Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas story at the bookstore.

This Christmas story occurred on Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We received an order three days before Christmas from our website from Karen. She needed two prayer books to be imprinted with two names on them, and she needed another seven prayer books for the pews in her congregation.

The books to be imprinted our sent to a custom bindery in town because they make the imprinting look very much better than we can do it in the store. The bindery knows how to take vacations. They are closed between Christmas Eve and New Years Day. It was too late to have the books delivered to the bindery for the imprinting. They would be imprinted and returned to us on January 6th.

I thought that Karen ought to know this so I phoned her home. No one answered and I left a message. Looking at her order I noticed the church phone number, but it was after 3:00 PM Seattle time and Karen was in Washington DC, where it was after 6:00 PM. “I might as well try the church and leave a message too.” I thought.

The phone was answered when I called the church. Karen answered. My first question to her was “What are you doing answering the phone at church after 6:00 three days before Christmas?” She replied that the work for Christmas was not completed, and had to be. I then explained about the delay with imprinting the two prayer books.

Here follows the E-mail correspondence that occurred later that day.
Hi Karen,
We have the best customers in the world. And, we have excellent support organizations too.
 About twenty minutes ago, “and what to my wondering eyes should appear..” but a little rotund man, so jolly and bright, from the bindery.
As things worked out today we delivered Todd’s and Ellen’s books to the bindery because a fellow was headed that way. That was unplanned and the bindery was working late. As it worked, certainly the Holy Spirit was working too. The bindery owner’s granddaughter needed a ride to her competitive rowing session on a lake somewhat near our store. The bindery owner, grandfather, delivered her and returned your two BCP/Hymnals all nicely imprinted to us.
While Nancy and I listened to Phil’s stories (the price of keeping him happy, and besides, his stories are good ones) Joe, Julie, and Geneva scurried around here, opened cartons, changed invoice information, and closed the cartons with Todd’s and Ellen’s books inside. Joe has just left this ministry-which-is-the-store to transport today’s shipping to the Post Office.
You will receive your completed order before you need it on January 3rd.
Merry Christmas. There is a Santa Claus and he works at and owns the bindery.
With a happy heart,
Episcopal Bookstore, Seattle
Karen's reply:
I AM BOWLED OVER! I can't even tell you how this has made me see God at work in my life, even when I doubt it.
Thank you so much to everyone that made this possible, especially you and your co-workers, the bindery owner saint, and the rower granddaughter!
And obviously, you have a customer in St. …, Washington DC for ever and ever, AMEN!
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What is the meaning of Christmas, to me, at this time, this year?

I write weekly letters to my teenage granddaughter. She is a survivor. As with nearly all teenagers she can use emotional support of her family. Sometimes I share here parts of what I write to her. Here is one from this week, modified slightly to read here.

First, there are a couple of books that I enjoy reading, Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyer, and The First Christmas, by Borg and Crossan. They give me pause to ponder some good ideas.

First, the Borg and Crossan book looks at the biblical record of the birth of Jesus and compares it with the popular Christmas story of our time and culture. You know the story. Joseph was engaged to be married to the young woman Mary. Before they were married Mary informed Joseph that she was pregnant, not from him, not from anybody, and that an angel told her that she would bear a holy son. The two of them traveled to Bethlehem for the census, could not find lodging in an inn and accepted spending the night in a stable with farm animals. During that night the baby Jesus was born. Then they were visited by shepherds and three wise men who traveled on camels from the east.

Borg and Crossan dissect the Gospels and show that each of the parts of the story-that-we-all-know are located in different parts of the Gospels, and upon further reading in each Gospel, the one story does not fit the various writings of Scripture. Was Jesus of Nazareth born in Bethlehem or Jerusalem? A stable or a room? How many wise men? And on and on.

Then, Robin Meyer reminds us of the danger, or impossibility, of reading Scripture as a news story or history story of the actual recordings of events of history. Until the past century or so that has not been, for more than a dozen centuries, the way that Scripture has been understood. Scripture is not a literal historical account. Scripture is metaphor and poetry that tries to describe humankind’s relationship to the ultimately unknowable God, who is at times a stern father figure that specifies rules, at other times, a “person” with whom we can argue and change God’s mind, a nurturing mother, a compassionate, loving, always present friend. God, the Creator of molecules, matter, and the spectrum of energy that includes light, heat, and radiation, who perhaps “designed” water molecules that form bonds of two hydrogen atoms attached to one oxygen atom at an angle of 103 degrees (or is 105 or 105? I have forgotten) that “miraculously” results in water enlarging when in solid form so that it floats on top of its liquid form that allows liquid water to remain beneath the solid state of ice and that allows living organisms to survive deep freezes. Hundreds of billion galaxies that contain hundreds of billions stars in each one, many of which have planets circling them. And gravity that helps hold all sorts of stuff, including planets and galaxies, together.

