Thursday, December 8, 2011

Visiting a nearby worship service

When we lived in a smaller community there was really only one Episcopal church to attend. One of the joys of living in a city is that there are several congregations from which to choose. Last Sunday I visited a nearby congregation. They were celebrating Advent with a service of Nine Lessons and Carols. What a treat!

The music was quite good, excellent. The readers spoke and read well. Generally the service was quite good and worthwhile. I was surprised that some of the lessons were read from older biblical translations, but apparently not all of them. I appreciate congruence within a worship service so the different translations were a small disappointment.

About equal to the worship experience was an interaction with one parishioner. A woman came in after I did and sat in the pew next to me. She introduced herself and asked my name. And, as it goes for me, within two sentences her name had vanished from my mind, and has not yet returned. She invited me to coffee hour, downstairs, after the service. The invitation was quite remarkable.

Recently I had visited several congregations on several occasions as I looked for a congregation that fit me the best. In the past two years I have worshipped with this congregation probably six or eight times. In many ways they are a good, strong congregation.

There are a couple of areas where they failed me. As I experienced this congregation in worship one aspect that they fell short was in pastoral care. After several visits I realized that I did not feel comfortable asking any of the four clergy for help in a pastoral emergency. The parish runs excellent programs and is active in many important causes, but I had not felt that there was a clergy person that I could call on for personal pastoral help if I needed it.

The second negative aspect concerned coffee hour. I am rather socially shy. I’m not one who can confidently barge into a social setting. The church building is arranged with the sanctuary on the ground floor and coffee hour in the basement. As a stranger I felt too exposed to “take the plunge” and go downstairs after a service and join some kind of coffee hour that I knew nothing about. Each time, exiting through the front door seemed easier than going past it and committing to “downstairs.” Then, last Sunday, this woman sitting next to me invited me and encouraged me to attend coffee hour. I realized at that point how powerful it was to be personally asked to join coffee hour.

I almost did go down those stairs, but the rest of the day was full of things on the “to do” list, and the sun was shining. As I scooted out the front door I assured myself that next time I would indeed venture down to coffee hour. 

Perhaps a third point about this congregation that I missed was that they don’t need me. In each of my visits there I have not seen a place where I could put my talents to use with that congregation. As I see it, more powerful than being sincerely invited to coffee hour would be some moment of sincere interest in me that would result in showing me a place where I could be of use to the congregation. Okay, I know that if and when I do attend coffee hour then there would be a much better chance that someone would talk with me and perhaps show me that a clergy person there has a pastoral attitude or that someone else would invite me to join some activity that would put me to use. Most of it is my fault, but this is “how I see it.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A story of outreach gone astray.

It’s a good story, to me.

A customer just shared this story about our “outreach.”

The woman customer, several years ago, was in the hospital in another State at the birth of their daughter. On a day or so after the birth the mother was in the bathroom and the new mother’s mother talked to her through the door and said, “Honey, stay in the bathroom. The Episcopalians are coming.”

A few minutes later the new mother’s mother opened the door and told her she could go back to bed. The young mother asked, “What was going on? Why did you want me to stay in the bathroom when the Episcopalians came to visit?”

The mother then explained. The Episcopalians that had taken on the job of visiting the sick were old, dour, negative women, wearing black dresses. Their visit included a very gloomy mood. It was not at all what young mothers in the hospital wanted to experience.

Our customer stated that it was an example of Christian outreach that had gone astray.

Don’t we just do it to ourselves sometimes?!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One of our saintly customers

I received the following message from a customer this morning to whom we had sent five pendant crosses (on chains).

I volunteer at a home for abused and emotionally disturbed children. Four of the children are going to foster homes the first of next week, and I wanted to give them something special. These crosses are perfect.

Once again I am reminded that we have the best customers in the world.
Humbly, John

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How watching football reminds me how to handle my life.

