Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A postal challenge

It is just a little challenge, but it is part of what makes running the bookstore fun.

You may have seen the Postal Service ads for their flat rate Priority Mail packages. Whatever you can fit in one of their flat rate mailers is shipped for a single price. It is not dependent upon weight.

We use Priority Mail almost exclusively with our sales on our website. The industry standard traditional shipping pricing has been based on weight. Each item has a weight, add the weights together and calculate the shipping charge by weight. For the past several years we have been using a simpler method, counting the number of items in the order. The first item costs a specific amount for shipping, and each additional item is added at a reduced amount. Books are weighted more in this scheme than are non-books because books generally weigh more.

This past week Nancy and I have been figuring out a new way to calculate shipping charges for our web customers. It is based on volume. What can be shipped in each flat rate mailer is not based on weight but on volume, so we have been devising a method of determining each item's volume and replacing our current shipping calculation with this new one. Yesterday, as we neared the completion of this new method, I remarked to Nancy that the process was like inventing a new wheel. In her wisdom she replied, "You've seen the ads. Many businesses must be changing their shipping from weight-based to volume-based. Trucks and airplanes have figured out how many packages fit in a shipping container. Volume matters more to them than weight." We are not the only business that is, or has, changed their method of calculating shipping charges.

FYI, we are not measuring the specific volume of each item in the store in cubic inches or any other normal unit of measure. Our unit of measure is a flat rate mailer. If a flat rate mailer will hold a single volume, like a bible, then that item's volume is One. The same flat rate mailer may hold four smaller paperback books. Their volume is then 1/4. And, at the extreme end, 50 decals will fit in a flat rate mailer so their volume is 1/50. We have larger numbers for big items. One big object might be a Three, for instance (No, we will not cut the large item into three pieces to mail it!).

It's been challenging and, therefore, part of what makes managing this-ministry-which-is-the-store fun.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My first Quaker Meeting

I attended a memorial “service” for my dear old Godmother, Betty, last Saturday in a Quaker, Friends Meeting. They referred to the event as a Meeting and not a service. Here are some of my observations concerning my first Meeting. This comes from my history as a life-long Episcopalian.

It was my first experience at a Quaker gathering. I have always wondered and been curious about attending one of their services, eh, Meetings.

The Meeting room was large, rectangular, with one wall of large windows looking out on trees and all sorts of vegetation. Beautiful nature! The remaining three walls were covered with large panels of soft textured material and the floor was deeply carpeted. Well-padded chairs were set in rows looking toward the center where there was neither altar nor table. There were six sections of chairs of about eight rows deep. My estimate is that the room was about 80% full and was attended by close to one hundred people.

We had been informed before hand, and at the beginning of the Meeting, that we would begin with the usual 15-minutes of silence. Then, as it fit each individual, there would be time to stand and speak what you wanted to say, then sit down. That would be followed by a time of reflection until another person stood to speak. We were encouraged to project our voices when we spoke because the room was designed for quiet and absorbed sound.

The 15-minutes passed quickly for me. Sitting in silence with nearly one hundred other people, nearly all of whom were strangers to me, was not uncomfortable. It was actually, very comforting, quieting, and reflective. I felt a sense of deep peace in that room with those present.

Then the speakers began. Individuals related Betty stories for about an hour. Each one spoke about Betty and about an event that they had shared in her life. No one asked questions. Each person was free to say whatever was on her/his mind. The only reference from one speaker to another that I noticed was a gentleman who stood and began speaking after several others had spoken. “I have been quite humbled by what I have heard. Betty and I have worked together on social justice issues for a few years. I thought that I had a very special relationship to Betty. Now I see that Betty gave that same special relationship to everyone she knew...”

My heart felt full as I went home after the Meeting. There was also a feeling of deep gratitude for Betty’s life and her influence on so many people. I think that my feeling of deep peace was due to the silence and mutual respect from all who attended the Meeting. It was not “church” to me, but I could very easily return to participate in another Meeting.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A connoisseur of liturgy.

Last Sunday I visited St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. The Rev David Marshall (no relation) presided and gave the sermon. My determination of a good sermon includes whether I can remember it on Monday. Some Sundays I have not been able to recall the message of the sermon on my way home from church! Fr. David’s sermon stays with me this Thursday morning. I need to share it with you. Actually, I will share with you what I remember about last Sunday’s sermon on this Thursday. It may surprise the priest by being different than his intended message, but that is part of the risk of life and faith.

Fr. David used the metaphor of a wine connoisseur for our thoughts about our liturgy. As a connoisseur of anything, a wine connoisseur knows many details about wines. She/he has knowledge about the differences in wines from different countries and regions, perhaps even different years for the same wine region. Understanding the uses of the different wine glasses for different wines helps the connoisseur to enjoy the unique benefits of each wine. The proper storage of wines as well as the proper methods of opening and tasting wines is also part of the knowledge of a wine connoisseur.

If the wine connoisseur encounters a thirsty person, one who is “dying of thirst” would the wine connoisseur take the ailing person to the wine cellar and describe the various vintages? Or, would the caring person offer the ailing one a large glass of fresh water to begin to quench the thirst? Water would be the appropriate and needed drink for a dehydrated, thirsty person.

Likewise in our denomination, Episcopalians are, in many ways, liturgy connoisseurs. We know the details of good liturgy, only the raw basics of which include when to sit, when to stand, and when to kneel. Will you offer the host for intinction at the mass? Will Communion be offered at stations? Reading prayers or spontaneous prayers? It is “Aayy-men” or “Ahh-men?” Only one is acceptable in refined liturgy.

Then, as liturgy connoisseurs what should be our response to a visitor to the Episcopal Church? Do we require that they learn all of the liturgy before they can participate? Do we offer them a fine wine or a drink of water to quench their thirst for a taste of God’s loving presence?

I’ve been “chewing on” this bit of wine during this week. I wonder what your thoughts are about it.