didn't use a tripod! Just double click to see the pics full size as this small size doesn't really do them justice!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Goats! Goats! Goats!

One Day, Three Movies

Blow Dry

From the writer of 'The Full Monty'. Watch Josh Hartnett do a terrible English accent and Rachel Griffith ( who I love from the show 'Brothers and Sisters') do a great one. To me this was a typical British comedy - funny but with moments of real emotion and pathos thrown in. I enjoyed it, but it should have been the last movie of the day rather than the first.



For The Bible Tells Me So

A powerful and timely look at Christianity and Homosexuality. Earlier this week Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist church were fined $10.9 million for campaigning at a funeral of a marine who died in Iraq. I need to write a post sometime about the difference between 'Free Speech' and 'Hate Speech', but anyway back to the movie!

It was powerful and thought provoking. It examined the bible texts on the issue intermingled with scientific research and stories of families and how their lives had been touched by the this issue. I was very thought provoking and moving and should be on most churches viewing lists. I also think it should be required viewing for anyone entering ministry. Go see it!!!


Capote

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors and he was incredible in this. The movie is quite slowly paced but I found myself drawn into the characters, though there were moments when I couldn't tell if Capote was being a) manipulative, b) helpful or c) a drama queen. The reality is probably d) All of the above.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tears, Seeds, Yeast and the Benedictus

I didn't expect to be crying.

There I was praying with 80 other men and I started to snivel. My eyes filled up and the overflow started running down my cheeks and dripping onto the floor. One of the men had cancer and we were praying for him. As the first petitions ascended to Heaven I was back in the Nursing Home with my Mom watching her die.

I have only ever seen one person die. And that death has colored and changed the word cancer for me. The word used to be an abstract concept - sure I knew people who had dealt with it - but I hadn't experienced its stark cruel reality. So as we prayed for this man I was transported back to my mom's bedside, watching in sadness, grief, horror and many other emotions as this woman, who had held on to life until my brother and I walked in the room, finally embraced death with one last tremor and vomit of her cancer ridden body.

That was four and half months ago, and the ripples of that event still rock the boat of my life.

As we prayed in staff worship we read the Lectionary for today.

Luke 13:18-21

Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."
Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

It used to be that when I thought of 'The Kingdom of God' I saw fierce armies, men with banners and swords cutting brutal swathes through the enemy.

But here we have a seed and some yeast. The seed takes time to grow, many years for a it to be strong enough to support the weight of birds nesting in it's branches. Yeast is fragile - mix it with water that is too hot and you kill it - mix it with water that is too cold and it will not rise and the bread will remain flat.

The Kingdom of God as something small and fragile, that takes time to grow within me and needs careful nurturing. That fits how I feel right now - God feels like the smallest ember within my heart that needs to be tended. The 'God' I had before Mom's death has passed away along with her and a new one is carefully growing.

At the close of worship we read The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). We don't often read this, but in the traditional Morning Prayer it is read every day. It closes with these words:

"In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

I used to think that the 'Shadow of Death' was the darkness of my own mortality. Now I know it is larger - watching death embrace someone I love has changed that for me. But I still believe in 'The Tender Compassion of our God' even though His kingdom seems tiny and fragile and insignificant in my life right now.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

In the darkness of winter comes the light of Advent.

And in the Shadow of Death comes the Light of the World.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Flesh Eating???!!!! The U.S. Government at Work

This is rather scary!!!!!


Proposed (Classified) Bill Will Defend Against Flesh-Eating (Classified)



(For the interests of clarity I should point out that this is a Satire made by 'The Onion' Thing is though, I've seen CSPAN and this isn't far from the truth!)

Pastrami, Recycling and Bombing Germany

Last night was my usual board game fest!!!

We started the night with Duel in the Dark a game about bombing raids on Germany during WWII. I played the British (of course) and Greg played Germany. It was an interesting night for bombing with lots of heavy cloud cover!

I managed to fly my bomber all the way to Dresden, drop bombs and make it back again, but I suffered under the German defenses so although I made it back alive it counted as a German Victory :( To be honest it's not really a style of board game I like that much, but it is a new hot item and has some great bits so it was fun to try it!