I've been impressed recently by professional athletes and their response to errors and mistakes. I've watched a few football games this season on TV. The Seattle Seahawks have won two games and lost five. They haven't scored a touchdown in the past two games. I watch the quarterback, whichever one they try for a game. He makes big errors. And, I watch his face after the error. He looks upset for a few seconds, then he gathers the team gives them the next play, and continues on with a positive outlook. Had I made such an error as the last play I would kick myself and be discouraged at my mistake, and with thousands of people watching me, I would want to leave the field, leave the locker room and escape from it all. I see in football quarterbacks, and others, an attitude that they have learned. It goes something like this, "That mistake that I just made is behind me. There is nothing that I can do about it. I have a team counting on me to get it right this next time. I'm putting out of my mind my errors and expect the best with this next play." I marvel that they can do that, repeatedly. It is a learned response. I try to do that in my life too. I don't want to forget my failures because that will allow me to make them again, but I try to not dwell on them. One image that I use is that a mistake that I have made, an error in judgment, a bad decision, or a harm that another has done to me.  I put it in a package, like a cardboard box, then I mentally place it on the ground, next to the path that I'm walking on. I walk on. I remember where that package with the loss, failure, or whatever, is located, but I do not carry it on my back with the other baggage of my life going forward.

I don't mourn the loss of some organs that have been removed from my body to keep me alive in years gone by. I also don't forget what I did, the stress that I had put on myself, prior to the time that those surgeries occurred. I don't worry about how long or how short my remaining life may be. I simply try each day to do the best that I can, to help others, to stay healthy, to enjoy the gifts of life each day. Watching the football quarterbacks of a team with a losing record reminds me and encourages me to stay positive, look ahead, take care of my health, find happy moments and relish them, a enjoy whatever each day brings.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Honesty, courage, and faith.

A visitor, K, last Saturday described this situation. Her husband, P, was a baseball umpire while he was also a Lutheran pastor. He was a huge fan of baseball throughout his life, enjoyed the game, and also enjoyed being “not pastor” when he was officiating a baseball game.

P, is now in hospice care. He is facing the end of his life on earth. He watched the World Series and enjoyed it. After the last game P said, that it was the last baseball game that he will see. To me that is facing reality honestly, with courage, and with faith.

I admire that very much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is God's plan for my life?

Sometimes it seems presumptuous and even silly to share thoughts on blogs, but I will give in on this day and join the fad.

Here are some thoughts of mine on the occasion of my seventieth birthday. Thanks go to my sister G who encouraged me to think about my reaction to this birthday.

When I was young I set goals. I knew that I had to graduate from college no matter how long it took (6 years). I discerned while in college that I wanted to be a teacher of science in secondary public schools.

At that time I was also trying to discern God’s will for my life. By the time that I decided to be a teacher I had accepted that being a teacher was what God wanted me to do.

Twenty years later I had the strong feeling that God was calling me to be ordained in the Episcopal Church as a deacon. It seemed to me that I would then be able to teach and work more effectively in the church. A few years later it became rather obvious to me that I was not going to be ordained. Although I had thought that God had called me to be a deacon I now see that was an error.

And, a few years after that, after cancer and two major surgeries, I knew that I could not be a teacher any longer. If it was God’s plan for me to be a teacher, then that plan had ended.

Could God have more than one plan for my life? How would that work?

Nancy and I now work together every day at our bookstore. I find a deep joy in our working together with the business and the ministry which is the store. I never had thought about owning our own business and what such a life would be like. As it turns out it is very good for both of us. We also realize that neither of us could manage the store by ourselves. It takes both of us to do it.

Is God’s presence in the store? Certainly! I see it nearly everyday. Is this God’s plan for my life? I think, now, at this sage old age (ha, ha, ha!) that it is the wrong question.

Is it my will that my granddaughter Victoria is married and living in Brazil? Wrong question. Victoria gets to choose her own life, her own struggles and rewards. My will for her is that she makes good decisions and that I support her emotionally the best that I can. I think, now, that this is something similar to God’s actions in our lives.

God cares about how we live each day of our lives. God is with us. And yet, God allows us the dignity of making our own decisions, which includes our own mistakes and bad choices.

It has happened so many times that I’ve come to expect it. That “it” is that when something important is happening in the store, especially when someone is sharing something important with us on a normally busy day, there is a lull in the phone calls and in the customers entering the store. When whatever the important event is has finished, or sometimes about to finish, then the normal store events pick back up, the phones ring, customers or delivery persons come in and life returns to normal. Is God present in those times? God is present in every time and every place, but yes, something special happens in those special times.

I no longer live by setting goals. Instead, I am very happy to allow each day to happen and watch and enjoy the moments and challenges that come, all in God’s presence.