Christ among us. It means to me, that in all of the unimaginably huge universe that contains all of the galaxies, stars, and “planets in their courses” that on one of those planets where we are fortunate enough to exist, and for the billions of us on this small rock of a planet, God cares enough about each one of us that God became part of us, in human form, fully human and fully divine, to show us how much God cares for us.
Christmas informs me that God is not solely the divine Presence of the universe, but that God also cares intimately for, about, and with each person. God lived and loved, suffered, died, and overcame death, to show us how much God loves us as we are.\

And, what is the meaning to me in all of this, this year? Robin Meyer urges us to not worship Christ, but to live as Jesus lived. And how did Jesus live? He cared for each person as a person. No one was discarded by Jesus. The poor and the diseased mattered more to Jesus than did the rich and powerful. Jesus did not write a book. The most that we record in the Gospels that Jesus wrote was with a stick in the sand that has long since been erased. But Jesus’ influence in our lives, in our world, continues to this day. Yes, we have really, royally screwed up his message, as we have screwed up so much of what is good and worthy in the world. But each day we get to wake up and have the opportunity to try again to live as Jesus lived, loving and caring, and respecting the dignity of every human being. In these more ecologically sensitive times we can no doubt extend that love and respect to each living thing, plant, animal, protist, and fungus.

So, I say, Hurray for Jesus’ birth that showed us that God really, really cares for us individually and collectively, has overcome death to show us what to expect, and forgives us as we need to forgive others. “God among us.” The Incarnation of God as a human being.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happiness is in our expectations.

Garrison Keillor remarked about happiness last week on his radio show. It stuck with me. Here is what I remember from what I heard him say.

Our happiness is based on our expectations. When a situation or result is better than we had anticipated we feel happy.

One strange example that Keillor gave:
You are a passenger on the prison bus going from the county jail to the State prison. The bus encounters mechanical difficulty and pulls over to the side of the road. All of the inmates are removed from the bus. There you are, shackled hand and foot, standing in the ditch at the side of the road and you look around and notice that it is a very nice day. Your heart feels happiness that you are enjoying part of a nice day in the out of doors, even though you are a prisoner, shackled, and standing in a ditch.

Perspective. Happiness results from our perspective and expectations being exceeded.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A hymn

I write weekly letters to my teenage granddaughter. She is a survivor. As with nearly all teenagers she can use emotional support of her family. Sometimes I share here parts of what I write to her. Here is one from this week, modified slightly to read here.

On another topic, we sang a really good hymn in church last Sunday. It was one that resonated with me and my soul. When I returned home I checked in my prayer book to see if I had a copy of that hymn. In the front of my prayer book at home I keep a few extra papers. They are mostly copies of hymns that speak deeply to me. They are hymns that I have trouble singing without choking up with emotion. Perhaps at my funeral someone will look at them and perhaps sing one or more of them.
I want to share this one with you. I think that it “reads” better when set to music, but I can’t do that in this letter so you get just the lyrics and not the music.
These are the treasures to strive for and prize: be gentle, live simply and have the humility to shy from the struggle to put oneself first, these are the pearls.
If mercy’s abandoned by those who’d be brave, economy squandered by those who’d be generous, humility slighted by those who would lead, this is sure death.
Be gentle and you can afford to be bold, be frugal and so have enough to be liberal, be humble and thus be a leader of all, this is the way.
Through gentleness those who attack win the fight, and those who defend have their safety in gentleness; this gentleness rests in the children of God, this is their sign.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Our three lives: Public, personal, private

I write weekly letters to my teenage granddaughter. She is a survivor. As with nearly all teenagers she can use emotional support of her family. Sometimes I share here parts of what I write to her. Here is one from this week, modified slightly to read here.

V, another topic that I wanted to write about concerns the three lives that each of us lives. This description has been resonating with me the past few weeks. Each of us has three lives at the same time, our public life, our personal life, and our private life.

Our public life is that which we share with mostly everyone. For you I know that it includes that you are married to Douglas, that you are Russian or come from Russia, that you are smart, and young and beautiful. Some people do not share that they are smart. Others don’t think of themselves as beautiful. For those people they have other qualities that they share with most everyone.

Our personal life is usually shared with those we love, including dear, close friends. In my message at the top of this letter that I sent to my family I include thoughts and feelings about my personal life. I would not and do not share that with customers at the ministry-which-is-the-Episcopal-Bookstore or with most of the people at church or in the community choir, or at the boxing gym.

Our private lives include those thoughts, and perhaps actions, that we do not share with anyone. They include what we think and know that we should not say out loud. At each age in our lives I think that the private thoughts change. What a middle school kid would not want to be caught dead saying may be perfectly acceptable to that same person at age 40 or 50. I think that it is our private lives that are what we share with a counselor or therapist when real work is getting done on our individual issues. If with a counselor we only share the public and personal lives then it is a waste of time for both people.

Each of us works at deciding what thoughts we share as part of each life. I see some people who share personal stuff on Facebook (and for me Twitter is worse at this) that they shouldn’t share. Other people act out in public in ways that I think are at least personal and perhaps private. I know a man in his twenties who scratches his crotch and such when with a group of people. Perhaps he did not learn to not do that in public. I often have wondered about that about him.