After a brief teaching game of Blue Moon which is a classic Reiner Kinzia game that I hadn't tried the rest of the motley gang arrived and we pulled out Power Grid.

Power Grid is a game of building Power Companies across the U.S. (though other maps are available). You have to buy your different Power Stations, Build them and all the connecting cabling and also purchase all the fuel that you need to power cities. It is a very well balanced games with lots of different balancing mechanisms for the price of fuel etc. You have to really carefully manage your money!!!!

I was doing really well, until one turn before the end when due to a miscalculation I paid one Electro too much for a station I wanted. This meant I couldn't buy all the Waste I needed to power my recycling plant and still build where I need too. I actually triggered the end of the game by building my 17th city and it all came down to a tie break on money as all of us were providing power to the same number of cities.

In retrospect I should have postponed the building and let the game go one more round, then I might have won, but in the end I came in second. I think my frustration at my bad math got the better of me.

The final game of the night (Started at Midnight) was Edel, Stein and Reich, a game of Jewel Dealing. I like the game, it was a good late night closer, but last night I didn't do too well. Oh well!

At some point in the night I had started joking with Paul about Pastrami and Rye (I'm not sure why, I just knew I was hungry) So after we left Greg's at 1:15 we headed over to Katz's Deli as it is open 24 hours!!!!! I had the Pastrami Reuben which was delicious and eventually got home to bed at about 3:15am.

It was a fun night!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

O.K. so it took me a while!!!

Started Stitching: Feb 1992
Finished Stitching: Dec 1997
Sat finished in Plastic Bag: 10 years!!!!
Time to frame it: 2 weeks!


Man this travelled across the world with me - I can even remember stitching whilst on a motor boat on the river!!!!!! Never again will I attempt one of these, they look kewl, but they are a pain.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I don't Like Mondays!!!

We had a cold front come through this morning. As I was driving to work we experienced sudden intermittent rain showers. It would be dry one moment and then the next it would be torrential rain for a few moments and then back to dry again.

I was driving to work this morning and as I braked for a stop sign I started to skid and I slid into the Escalade SUV that was in front of me :(

They hardly received a scratch, but my car was not so lucky.


They didn't know what to do as they had never been in a wreck before so they called the police. No one was hurt or injured - though I do have a little neck stiffness as I type this.

I got issued a citation for 'Failure to Control Speed/Accident'. Trouble is I wasn't speeding - it was the sudden slickness of the road.

So now I am in a rental car, faced with having to pay my deductible and go to court in November.

The policeman was very polite and actually apologised as he gave me the citation because he works off duty here at the church doing security for Mercy Street!!!

It's not a good Monday!!!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wikihow strikes again

I don't know if you've come across wikihow yet, it's a kind of 'How To' manual that anyone can edit.

Today I ran across 'How to cook Lasagne in a Dishwasher'

Absolutely terrifying, but if we have another stormy day I just might try it.....I do weird things on stormy days, for the last one read here.

What I'm Watching (currently)

Well I just watched Sordid Lives very funny!

A family gathers to pay their respects to their momma who died whilst committing adultery in a seedy motel, she got up to use the bathroom in the night and tripped over her lovers two wooden legs that were lying in the middle of the floor!!! Need I say more.

It's described as a black comedy about White Trash, and if you are in the mindset and want to see Olivia Newton John play a lesbian folk singer and see a Tammy Wynette Drag Show in Big Spring mental hospital then this is the movie for you.

I've just finished Season Two of 'The Sopranos' Not a show I had any real interest in, but someone Lent me the first two seasons and I got sucked in and love it. There was some great plot twists in season two, the acting is great, as is the dialogue. Where else can you get gang violence, family drama and therapy!!!!!

Bride and Prejudice was interesting. Jane Austen's classic novel re imagined into contemporary Indian culture and turned into a Bollywood musical. There were some scenes that only made sense to me after watching the dvd extras that helped explain Bollywood as a genre, but even with my lack of knowledge about Bollywood, it was still a light fun frothy movie.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another 'Pat' email

I received my third email from 'Pat' this morning. To read about the first two click here.

This one has the same email address as the second and fits the other characteristics too.