With gratitude for all,

Monday, October 3, 2011

A conversation with the author

Here is a conversation between a bookstore owner, John Marshall, and the author of the book Christianity in Evolution, Ralph Armstrong, during September 2011. It has been slightly edited for readability.

John’s message to the author:

Ralph, you have invited me to share my thoughts about your book with you. I am doing that here.

I am uncomfortable sharing criticism of your book with you because I know that you have put a huge amount of time, energy, and work creating the book and it is not part of my makeup to cause any distress in you, or in anyone. On the other hand, I want to share with you my own thoughts about what I think is an important book on a current topic.

The first part of the book reports on recent scientific information concerning living organisms, cells, the DNAs, and other molecules. I found parts of this section breathtaking. Similar to looking up at the night sky in an area not polluted by light as the mind tries to grasp the immense size, depth, and abundance of stars and other heavenly bodies in the universe, Armstrong offers us a look at the cell, molecular functions and activity within the cell, various forms of DNA and other molecules that offer as an amazing view of the universe as does sky gazing.

Ralph, you argue, convincingly through my reluctance, that cells and even molecules act within the definition of intelligence. The biochemical molecules that sense their environment and make changes in response to the environment are, at that level, intelligent, and incredibly so.

The second part of the book describes the your view of Christianity. Unlike the first part of this book you do not reference research papers or scientific studies, but offer your own views. Most of the descriptions report first person experiences. They are anecdotal. Unlike science where anecdotal evidence is dismissed in favor of peer review studies of populations or specific analyzed experimental evidence, this second part of the book does not use the same rigorous data.

Here are some examples of my concern with the second part of the book:

1. There are many paths to and through prayer. The author’s view of prayer is one, and only one, of them.

2. Sources for data: The first part of the book relies upon contemporary books and research papers listed in the Notes for each chapter. The references in second part of the book are in stark contrast, from my perspective, by frequently referencing John McKenzie’s The Dictionary of the Bible that was published decades ago, well before the latest research results from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi manuscripts made it into the literature. The other significant sources of material for this section are Wiki articles and images, and online dictionaries. Ralph, your use of your pocket concordance is not at all in the same league as the references in the first part of the book.

3. Your reference to the gender of God as always male does not fit with either recent theological research or with contemporary language.

My general conclusions:
It is as if there are two books that have been bound together. I can read either book with little need to reference the other book. Both books are good, interesting, and enlightening, but they do not require each other.

On a very positive note, you gave me a new definition of salvation that has been very helpful. I have come to reject the theology of salvation as meaning that God gave humankind “His only begotten son” as a sacrifice for our sinning. In order to appease God’s wrath Jesus’ suffering and death became the sacrificial offering to God that allowed God to accept us humans. This theology lacks for me the grace and love I see demonstrated for all of creation, including each individual human, by God. (See Brock and Parker’s Proverbs of Ashes and Saving Paradise) As a result I had come to the point to refuse to recite the Nicene Creed because it expresses a fourth century view of salvation that I can no longer accept. Thanks to your description, Ralph, of salvation as a form of communion with God and with one another I am much more comfortable with God’s saving grace.

With blessings to you and your work,
John Marshall

Ralph Armstrong replies:

Hi John,
I am delighted that you found the science half so engaging. I appreciate your struggle to take the idea of molecular intelligence. It goes against everything in the reductionistic mindset we were all trained with, and it takes effort to see another worldview in all the data.

I am also moved that you chose to risk offending me by criticizing the second half of the book. Your comments made me examine my self, and my motives, intents, and methods. As a result, I have a new insight into myself that I had not articulated before. So, thank you, thank you.

I agree that they are two books. But that is the way it has always been, as we talk about evolution and Christianity. The task has been to put them together. My first task was to characterize life, and that came off pretty well. As I think about the second half, I realize where I am coming from. You again are right, the second half is very light on theological data, because, I realize, I am looking at Christianity from the standpoint of a pastoral counselor or chaplain. Recall that I taught pastoral counseling at a seminary, and wrote a book about it. In chapter 7, I introduced my method of Bible study, that of the use of mentalization. The last chapter delves into mentalization even more. My references to my own difficulties and therapies, along with the mentalization parts, are part of the applied or practical theology of the pastoral counselor or the chaplain. A goal of the pastoral counselor is the paradigm shift, and the book proposed a bunch of them