And, there is, I think, the constant decision of how much of our private thoughts to share with our spouse or family. You may see in my message to my family that I waited to write to them. I did not want to take away from my brother the trauma that he is going through about his prostate cancer. Finally I decided, with some help from Nancy, that I should share it with them.

Some of our dreams fit into the category of “do I share that with my best friend/spouse or is it better not to?” Further, I think that for some people it is the old slippery slope. I would be embarrassed to share THAT with Nancy so I won’t. Then later something else comes up, “Oh, I would be embarrassed to share that with her.” After awhile there is a long list of things one does not share with anyone. The dam holding the water which are our personal thoughts gets fuller and fuller. Sometimes the dam breaks and all sorts of stuff come out, most of it should have come out much earlier and it would have been easier to deal with it earlier, but I think that is part of our nature.

Perhaps there are other personalities that share way too much. Their private dam does not fill up. I’ve met some whom I have thought should have raised their dam a little bit higher, like “I really did not want to know that personal item about you.!”

In my humble opinion we each decide what to share with others in our public lives, in our personal lives, and what we keep to ourselves in our private lives.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Borg & Crossan at Diocesan Convention

I'm writing from our Diocesan Convention in Vancouver WA where on this second and final day bleary-eyed exhibitors still enjoy talking with delegates and guests.

During convention sessions when few delegates visit our display I've been reading and enjoying The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth, by Marcus Borg and John Crossan. In this volume we learn more about the Christmas story of the Bible, of the Christian tradition, and as if fits our time and culture.

Borg and Crossan show us the vitality of the Christmas stories that are beyond and outside of factual history, and beyond and outside of mythic/legend fiction. The authors instruct us in scholarly biblical theology that differs from the popular cultural depiction of the Christmas birth narratives of today. Borg and Crossan write thoughtful commentary that is very appropriate to read during Advent as we prepare for Christmas.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The parish surfing picnic

Grace Episcopal Church, San Marcos CA sponsored a church outing and picnic a week ago Sunday. I was blessed to be able to attend it. It was unlike any church picnic that I have attended in my life. It was a surfing picnic.

About thirty members of the congregation, of all ages, drove about 20 minutes from their church building directly after the main worship service last Sunday morning, to a public beach in Carlsbad CA. They brought food, surfboards, boogie boards, beach chairs, and beach towels with them. The parish banner on its staff was one of the first items on the beach. It informed the participants as well as the others that this was a church gathering.

Perhaps a dozen surfboards and as many boogie boards were brought by a few of the church members for the participants of the party to use. Two older men, Tom and Gary, who have surfed all of their lives encouraged everyone by giving instruction to groups and individuals. They did not hotdog by showing off all of the fancy maneuvers that they could perform. It was clear that they were there to help others, to encourage others to get out in the water and have fun safely.

Throughout the afternoon young kids to senior citizens picked up a surfboard or boogie board and gave the surf a try. The usual activity was to take an idle board out in the surf and play and practice with it for awhile. Then the person would bring it back to the party on the beach, put down the board, stop by the refreshments and get something to drink or a hotdog and some chips to eat. There would be conversing with others and watching others have fun in the surf, then, when the spirit moved them, they would pick up a different board and go back out to try something else.

Those on the shore, while conversing, watched the participants in the surf. There were cheers for even small successes and laughter frequently. Some of the surfers would end their ride or their fall with a graceful bow to the cheers and laughter on the beach.

I am confident in stating that a good time was had by all.

Ocean surf is a few hours away from my home parish in Seattle. Surfing is not a popular activity in my home parish. We don’t have surfing picnics after worship on Sunday. I wish that we did. Surely God was present with Grace Church at the beach in Southern California last week.

Posting here had been delayed, but I'm back

I have not posted a blog in too long a period of time. There are a few reasons for this. Most of them revolve around reluctance to write drivel. There seems to be so much drivel written these days and I have not wanted to add to it.

One solution that may work for me involves choosing a specific person, in my head, and write what may make sense to that one person. If others “listen in” it is acceptable to me, at least now. It’s not so much that I have nothing to say. I keep thinking and continue to have a dialog, at least in my head. It is more difficult, I think, for introverts, and especially male introverts, to write their thoughts to groups of others.

One way I can get past the tendency to keep my thoughts to myself is to begin writing to so-and-so. Perhaps that is you today. What do you think about that?

Whatever the reason, I am now back in a different frame of mind and intend to keep posting to this blog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quote from the Presiding Bishop

I read the following passage this morning in Presiding Bp, Katharine Jefferts Schori’s new book, Gospel in the Global Village: Seeking God’s Dream of Shalom.

Read: Joshua 24:14-18; John 3:1-12; Surah al-Ma’ida (5):48 texts on religion and violence from three Abrahamic faiths.