The good news is that all three emails share the same I.P. address. This means we can prove that they all came from the same person, and if they get physically threatening we can give the information to the police and they can track Pat down.

This third email was also a personal character attack, but more vicious than the second. Pat made comments about my weight, appearance and my 'fat ass ego' (Pat's words)

I'm trying to pray for Pat, but I must confess it is difficult.

Pat's words sound very much like my own 'inner critic' - something all of us deal with to some degree.

Oh well, at least when I start being down on myself, I have a new name for the 'voice' in my head. Though here in my blog I'll just call the voice 'Pat'.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Omlette Art

As most of you know I love to cook, and I do a fairly good job, but there has always been a couple of items that defeat me. One of them is Omelets. For some reason I nearly always seem to have trouble and I have to pretend that I was really intending to cook scrambled eggs with bits in!

Now one of my former roommates Cliff was not a cook - he was a great mechanic and an awesome guy, but he wouldn't really call himself a Chef.

Except for omelets.

You see he spent one summer working at a camp and every morning he worked on the Omelet Bar making orders for the campers. So Cliff could make omelets.

And Cliff (seeing as I know you will read this when your wife tells you that you are mentioned), I have a confession to make. I was jealous!

You didn't make omelets often, but when you did you had your precise way of doing it and they almost always turned out light and fluffy and cooked to perfection - not like my scrambled watery messes.

So I've been practicing - I bought a new skillet and I've been studying what Cooks Illustrated and all my other reference tomes say about the Omelet art. I think I was inspired by reading "Julie and Julia". Reading about Julie's troubles with omelets made me more willing to have another go.

And today I finally cooked one I was proud of! Stuffed with onion, chicken, avocado, tomato, garlic and cheese. It was a real yummy treat to consume whilst watching The Sopranos
(And I needed it to watch it after Chris got 'Whacked' at 11:30 last night!!!!!)

So I posted a pic for y'all to salivate over.

Enjoy!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Boardgaming U.S. History.

Last night at board gaming we played a two player game called 1960: The Making of the President It was an interesting game. I played Kennedy and Greg was Nixon both in the final days of the run up to the election.

Nixon trounced me in the debates and I thought it was all over, but some very interesting dynamics came to play in the final days run up towards the election. We had been battling it for sometime over the Electoral Votes in New York State and Philadelphia. In the last moments of campaigning I capitalized on Dwight Eisenhower's lackluster support for Kennedy.

I managed to secure New York State with a final push of campaigning combined with radio endorsements and a risky maneuver turned Philadelphia to my favor.

I won with 285 electoral votes, though if Nixon had kept Philadelphia he would have won.

We also discovered after we had finished playing that we missed one rule at the end which might have also swung the election Nixon's way.

I guess you could say I won because of a dimpled chad LOLL


Now all I have to do is avoid the curse!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Friend of Mine in a Veggie Oil Truck

My friend Carol and her life partner are driving across the U.S. in a pick up truck powered by veggie oil!

Read the article and watch the news report here!

A Weird Situation - 'Pat' is back

Back last month I wrote a post about 'Pat' (Not the person's real name) which you can read here.

Well on Monday this week I received an email addressed to 'You Cute Brit' that claimed to be from a group of women who attend two of the services here at the church. They were requesting that I add to my song list for Sunday mornings some of the songs that were done at the Saturday night service.

The email was:

i) Typed all in capitals
ii) Contained rudimentary grammar and some spelling mistakes.
iii) From one woman (name beginning with 'M') claiming to represent a group of people.
iv) From a hotmail email address that unusual - i.e. not a person's name.

I checked out the name and the email address in the church membership database and we had no records for such a person. Nobody on staff seems to know this person.

I hit 'Reply' to post a response and I noticed that when I did so the return email address was not the one listed in the message! Further investigation revealed it to be from Pat.

I forwarded it to my superiors at church and did not respond.

This morning I received another unusual email

The email was

i) Typed all in capitals
ii) Contained rudimentary grammar and some spelling mistakes.
iii) From one woman (name beginning with 'M') claiming to represent a group of people.
iv) From a hotmail email address that unusual - i.e. not a person's name.