I had a lot of paradigm shifts as I wrote the book. One of the biggest ones for me was the study of conflict. I have always struggled with the idea of Sin, particularly as it has been attributed to Adam and Eve. Now I am convinced that Original Sin is better characterized as Original Conflict. I saw this as I realized that conflict in life is all the back (billions of years), all the way across (every living thing), and all the way down (to the molecules). And there is no end to it. So God's saving action, culminating in Jesus, is to take us beyond conflict, so that we can indeed experience the joy of communion with God and with each another. I wrote that Jesus is the ultimate mentalizer; now I realize that he is also the ultimate conflict manager. Isn't it ironic that our ultimate move against God, crucifying Jesus (God), initiates the beginning of the end of conflict. (You wouldn't know it by reading the newspapers, but I do think we have made a lot of progress).

I look forward to your comments on the above.

I apologize for the tardiness of this reply. To receive your thoughtful reply to my critique of your book is a huge gift to me. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. We have been busy at the store, and in our personal lives so this reply has waited until I could think and write without interruption. As with my first message to you I am writing this from home. (I forwarded this thread to home, where on this Saturday morning, I am able to think without interruption, a rarity at the store, then send it back to the store to send to you.)

I have two responses to share with you.
1. Yes, the mentalization descriptions were more difficult for me to understand, to fit in to the discussion. I think that is because the term "mentalization" was new to me in the context in which you use it. Mentalization to me, before reading your book, had referred to the use of our mental abilities to think. I think that my view was more about "mentalizing" with the rational left-brain compared with the feelings from the right brain. So, for me, the use of the term in a new context took some getting used to, or perhaps I did not really get used to it as I read it. And, I admit that I did not stop and work on fitting the new-to-me definition of mentalization in to the context in which you were using it. This resulted in my giving the term and your use of it less importance. By giving it less importance I see now that I missed some important parts of your argument about God and Christianity. That was my loss.

2. On our website there is a section where Nancy and I display our Best Picks, of books that we find especially meaningful. I would like to display Christianity in Evolution as my latest Best Pick. I think that it would be helpful to our readers to include our conversation in this thread of messages. Up to now the descriptions of the titles that I have included in the Best Picks section have been solely my thoughts and writing. Before I include your replies to my message to you I want to have your permission. Our customers would learn more about your book, and about your thinking that resulted in the book if this thread was included. It would also be, by far, the longest description for one of the Best Picks. (I don't know if that is good, but I suspect that it is.) What do you think, Ralph?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me,

Once again, thank you so much for sharing your inmost thoughts in the dialogue we are having. I am most touched that you want to move Christianity in Evolution to your "best pick" status. Yes, by all means use our dialogue as a part of your advertising. Our give-and-take has been most straightforward, and I think its intensity and directness should make it very interesting and illuminating to readers. I would suggest the dialogue be edited. I notice several typos in some of my responses.

In turn, I would like to ask you if I can use our dialogue in some of my advertising. I hope to persuade Henrietta Speaks, of the Episcopal Bookstore in Birmingham, to stock the book. There are some other Episcopal bookstores out there, and I want to contact them. Then there are the many independent bookstores; I just signed up with Bookmasters to distribute the book, and I can see them using our dialogue, also.

I am a month into a publicity campaign with SmithPublicity. I would like to mention you and Nancy and the Seattle Episcopal Bookstore during the course of interviews with media, should the opportunity arise. And there may be other times or venues to mention it. Immediately I think of posting our dialogue on my blog at .


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Greeting cards in the mail

Customer Pamela was just in the store and purchased some greeting cards. We remarked about greeting cards compared to E-mail and how many individuals enjoy receiving a real card in the mail.

Pamela remarked that she has a young relative to whom she sends cards. She has now has adapted to his habits. After she mails a card to him she sends him an E-mail telling him to check his mail box. He says that  otherwise he does not check anymore on his own because he does not receive any mail of consequence.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


A short article in Christian Century spurred my thinking about libertarianism. Here is my thought about it today.

Americans favorably view the idea of libertarianism. We like the idea that we can rely on ourselves, do it ourselves, take on the battles of life on our own and win or lose by our own skills. It is part of what helped create this country and this culture.

I think that libertarianism works especially well when the population is small and the land and natural resources are large. The freedom to choose for ourselves which part of our environment we will use to improve our life is appealing. Neighbors may be nearby but they are not intruding on our space. Discarding of our wastes does not affect them.