Bp. Katharine states:
How do we hear these texts? As Jews, Christians, or Muslims, do we hear only our own tradition?
Do we hear with the ears of one who has been liberated from slavery? Then choose this day to serve the God who has done that.
Do we hear what we have always heard, justification for where we are, what we believe, the community in which we live and move and have our comfortable being? Careful—nobody gets to see the kingdom on God without being born again.
Do we hear with the assumption that we have the full and final and only truth? Well, God is still as work—don’t be too eternally certain.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

What I have learned from Link Light Rail

I have been learning a new lesson. The new Link Light Rail project in Seattle has set an example for me. It is not about riding the light rail train in place of my “global warmer” vehicle. Besides, it is difficult to get me out of my electric vehicle conversion that I drive daily. Further, Link Light Rail does not travel where I need to go.

However, the Light Rail project has taught me by example about studying and learning before it is “crunch time.” Fully one month before the light rail trains opened their doors to the public which happened a couple of weeks ago they were running the routes. For several weeks I saw the light rail trains running on their tracks without riders. It was easy to think, “That’s dumb. They are just driving the trains for weeks at a time without riders.”

During this initial phase they were breaking in the equipment and breaking in the engineers who would be driving the trains. I think that they also used those practice runs to set the train schedules.

In most other civic projects additions are made to what is already in place. For instance the bus system may add new drivers, new buses, or even new routes, but they are adding on to a system that is up and running. Light Rail is a completely new public project for Seattle.
What I have learned from Link Light Rail for my own life is how good it is to start a new project while the old one is still functioning. Run both projects side by side for longer than one might think is needed. When the new system is beyond working out the flaws and bugs, then one can switch over to the new system in a more seamless manner.

At our store I have been investigating a new postage and mailing label system. If, or when, we use it there will be many aspects of our routine that will change. It is critical to make certain that all of the bugs are out of the system before it takes over as the sole method of producing mailing labels with postage on them.

More details. From an offer I received in the mail I hesitatingly tried for creating mailing labels and postage for our shipping needs. For the first few days looked good. It was easy to use. The graphics were very helpful. Their technical support reps on the phone were excellent and always available.

Always, always, verify by trying out the technical support system before you purchase or use a program. They can make or break a good application. I have seen more than one bookstore, and certainly one book distribution facility go out of business due directly to adopting a new computerized system that had too many flaws for them to continue in business. Using showed me a system that would improve our store operations and our shipping methods. It imbued me with enthusiasm, but its design did not fit our needs.

After several different attempts and a couple of phone calls I learned that is designed for customers with a much smaller address book than we have. Loading our whole address book on to their software was possible, but it was unusable.’s search method for the addresses was not compatible with our addresses. Reluctantly I cancelled our trial subscription with them.

By further searching I found another company with a similar application. Endicia is built for larger mailing operations. Ah, but, Endicia is a company that has been purchased by a multi-national corporation. They have trimmed their expenses. From my experience the wait on the phone to talk with a technical service person averages about 30-minutes. Such a long wait is intolerable for our business. We can not afford to have me, or anyone of us, wait on hold for 30-minutes. Endicia offers a somewhat extensive technical database on their website. If I am patient, read directions carefully, follow their links to further instructions, and am not interrupted by customers, phone calls, or staff questions, then the information that I need is generally available. There remains an issue with the address book, but for this issue we have developed a “work-around” method that looks functional. I think that we can make the work around satisfy our needs.

In the past couple of weeks, when I have had the time, and for a few customers, I’ve tried using Endicia. I see that, especially when we purchase the correct printer and postal scale, it will very likely save us time and money. There is more testing yet to be done before we change our shipping routines and cancel our relationship with the postage meter supplier, and make the commitment to using Endicia as our sole shipping label system. I think that we are at about a 90% commitment to Endicia. In another week or so I expect that we will make the decision.

Thanks to Link Light Rail I know that we need to test, test, and retest the new system and all of its components. Then we will run them side-by-side for some time until we fully commit to the new system and change our routines. This is just one more example of how this ministry-which-is-the-store continues to be an enjoyable and challenging learning experience.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The woman who wanted a Bible

Our store is in the middle of our annual Summer Sale. Part of the sale includes what we refer to as Porch Books. They are books that were on sale last summer and then throughout the rest of the year, and still have not sold. We put them in display boxes on our front porch (well, it is hardly a porch, but it is outside the front door).

Another part of this story concerns a few of our visitors who see the world differently than I do. One woman came in this week carrying two Porch Books. She asked, “Are these Bibles?” One was a full-size hardcover book that was a Church Annual that lists all of the congregations, their addresses, and the names of the clergy. It is certainly not a Bible. The other was a non-descript paperback book. It was very obvious to me that neither of those books were Bibles. I replied to her, “No, those are not Bibles. Do you want a Bible?” “Yes,” she said and immediately deposited those two books on the counter and went back outside. She then came in with two other books and asked if they were Bibles. Once again I said “No.” And, I asked if I could help her find a Bible. She wanted a Bible for one dollar but we did not have one for even $10 that I may have given to her for a dollar. She finally purchased a dollar book that included some Bible quotes in it.