Now the person named in this second email was different to the first, but they also do not check out in the church database. I cannot prove that that this second email also came from 'Pat', but as you can see it is so similar to the first it is very suspicious.

This second email was a personal attack on my character :(

We know who 'Pat' is, we just have to work out how to approach this person. Please pray for them, in my opinion they are definitely in need of help, but I'm not sure if we are the best people to give it too Pat.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A minor chuckle

Driving back from lunch today I waited at a stop sign while a plumber's van pulled out in front of me. The slogan on the side of the van was:

"A Flush beats a Full House"

It made me chuckle and has conjured up a mental image that I'm still trying to shake :)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Let the kidnapping begin!

This morning I was up at 5am for work. We gathered the 5th and 6th graders from Boys Choir and went out to kidnap the 4th graders and bring them to the church for Dodge ball and Breakfast!

Small boys have way too much energy in the morning!

We split into different teams to kidnap at the different 4th grade houses.

Trying to find a house you've never been to before, in the dark with excited boys, when you're half asleep is an interesting challenge.

So, I have 3 boys in my car as we are riding over for a kidnap and I forget that I have the Brahms German Requiem playing on my car stereo. One of the boys said " Coach Johns*, why are you listening to sleepy opera music?!" Hmmmmmm, personally I would find the German Requiem very difficult to sleep through as it's very moody, but I guess the soprano soloist was wailing at a rather feverish pitch when the car stereo came on!
Lining up for Dodge ball teams!


Pancakes, weenies and Juice

Boys' Choir Mixed Drinks - Orange Juice and Maple Syrup!!!


It was a fun morning - even if now I am really tired and a little bit too asleep for my Kierkegaard discussion group that meets in 50 minutes. I was really amazed by how much the volunteer choir parents do to make the choir program a success. All I had to do this morning was show up and drive. All the parents were thanking me for taking time to teach their boys to sing! I was humbled, because I only took on the choir because I was told too. It does feel that some of their passion for the choir is beginning to rub off :)



*All the Choir Directors and Adult helpers are called 'Coach' - Maybe if we make choral singing a competitive sport more people would do it LOL

Friday, October 05, 2007

I Get Paid to do This???!!!!!!

Last saturday was the 10th anniversary of Mercy Street.

As part of the celebrations I played and sang with the old band that I used to direct, and they also asked me to revive and old drama sketch I co-wrote.

Prayerobics!

In it's original incarnation it was in the style of a late night infomercial. It was a solution to the problem of not having the time to get physically fit and spiritually fit. The solution is Prayerobics. Exercise routines to bible passages. "Now you can Love the Lord and love your Body!" Buy this tape and you can "Praise the Lord and shape your thighs!"

You get the idea.

We took soundbites from the preacher and made dance tracks that we exercised too whilst I lead us in a study of Genesis Chapter 1.

This is the third time that we have done a variant on this sketch. The first time everything went fine. The second time I strained my back and had to visit the massage therapist. This time one of the other actors managed to rupture his achilles and has to have surgery! Drama is dangerous.

Here are a few pics:


Here we come....


The advertising pitch



God makes Light and Dark




God makes 'Sea and Sky'


God makes 'Fish and Birds'....yes I've skipped a few days, you can use your imagination for the exercise routines to the day when God made 'The Sun by day, the Moon by night'!!!!!

God makes Man and Woman

......and day seven is a day of rest!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Great story - bad application

This was sent round our office via email, you may in fact have received it yourself.

In a zoo in California, a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth. The mother tiger after recovering from the delivery, suddenly started to decline in health, although physically she was fine. The veterinarians felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall into a depression.

The doctors decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother's cubs, perhaps she would improve. After checking with many other zoos across the country, the depressing news was that there were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The veterinarians decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species will take on the care of a different species. The only orphans" that could be found quickly, were a litter of weanling pigs. The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger. Would they become cubs or pork chops? Take a look...you won't believe your eyes!!

Now, please tell me one more time...........Why can't the rest of the world get along?


Unfortunately the story is pure fiction - the true story behind the photos is here.


....and shouldn't the application be "You can get along with anyone so long as you pretend to be something you are not."?????