Our population has grown. We are much more crowded on this little planet than we have been. The population has doubled more than once in just my lifetime. As the population density increases our natural resources shrink, our waste products increase, and our neighbors’ actions affect what we can do for ourselves.

It seems to me that in today’s world we can not afford the luxury of libertarianism, as much as we love the concept of it. My freedom to do as I want to do impinges on the lives of too many others. Because of our population increases and dwindling natural resources we are losing the capacity of the natural world to absorb our own desires to “do it my way.” Increasingly we need to take into consideration the needs of others.

Libertarianism is a great concept. It works in smaller populations with abundant natural resources. We have passed the point where we can afford the luxury of libertarianism. We need to think about and care for our neighbors’ needs at least as much as we care for our own needs. Interacting in caring ways in community is more important now than ever.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A pregnant scene

Thelma visited the store yesterday. Among other catching-up conversation she shared this story.

Thelma’s daughter, in her 20s, is an actress. Presently she is in Los Angeles trying out for many acting jobs.

Thelma received an E-mail from her daughter with the subject line stating “I’m pregnant.” Of course that caught Thelma’s attention!

In the body of the message her daughter described that she landed a part in an episode of a TV series where she plays a pregnant woman.

Thelma’s next response as a mother, after recovering from the initial reaction to the pregnancy statement was with fright, “Do you get killed in that episode?” A mother does not want to experience her daughter being killed, whether in real life or as an actress. Her daughter replied saying, no, she was not killed and actually the good guys save her.

There is drama and even trauma waiting for us around every corner in life, or so it seems some days. Some are real and others are perceived to be real.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zi and a new feature

Several years ago a man named Zi entered our professional lives. As owner of a small website development company he worked with us to completely rebuild our website so that, among other things, it could accept credit card payments securely. We admired Zi for his creativity, knowledge, and interpersonal skills. He fits the description of “one of the good guys.”

Since that time Zi sold his company to his friend and co-worker, Daniel, who has worked with us on several upgrades to the website. Zi then went on to “bigger and better things.”

About three weeks ago Zi phoned me. We had not talked for perhaps five years, although we have worked with his sister Kira and her Search Engine Optimization company and through Kira had kept informed about him. Zi has been working in an Internet business that, among other things, adds a specific feature to the websites of multinational corporations.  That feature may be described as “Customers who bought this item also bought…” and variations on that idea. The computer application tracks your visit to a website and then offers you feedback on other shoppers who have also visited that website and viewed what you have viewed. To be able to track and report to you the movements of other shoppers requires some sophisticated programming and manipulating of large amounts of data. Our website is not at all that sophisticated.

Zi’s company has created this feature for the million-dollar websites (and the tens-of-million-dollars websites). He described to me that huge corporations that can afford this feature are primarily in this large, somewhat homogenous, and shopper oriented country of ours. By contrast Europe, being about the size of Texas and populated by several cultures and languages, has not been a fertile place for large English speaking corporate websites.

The idea for Zi’s company has been to develop a very capable smaller website application that can offer much of the same functions as found on the huge corporate websites but designed for the smaller but successful websites in Europe.

In a few weeks Zi’s company will be displaying their new website feature at a trade show in Europe. Before they display it they need to have it functioning on some smaller websites that they can use as examples. Zi phoned me to ask if he could have this feature installed on our website, immediately, so that he could use it as an example at the trade show in Europe in a few weeks.

Due to our previous work together we know each other and trust each other. Zi made the offer so appealing to us that we could not turn him down. As a result the last couple of weeks have been somewhat of a whirlwind of activity for me and our website. The feature was installed a couple of weeks ago. It gathered data from visitors to our site for until it had accumulated enough data to display it accurately. Two days ago it “went Live” on our site. The computer algorithms are smart. They are watching and learning from our website visitors. Within a few weeks it will have refined and narrowed the information that it displays to visitors.

We get the use of this new feature for one year at no charge, as part payment to us for agreeing to their demonstration of it for their customers in Europe. At the end of one year we will need to pay the going rate for it if we are to keep it. The “going rate” is breathtakingly large. We can’t imagine that we could afford to pay for it. But at least for a while it is fun to be able to display a quality feature for our website visitors. Another part of this-ministry-which-is-the-store is our willingness to help others. We are helping Zi and having an interesting time with the new feature.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jail chapel ministry

Linda stopped by this afternoon. Before asking for suggestions for reading, she told us about her help with the local jail chapel ministry.