What was obvious to me was that this woman could not read. She had no idea about what the words inside a book looked like to be called a Bible. I was deeply saddened that she was so handicapped that she could not determine on her own the kind of contents that was in a book. A bible usually has written on its cover the word “Bible.” She could not determine even that much. Another feeling that I had for her was worry about how vulnerable that woman was to anyone who could read words when she couldn’t. How easily she could be taken advantage of or be harmed by people who know the meaning of written words. At the same time, she knew that having a bible was important and she wanted one, even if she could not read it.

Ah. My heart hurts for her.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Changing or remaining steadfastly the same?

I had an E-mail conversation (several messages back and forth over a few hours) with Barbara, a parish secretary or administrator in an Episcopal congregation. Her congregation has not moved along with the rest of the Episcopal Church in the past several years. In the Episcopal Church the Scripture lessons to be read in church each week are listed in the back of the prayer book. Perhaps nine years ago there was a move to change the lessons. The Revised Common Lectionary is the new listing of lessons to be read in church. They are “revised” from the previous list. They are “common” meaning that several different denominations, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and others have agreed to use the same list of lessons. A “Lectionary” is the list of lessons.

Six years ago the Episcopal Church, nationally, agreed to begin using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for “trial use.” It was up to dioceses and congregations whether or not they use them. Three years ago was the time for all congregations to use them, but the old Lectionary was still permissible to use. Beginning this Advent (the beginning of the new church year near the end of November) the old Lectionary will not be able to be used and we are all supposed to be using the RCL.

Barbara’s congregation, probably with the leadership of the priest, is not changing to the RCL. They are continuing to use the old Lectionary. She wrote to me wanting to order the calendar that they have always used, the one that lists the old Lectionary readings on it. Barbara said that last year’s calendar did not have the old Lectionary and it has been a burden to them that she wanted to correct. I explained that the calendar publisher was not including the old Lectionary on their calendars now.

In a series of messages Barbara kept coming up with other questions and possible solutions to find a calendar that will list the old lessons for each Sunday. I could read her feelings of stress in needing a calendar to meet her congregation’s needs.

I was saddened and felt sorry for Barbara and her congregation. The Church, in many of its denominations is moving onward. Throughout history things have always been changing in the Church and they continue to change. Barbara’s congregation has decided not to change. This is coupled, in my opinion, with the results of the “me, now” generation. That is, the “I want it my way and I want it now” view of life. In the past generation this has become the norm for those of us living in this culture. Barbara’s congregation has not changed and kept up with the changing Church, but they still “want it my way and want it now.” She did not get as indignant as I may be presenting it, but the underlying concern of Barbara’s was “What do you mean that we can not obtain the calendar printed with the lessons that we want on it?”

It is, to me, a sad situation for Barbara’s congregation. They, or perhaps just the priest who is their leader, have made the decision to stop growing in the life of the Church. Part of that decision results in the rub, the pinch, that comes from wanting what no longer exists.

What a corner we box ourselves into sometimes by wanting things to remain as they have been but can not be that way any longer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some help for keeping up with General Convention 2009.

Are you curious, interested, fascinated, or urgently need some information and insight on the progress, events, and actions of the Episcopal Church’s triennial national meeting, General Convention, being held in Anaheim CA?

Here are some links to blogs from participants. Perhaps you can browse them and find one or two that “speak to you.”

From the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington State) participants:

* Young Adult Deputy Katrina Hamilton
* Bishop Greg Rickel
* Diocese of Olympia deputation

From the Diocese of San Diego CA participants

Twitter links:


Offering one-stop shopping for worldwide coverage of General Convention, this site features video, audio slideshows, news stories, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, Flickr photo galleries and more. Visit it here.

Do you have other sources to suggest? Add them as comments or E-mail them to me and I will consider including them in this list.

Monday, June 15, 2009

So many books, so little time!

It has been way too long since I posted to this blog. I intend to change that.

My most enjoyable, inspiring, uplifting, hopeful book this week is not a book from our store. I’ll tell you about it anyway.

The first gardening book that turned my gardening world upside down maybe fifteen years ago was Jeff Ball’s Sixty–Minute Garden, Rodale Press, 1985. I incorporated his creative and fresh ideas in my garden immediately and have enjoyed continuing to use his ideas over the years. I just love those authors who take a fresh look at what we all know how to do, or all know “what is,” and give us new methods to try. The changes that Jeff Ball encouraged were so different and thoughtful that I couldn’t wait to utilize them those many years ago. His ideas result in working in my garden less than sixty minutes a week. He eliminates the continual battle with garden hoses for water and other tasks like weeding. And, they work! They have been working in my garden for about fifteen years.

Now Mel Bartholomew has a new book, The All New Square Foot Gardening, Cool Springs Press, 2005, paperback, $19.99. Each page has refreshing new ideas about gardening that are thoughtful, reasonable, and I can hardly wait to try them. I have been reading a page or two at every opportunity, avoiding continual reading because I may forget one of the nuggets on each page. Bartholomew’s enthusiasm spills over into other parts of my life with creative ideas that are “outside the box.” One example from this book: instead of using a lot of heavy dirt to grow the garden plants the author offers a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost that results in no weeds, no fertilizer, and very little watering. At first it sounds strange but stick with the author and he shows you how and why it works.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Three related stories.
One. Last Wednesday, at the boxing gym, I had a brief conversation with AraJane. She is thirty-four years old, I think. In reply to how she was doing, before our exercise class began she said, that she had been at home, feeling grumpy and achy and thought, “why go to the gym.” But she got up and came to the gym. Then she said, “I feel better already by just being here.”