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ring-a-ding-ding!

O.k. I'll admit it.

I ring handbells, and I enjoy it.

Anyone got a problem with that???

I seem to get defensive about ringing bells because a lot of people find it unusual. To be honest I really enjoy it - it's like musical prozac for me. I start thinking that this is what one of my fingers feels like when I'm playing piano. You stand there counting furiously to play one note, and then go back to more counting. It is very difficult to think of anything else but counting (and making sure you are holding the right bell as everyone has at least 3 to cover) and not letting your mind wander - it's almost zen.

Now recently because of changes in work responsibilites I have taken over directing the tuesday lunchtime handbell group. Not something I trained for, but fun nevertheless.

We are lacking ringers at the moment, so I thought I'd post the publicity pic we just took for an article in the church magazine.


Last year the other church handbell ensemble I ring in (yes that's 2 ensembles, I enjoy it that much!) Joined with another local church and did an evening concert of music from movies. You've never heard 'Live and Let Die' until you've heard it played on handbells!!!

Well here is the fun publicity shot we used to promote that concert!



Monday, October 01, 2007

Boys and Fugues!


Every Sunday as part of my job I teach the 4th, 5th and 6th grade boys choir. It's always a challenge - esp. trying to keep them focused. A large amount of energy goes into 'Pranking the girls choir'.

Well last night we covered car that belonged to the Director of the Girls Choir with Post-it Notes.
This is them going Post-it crazy!
Fun times!!!!

I sort of enjoy Boys Choir, but it is really draining to try and get them focused on singing when all they want to do is 'Prank'.

So, on to other news. I'm editing my 'Tenebrae' at the moment with the hopes that I can get it performed on Good Friday. My setting uses mainly the words of Jesus from the Cross interspersed with modern responses.


At the moment I am creating a new response to "I Am Thirsty". This will be in the form of a Fugue. Wanna know what a fugue is? Here is a handy guide (using music by Britney Spears!)


That's a three voice Fugue....mine has four parts :( So here's a hint on how to write a four part one!
Enjoy!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hawthorne Avenue R.I.P.

I've just realized why I'm in a bit of a funk today. The housecleaners are going through my parent's house in the U.K. today and emptying it. All those random books, items of furniture, silly objects etc are being taken away and sold/disposed of. I know it needs to be done but I'm still sad about it. There is a lot of stuff that I would have kept had I lived in the U.K. but was not practical to store or ship over to Texas. As it is I still have 3 boxes stored over there.

It feels like 'House Death' - everything that made Hawthorne Ave a home has gone, the 'soul' has left the property, all that's left is the shell, and that will be sold soon too.

It's sad.
This is the last pic I have of the house that I grew up in and lived in for over 21 years. The room with the light on was my bedroom.

An ‘S.C.B.’, a ‘Heretic’ and a ‘Nazi Agitator’, all in one weekend!

It’s been quite a few days for me as the title would suggest.

Last week I was contacted by Pat (not the person’s real name, and also conveniently gender neutral), because they were interested in singing in one of the small worship teams I co-ordinate. Interestingly enough they also talked to the Senior Pastor about their desire so he contacted me as well. Curiously it was Pat’s first Sunday at the church where I work so the request was unusual. Most people don’t try and get very involved in a church they are making their first visit at. Well over the next few days it seemed that I heard quite a few tales about Pat. It seemed that Pat wanted to get involved in many of the different ministries Chapelwood offers – which if they all said ‘yes’ would leave Pat very over committed.

So I arranged a Wednesday audition for Pat and waited with some nervousness because in my limited contact Pat had left me feeling uneasy. Pat arrived on time for the audition which was encouraging, but displayed some behavior that made me feel uncomfortable even before we began to sing. The group that Pat was auditioning for is a small one, and so personalities have to gel well together.

It was apparent as soon as I heard a few notes that there were some pitch and tone issues in Pat’s voice that would preclude being amplified in a small ensemble setting. I ran a few more vocal exercises just to be certain and then very lovingly explained why joining this vocal ensemble would not work at this time. I did encourage Pat to keep singing in the large choir at Church where the tone problems would not be so noticeable and where being surrounded by other people singing the same part would help the pitch issues.