Once a week she joins usually three other women, one of whom is a deacon, as they visit the local jail where they offer a prayer service. With a career as a Certified Public Account, Linda has not been associated with a jail or prison ever in her life. I could tell that it was quite a leap of faith for her to agree to join the deacon and be, as Linda described, a “presence” in the jail for the prayer service.

First she took a four-hour class that trained her in the culture of the jail. Mostly, it appeared to me, to be instruction in what one does not do in a jail setting, rather than what one does. Her animated delivery as she described the experience told me that it was very meaningful for her to be able to be part of that particular jail prayer ministry.

I admire Linda’s care and concern for women in jail. Linda is living her Baptismal covenant by “respecting the dignity of every person.” I also admire her courage by being part of the jail prayer ministry.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Harold Hansen, organist, wonderful human.

If nothing else, Harold Hansen is steadfast, and he is much more than that. After 73 continuous years Harold is putting away The Hymnal Accompaniment book as he retires from his career as organist and choir director at All Saints Episcopal Church, Tacoma WA. Harold is 95 years old.

Harold was in his sixties when he moved to the Puget Sound region after retiring from his full-time career as organist at a famous Episcopal Church in Hollywood CA. He began his “retirement gig” at All Saints, has been the only organist for that congregation since then, and announced his retirement this week. His last Sunday at All Saints, Tacoma, will be on September 10th.

Two of the many stories that I recall from Harold include hymns and license plate numbers, and the famous Hollywood actors that used to sing at his church. In 1982 the Episcopal Church adopted a new hymnal replacing The Hymnal 1940. Harold mourned the loss of the old hymnal because he had memorized most of the 740 hymn numbers in the old book. He enjoyed playing the game of the three-digit number on the license on the car ahead of him while driving and remembering which hymn corresponded to that number. For instance, the license on the car ahead of him would include the numbers 266 and Harold would say, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (…Lord God Almighty). The “new” hymnal of 1982 moved "Holy, Holy, Holy" to hymn number 362. For some time Harold’s game of license numbers and hymns was over, until he began memorizing the new hymn numbers.

Harold loved to recount to us choir members at All Saints about the famous Hollywood actors who sang in his choir in his Hollywood church. He’d say, “Oh, yes, (name) sang with us when we performed this anthem,” and we would be amazed and encouraged to sing it better.

Harold Hansen has been beloved by all throughout his long career as organist and choir director in the Episcopal Church.

Happy retirement, Harold!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The book titles for the grandmother and her grandson

Okay, okay. I’ll tell you the books that I recommended to the grandmother in Hospice and her grandson.

But first, a story.
When I was a science teacher I had a few activities that I enjoyed sharing with my students about how science works, about how we take observations, form them into hypotheses, test the hypotheses, then develop theories that fit the data. In these activities I would present the students with information, and only the information that they asked for concerning a specific situation. I encouraged them to make hypotheses from the information, and test it, ask more questions, gather more information, then to create a theory that explained all of the information that they has acquired. At the conclusion of these activities inevitably the students would ask, demand, that I tell them the Real Answer. My response was that the answer was what they developed in their process.

“But is it Right?!” they would demand. And I wouldn’t tell them, because what is “the Right answer?” Do we really know, to anything?

I presented one of these activities to the school board, at their request, one evening. They expected the same thing, that I tell them the Answer at the end. They even made statements like, “But, we are the school board. You can tell us. We want to know what the Right answer is.”

A few of the school board got it, caught the learning, that their answer was what they had in the end.

With that caveat, and somewhat against my first intentions, here are the books that I suggested to the person who asked.

Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life, by Stan Goldberg. I found this book to be remarkable, the stories of the author and the individuals that he assisted through Hospice are profound. But, each person’s story requires several pages of reading. If they have the time for it I think that both the grandmother and her grandson could have fruitful conversations about each person’s story in this book.

The Art of Dying and Living: Lessons from Saints of Our Time, by Kerry Walters. These stories are even longer, about 25 pages per individual person’s story. A distinction between the individuals recounted in this book compared to the first title, above, is that in that title listed above the individuals are mostly ordinary, every day people, while the ones in this book are more famous people. Some of us gather more insight from famous people, while others learn more from “people like us.”