I thought about her comment for a few moments and realized that it is actually a rather profound statement. Feeling lethargic, grumpy, achy, and not wanting to do anything is not an uncommon human condition. But, AraJane made the effort to get up and get to the gym. Just by the act of making that much effort and her mood and feelings rose. It may seem like “getting up and getting going” is not such a big thing, but I think that perhaps it is actually a very big thing. It makes, if not all of the difference, then certainly it makes an awful lot of difference to what we do and how we react to life and the stuff that Life puts in our way.

Some mornings I wake up and think for a brief moment, “Should I get up and go to the lake to jog around it?” Then by the time that I go out the front door I am looking forward to the run that morning, wondering what will come of it, what will the weather be like, how will the jogging be this morning. And almost always I think on the way back home from running, that it is really a great way (for me) to begin a day. Dawn at the lake is beautiful –even last Tuesday when the rain was coming down steadily with a stiff south wind. I was soaked before I was half way around the lake. The rain water running down my face was actually kind of nice. It added to the adventure of it. Certainly those few people that I met going in the other direction smiled or nodded giving me the feeling that we were out there in the wind and rain together. When the weather is nice there are more people going around the lake in the morning, but fewer make eye contact and acknowledge others.

Two. I had a haircut last week. That’s nothing. My current barber is a woman. The last time we met she told me that she was going to attend college studying sustainable agriculture. So, we had a chance to talk about her start of college while she trimmed my hair this time. She (I don’t know her name) is just a normal twenty-something woman barber who has not previously shown much of her personality. Barbering does not encourage expressing much of one’s personality, I think.

I asked her about here studies and her college classes. She came alive! Her personality blossomed and exploded. She is so very excited about her classes and the learning that she is doing. She frequently stopped trimming my hair so that she could talk more about her experiences with what she is learning. As it should be her course work is opening up a whole new world, a world of learning new things that are important to her. It was great fun just to watch her react and describe her experiences.

At one point she mentioned and then I asked more about it, that she is “by far” the oldest student in her class. I tried to encourage her that she is in no way too old, as she expressed her distress that she had wasted so many years up to now by not learning the things that she is learning when she was younger. I tried to tell her of the changes in the activities and learnings in my life from the time I was 30 years old and where I am now: When I was thirty I did not have even a thought about an making or owning an electric vehicle, my organic gardening, building my backyard greenhouse, working closely every day with my wife in the bookstore, and more. Perhaps it was just some ranting of this grandfather.

Anyway, her enthusiasm spread to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the time while she was exclaiming and describing her experiences in the past several weeks while she trimmed my hair.

Three. My sister is 65 years old. Last fall when she was “only” 64 her employer of more than 20 years laid her off. It was part of the cost cutting measures that are so common today. Janet is not ready to retire. What to do? She rallied her resources. She enrolled in a class to help her find a new job, to interview effectively, and other aspects of being wanted by a new employer. She is seeing a counselor, exercising, dyed her hair, and other activities to “get ready.”

A month ago she was interviewed for a case management position. It was much less than she was qualified for, but it would be a job. At the conclusion of the interview the interviewer said to Janet, “You are actually qualified for a management position. Would you be interested if one were to become available?” As Janet relates it, she thought, “Damn right!” and replied, “Why yes, I would be interested.” In the following weeks she kept checking with this organization and when a management position was posted she immediately contacted them. The result is that she starts next week at what she thinks is the dream job. It is exactly what she loves to do! She can hardly wait to get in and help them.

What do these three stories have in common? We each decide when we are ready to do what we want or need to do. We are never too old until we decide that we are too old. We don’t know where the next bend in the road will take us. But that bend in the road will take us very much farther than sitting at home complaining.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Northwest Catholic Women's Convocation IV

Nancy left a few minutes ago, Saturday morning. She is working with three other women at the NW Catholic Women’s Convocation yesterday and today in Bellevue. Twelve hour days of selling books. The conference has about 2000 women attendees and about 30 women speakers, all of who have written books. We are selling the books. It is a non-stop marathon of bookselling for these two days. When Nancy arrived home last night at 10:00, having left at 8:30 that morning, without having had dinner (no time), she was pretty tired. She will be exhausted this evening.

The Catholic women organizers have taken more heat from the Church than in previous years. This is the fourth such conference that have occurred about every four years. As the Catholic Church bends to the conservative right the pressure on the organizing women escalates, alas as it has throughout history.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our St. Francis mural & the artist who painted it.

On a day last summer a rather scruffy man entered our store and told me about a passionate mission that he was following, painting murals on the walls of buildings in Seattle. For free yet. Was he believable? Just barely. Then we drove around to addresses he gave us and saw some of his work.