I felt pleased about how I handled it…..and then Saturday came along. It seemed that Pat had a conversation with someone who was a friend of mine (although Pat didn’t know it). Pat told this friend of mine about the audition and said that I was rejecting a wealth of musical experience, that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that I was a ‘Stone cold Bitch’.

I was actually pleased with how I handled this – as my friend said “Peter, people around here know you, and they don’t know Pat. I know who I would listen too”. Years ago Pat’s statement would have really bothered me – I know that at times I care too much what other people believe about me. Over the last few years I’ve gotten a lot better (hooray for therapy!!!) I almost regard being called a ‘S.C.B.’ as a medal proving that I’ve finally made it in church music ministry J

So on to the ‘Heretic’ statement with relief that I don’t have to write in gender neutral terms any more!

Sunday morning Jerry and I led worship at a Presbyterian church – they wanted to offer a Contemplative Worship experience to their congregation in the hopes of getting something regular underway.

The communion liturgy was one that I had written that we have used at our contemplative service many times. (The bold parts are spoken by the congregation, the rest spoken by one or more Liturgists)



Open your eyes, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his beauty.
Open your hearts, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his forgiveness.
Open your lives, the Lord is here.
In the bread and the cup we see his grace.

In the upper room Jesus gathered with his disciples for a meal. He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. He gave it to his disciples and said: "Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Remember me as you do this."

The disciples ate, but they did not understand.
They tasted, but they did not see.


When they had finished supper Jesus took the cup. Once again he gave thanks and then offered it to his disciples saying: "All of you drink from this. This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink and remember me."

The disciples drank, but they did not understand.
They tasted but they did not see.


Almighty God, help us awake to your presence here.
May these gifts of bread and wine, be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Help us to taste and see, to see and understand,
to understand and awake, to awake and live.




When Jerry and I were handed the bulletin that the church had printed they informed us that they had removed one line. “May these gifts of bread and wine, be for us the body and blood of Christ.” My first thought was that they had removed the line that was the key element in Communion. In the Presbyterian Church communion is purely a symbolic act of remembrance, there is nothing mystical that occurs. No Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation or even the elements as a means of grace. The reason for this is the Presbyterians grew out of the teachings of John Calvin, so in their eyes the line in the liturgy was ‘heresy’. What is interesting here to me is the fact that I grew up in a heavily Calvinist church and so years ago I would have espoused the same beliefs as them! As I’ve traveled and been exposed to other beliefs I feel that my understanding of Communion has become enriched.

When I take Communion now, I have the image of taking into myself the grace and love of God and, as the physical nourishment of the bead and wine is absorbed into my body somehow the grace and presence of God is experienced.

O.k. this is turning into a marathon blog post, so onto part three.

One of my new responsibilities this Fall is teaching the 4th, 5th and 6th Grade boys’ choir (that’s 9 to 11 year olds for you British readers). I feel inadequate doing this to be honest, I’m trying to do a diligent job and I am so appreciative of the volunteers who help. This past Sunday was ‘Buddy Night and Silly Hat Night’, so I lead the rehearsal whilst wearing my Russian Army Officers furry hat that I bought in Prague. Needless to say my head got very sweaty.

Just before the rehearsal I was given a wonderful sheet that had lots of great suggestions on how to teach the song we were working on. At one point in the song the melody moves higher and higher in pitch and the composer had also marked that the singers should slowly get louder (crescendo). To teach this the sheet suggested that you get the children to move their arms like an aircraft taking off. Smoothly getting higher and louder – a nice visual of what we were trying to achieve musically.

I thought this was a great idea and used it in the rehearsal, there was one problem though. All the children were holding their music in one hand so they only had one hand free for the aircraft impersonation. It was unfortunate that the woman who coordinates all of the children’s choirs walked into the room at the precise moment that the entire boy’s choir were on their feet giving me what looked like a Nazi salute while I cavorted in front of them like a mad Russian!

Well that’s my last few experiences at work, and when I haven’t been working it seems I’ve spent it in front of the T.V. watching The Sopranos Season 1. I finished it yesterday evening, so Season 2 here I come.