Grief: A Month of Meditations, from the publishers of Forward Day By Day. An advantage to this little volume is that each selection is short, one page in length. If the grandmother does not have long to live and the grandson does not have much time to spend with her, then perhaps this one-a-day for 28 days will suffice. A disadvantage is that this book is about grief, about the loss of a loved one. The grandmother has not yet died, although they both, no doubt, are grieving.

And, Final Gifts, that is temporarily out of stock.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A book to read while in Hospice care.

One of the joys of this ministry-which-is-the-store is hearing parts of our customer/friends stories, and then offering help where we can.

Here is a part of a message from a local deacon that I received yesterday.
A parish member who is in Hospice care asked my advice today about a book for a 16 year old grandson. He is trying to deal with her illness, and is not very good at “God talk.” I’m not sure how strong his faith is, although he has been raised pretty carefully. He has lots of questions for her about whether or not when she dies it will all “be over.” She has asked me to try to find a book they can literally read together and then talk about. Have you any suggestions?

Some of my thoughts about this message include:
1. The media and the news seems filled with answers for the less important questions, such as which car to buy, how to make yourself look younger, sexier, more appealing, or which politician to support or urge to vote a different way. But, as I see it, this grandmother and her grandson are working on the much more important questions. They are the questions about life and death. It is grace to me to be asked for some small help for these two caring individuals.
2. Both the grandmother and grandson are facing the concept of imminent dying, hers. Do they both have questions or has the grandmother figured it out? And, oh, is she prepared to have her “figuring out” changed as she passes through death to the other side?!
3. I imagine that the grandson will remember their time together through the Hospice care for the rest of his life. I wonder how it will change his life. Yes, they will both remember their time together, for the rest of their lives.
4. One of my questions for the deacon is “How much time do they have?” Both, how many hours do they have right now to spend together reading and discussing a book, and how many days does the grandmother have on this side of life? Part of my suggestions for books was influenced by this consideration.
5. No doubt you the reader will have some ideas about books that the grandmother and grandson can read and discuss together. Imagine the range of answers from all (both?) of you!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tension between publishers and authors

We received this as part of a reply message this morning.

We are using it as our Sunday School literature, this fall. Coincidentally, our pastor is Jim Evans, who wrote this volume. The publisher will not allow him to purchase author copies to resell, however; so we must depend on the Episcopalians in Seattle for our ten copies.

My reply included a brief mention that publishers are having tough times these past several years. Copies of an author’s book were usually quite readily available to the one who wrote the thoughts that became the book. Not any longer.

Here is a longer answer for them, and perhaps for you.

In my humble opinion, from what I have read, not all, but much of the problems for publishers have been the result of, and later to Barnes and Noble and perhaps Borders. First, Amazon did it to the independent bookstores by selling books below the price that bookstores, including Amazon, could purchase them. They did that long enough (several years) to drive out of business tens of thousands of independent bookstores across the country.

Then they did it to the publishers. For a moderate book with a print run of 1000 copies, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and a couple of others, would purchase more than half of the print run. Within a few months they would return thousands of unsold copies to the publisher for a full credit that they would use to purchase other books. During those few months the publisher may have sold out of that title and ordered another print run because sales looked brisk. Then the huge returns arrived and the publisher had way too many books. If they sold the overstock as remainders at pennies on the dollar, the bigger stores would purchase them and price them and sell them well below market price. Once again cutting into the profit margin and stock of the publisher, while reaping large profits for themselves. Alternatively, the publisher could send them to a recycler to make scrap paper out of the books that they had published and thereby losing all of their investment in that book.

Recently, publishers are trying to keep up with the surge of interest in electronic books. Old established book publishers are well practiced at creating books. Adapting to the digital world has been exceedingly challenging for them. You may have seen some of the turf wars where a huge bookseller, like Amazon, sets their price for a new digital book at a specific price, like $9.95 for a book that would sell as a new hardcover book at $25.95, and demanding that publishers sell them digital copies well below that price, that results in not enough margin to pay for the cost of creating the book.