We, at the Episcopal Bookstore, are delighted to be included in a segment on the SeattleChannel, a local cable channel recently. The segment reported on the mural painter Ryan Henry Ward who created the mural depicting St. Francis and the animals on the side of our store’s building.

Ryan Henry Ward is a unique and marvelous man. You can learn more about him that even includes an interview with me in that 10-minute segment. (Click on the previous word, “segment.”)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rent-a-Crowd & Rent-a-Pallbearer

Yesterday a Roman Catholic priest and friend of the store visited us. He mentioned in passing his Rent-a-Crowd and Rent-a-Pallbearer, for funerals. And we said, “What! Okay, we need to hear this story. You have special mourners and pallbearers for funerals?!”

First, you need to know that this priest is the only priest at a very large local Catholic church. He also answered my query yesterday about how many kids will be receiving their First Communion this Sunday, with “about 64.” It is a big church with a large number of members, big enough to have 64 pre-teen kids all about the same age who, after completing the classes for training in the Church will take Communion, for the first time.

The good Father told us yesterday that when a 99-year old woman dies she deserves a good funeral just as much as anyone else. A not uncommon problem for the very old is that all of their friends and family have died before them and there are none, or very few, who would attend their funeral. Likewise, for the very old, there are often too few friends or family members who have the health to be able to lift the casket with the dead person’s remains inside. Pallbearers are the ones who escort and carry the casket.

Father has a group of healthy individuals who will attend a funeral as the pallbearers when needed. He can contact his mourners and/or pallbearers and they will attend the funeral of someone they don’t know but who needs a good, decent, and dignified funeral. He said that he has over one hundred mourners who will attend a funeral when needed.

We were impressed with the thoughtfulness, as well as practicality of having pallbearers and mourners on hand and available for whomever needs them. Yes, each person, no matter who, deserves the dignity of a decent funeral. It is very practical, and very thoughtful and caring to have members of the congregation who will attend a funeral, not for their own grieving, but out of respect for the deceased person’s life.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why don't we follow the Acts of the Apostles?

Today’s New Testament Lesson:
Acts 4:32-35

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

4:35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

For all of the fuss that the Biblical literalists give to keeping Scripture accurately no one seems to expect, let alone demand, that we follow this description of the very early Christian community.

Yea, verily, no acts of same gender sexuality, nor marriage of same gendered couples, and women must obey the head of the household, the man, or so sayeth many fundamentalist Christians, but none of them say that we should all pool our ownership of everything, sell everything and give it to the community, and distribute it to each as any has need.

I do not remember every hearing an Episcopal sermon on this topic either.

Could it be that when scriptural faithfulness meets political socialism that politics always wins?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What do we do with our Lenten practices during Easter, and Pentecost?

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! Our Lenten Practices are over, or are they?

Now (that we are singing alleluias again) is an interesting time to evaluate our Lenten practices.

Part of my practices included reading Lent With Bishop Morneau during breakfast. Reading a book during lunch (I made it through two books during lunches in Lent.), keeping the radio turned off while driving and working in the kitchen and basement projects, deep cleaning rooms in the house, and rehearsing to refer to a transgendered friend by his male pronoun.

A few of the practices were easy. Others were more difficult. I managed to only deep clean three rooms in the house. I am relieved to find that I refer to my friend in the male gender unconsciously now.

How do we treat our Lenten practices now that Lent is over? Do we immediately grab for the chocolate that we had given up, perhaps even more so than before Lent specifically because we have shunned it for these several weeks?

I don’t think that I will continue with the deep cleaning of the house. I find that turning off the radio when there isn’t really something that I’m interested in is quite easy this week thanks to the practice of silence during Lent. I miss not having a book to read at lunch. My friend remains male in my subconscious.

What about you and your Lenten practices? Which ones remain with you and which ones were easily discarded?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two books, two ways to read and write

Do you ever enjoy and care about characters in a book of fiction that when the book ends you want to follow them further, to know what happens in the rest of their life? I do too.

Ken Follett has a solution, at least for me. In his recent fictional history World Without End he did it again. He made the personalities and the lives of the characters in the book so memorable that I wanted to follow their lives further. This historical fiction takes place in the middle 1300s in the English town of Kingsbridge. The monks and nuns own the cathedral. The earls own their serfs. Power and hierarchy seem to invade everyone’s lives. Freedom as we know it does not yet exist.

In World Without End the question, “What happens after they barely survived through that situation?” is answered again and again. Instead of one book, this volume is more like seven books in one. We follow the lives of some of the characters from children through to old age. The story and history keeps evolving.

The only negative for me about Follett’s World Without End is that is more than 1000 pages in length and even in paperback it is a heavy book. I found that resting the book on my lap on top of a throw pillow from the couch helped keep the book high enough to read without having to hold it up on my own.

The other way to read a good book of course is to read it a second time. That is what I plan to do with Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book, An Altar in the World. It is my Lenten luncheon reading discipline. As a Lenten “discipline” I get off easy with this one because Taylor writes so well. I keep finding pages or paragraphs that I want to share with specific other people. I know that when I finish this book that I will want to read it again so that I can enjoy and be stimulated by her thoughts and descriptions of how we live our lives and where God is as we live in our pain, suffering, beautiful landscapes and seascapes, and in our friends, relatives, and strangers. I don’t expect to wait until next Lent to pick up this book again and read it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My book for lunch during Lent

I'm reading An Altar in the World at lunch time during Lent. I used to enjoy being stretched by the author of this volume Barbara Brown Taylor's books of sermons. I have even read good sermons during Sunday Eucharist when the preacher has been less than interesting. With An Altar in the World I have the delight of reading Taylor's thoughts about finding God in everyday places and events. Oh, yes. There is so many encounters of God each day that I can recognize when I am renewed in my perceptions as this author probes me to see.

Here is a little kernel from page 91 that she elaborates with meaningfulness, "The great wisdom traditions of the world all recognize that the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Nearly Spring outside, nearly Winter in the economy

Spring will come. The economy will recover.
One or both of those is correct.
I'm hoping for both. It's like we are just entering the winter time of the financial crisis. It's going to get worse before it gets better. Some old financial trees and bushes are not going to survive, others will be harmed and will need pruning, but we hope that the "winter," though record breaking, won't be too severe.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meditating while exercising?

Active meditation is a new term to me. I viewed a report on it last night on one of our few favorite, regular TV shows, “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” on PBS. (The half-hour show airs at a strange time so we record it for convenient viewing later.) I have always known about the practice of meditation, attempting to sit quietly and emptying my mind in order to reach inside and to God for centering my soul. But I have not known about active meditation. The news report that I viewed described active meditation to be present in even, or especially in, very vigorous physical activities such as kung fu. The report described, as I understand it, active meditation as a method of emptying one’s mind, to live in the moment without thoughts about anytime or anyplace other than where one is at that very moment.

Previously, when I have been jogging or other moving exercise in the mornings or at the gym I have been disappointed that I have been unable to meditate at the same time. Now I see that focusing on the immediate action that I am doing is a form of meditation that empties my mind of all of the extraneous diversions that my mind is encumbered with during its normal multi-tasking activity, including the mundane task of keeping track of time. This “meditating during vigorous physical exercise” is a form of centering. I’m not quite ready to see it as “centering prayer” because there is not yet the perceived connection to the Other in my activity. However, this gives me a new way to contemplate what meditation is and what I am doing when I am engrossed in a specific exercise. Perhaps I gain some “credit” for meditating when I am actively involved in vigorous physical exercise.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lenten Practices work better than New Years resolutions

I think that I have an idea about why New Years resolutions don’t work for me. There hasn’t been time before New Years to plan, evaluate, and anticipate the resolutions.

The penitential season of Lent begins in about one month. For several days now I have been contemplating what Lenten practices would improve my life, my spiritual life, my faith life, my physical life. What book will I read for Lent? What activities will I pick up for Lent that will improve my relationship with Life and those who are traveling with me in this life?

Yesterday I was thinking about how the house never really gets the deep cleaning that it needs. It used to “spring cleaning” but that doesn’t happen in my spring times. What if I were to add just a little bit to my usual housecleaning routine during Lent? Could I deep clean the living room one week, the bathroom the next week, the kitchen the next week, and onward for just the weeks of Lent? (Oh! The basement? The garage?)

I do not know yet whether the deep cleaning of the house will be added to my Lenten practice. I don’t have to decide yet. A month before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, I have the gift of time to contemplate what activities and actions would be best for me and my whole being, my faith, my spiritual self, and my relations with others and the environment this Lenten season. New Years resolutions come directly at the end of Advent and most of the Christmas Season when there is not time in my life to mull and contemplate resolutions that may improve my personal life. Lent works better for me than New Years for trying again to improve the actions in my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For a few years I have been writing a letter weekly to my teenage granddaughter. I think that probably most teenagers need all of the emotional and spiritual help that they can get. I write. She does not reply, but I know that she reads the letters. Here is an excerpt from this week’s letter.

We really need to keep track of our past so that it informs our decisions today using are goals and plans for tomorrow so that we process our way through our lives. I think that works for grandfathers as well as teenage granddaughters. So, what do I do with thoughts about how my life would have been different had I joined the military instead of pushing on toward my college degree, or if I had married the first woman that I loved? I try to remember that life would have been different. I try to remember why I made the decisions that I did and in making those decisions what I learned about living my life today. At the same time I look forward to the future and put into practice some actions that will help me whatever the future brings. I live today so that if it is to be my last day, that I was doing the things today that I think are important to be doing today while fully expecting to be living with the consequences of today’s actions in the future.

The pathway through life is seldom clear, but we do the best that we can as we try to find the pathway. I’ve been carrying a backpack in my life that at times seemed like a struggle but I’ve grown used to carrying it and it does not seem like a struggle now. The pathway forward in my life is still unclear, but I can see the path along which I have come and that gives me courage that I can continue through the murkiness of the future.