These business decisions have been immensely difficult for publishers. One small result is not allowing authors to obtain copies of their own books without purchasing them at retail price.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Service Cross

An older man phoned today. He related part of his story to us. In 1966 when he was in Viet Nam he had an Episcopal Church Service Cross attached to one of the cords on his parachute. He found it very comforting when he was descending in his chute into a war zone.

Over the years he has missed having that Service Cross with him. When he found it available on our website he was very happy and phoned us so that we could send one to him.

Helping veterans connect with their past in positive ways is just one small but significant part of this ministry-which-is-the-store.

Thanks for “listening.”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Contrasts of three businesses, and what will the future bring?

The bookstore giant Borders is going out of business and is for all intents and purposes a failed business. It is reported that the decision makers at Borders made a series of bad decisions over many years. They initially farmed out to Amazon their online sales when they should have been growing their own website. They invested heavily in music CDs just as the market for CDs was collapsing. Their heavy investment in large stores in malls across the country saddled them with real estate commitments that kept them from being flexible and adjustable to changing conditions.

Elliot Handler died recently, at age 95. Mr. Handler and his wife grew a different business. It was named Mattel. Mattel began as a small home-based picture-frame business that branched into toys. They created a brand of small cars, Hot Wheels. Mrs. Handler created the Barbie doll in 1959 and named it after their daughter. The Handlers made different business decisions than did Borders, with very different results.

Nancy and I own and manage our single-location religious bookstore. It remains a ministry for us as well as a business. Almost daily we are confronted with decisions that would affect the future of the ministry and the business. Do we try to compete on price with the Big Boys? Can we afford to offer discounts like many big retailers or will we continue to offer our books at fair market prices and help assure the continuing progress of this endeavor? Should we increase our take home pay to be comparable to other businesses or keep the money in the business to keep it healthy?

We exist in a niche market. So far any attempts to step out of our niche market have not been beneficial. We like our niche market. We have no desire to become either a Borders or a Mattel. We love our customers and our staff. Both are the best that we could imagine a business having. In putting our customers and our staff first we think that we will be able to continue as a healthy business for a while longer. And who can really expect more than that?

Who can know what will happen, even after August 2nd and the decision by the federal government to either raise the debt ceiling or not to? Will we survive if the country encounters a financial collapse? What happens to this ministry which is the store if our individual health suffers a major collapse? We continue to plan for a healthy future, as individuals and as a ministry and business, but who knows when events outside of our store will impact us all? So, we continue on in faith, trusting that good will come out of whatever happens, as we always have.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vegetarian reasoning

A woman shopped in our store yesterday for a prayer book. After several minutes she had decided on a prayer book with an imitation leather cover. At Check Out she mentioned that it was a difficult choice because she is a vegetarian and although she really wanted a leather prayer book she could not purchase one that was wrapped in a cow.

She seemed open to conversation, and she brought up the topic. It is one of my favorite topics; hearing which values of a person helps them decide to become a vegetarian or vegan, or not.

This woman stated that she does not eat mammals because they are too much like humans, who are also mammals. Besides, mammals have feelings so it’s not right to kill them and eat them.

“So, just mammals?”

"Until I met a woman who raised chickens. She showed me how much she loved chickens and how nice they were, so now I don’t eat poultry. As I get older I am becoming more selective in what I eat.”

“But it is okay for you to take a nice fresh, live carrot an peel its outer skin off and eat it live?”

“Carrots are alive, but they don’t have feelings. Although it is kind of bad that I eat them when they are alive.”

I find it fascinating that some individuals offer the reason that they won’t eat certain foods because those organisms have feelings and other foods do not have feelings. Two aspects fascinate me about it. Having feelings becomes a very important determiner. How do we know for sure which living things do have feelings and which ones don’t? Or, perhaps, how much feeling is needed to cross the threshold of “feeling?” Have you ever been fishing and poked a worm with a hook, or perhaps gardening and noticed a half a worm squirming? Do worms have feelings? (Worms are just an example of a "lower" animal that feels pain. I know, most of us don't eat earthworms--knowingly. "What's worse than a worm in an apple? A half a worm in an apple!" Fact check: there are apple worms that are not earthworms.)

There are many aspects to our decisions of what we think is ethical to eat and what is not. The cattle were not killed, “harvested,” for their hides, but for their meat. So is it cruel to then use their hides to cover a book? Is it ethical to drink milk from a cow when the cow is not harmed, and it may be argued that it is helpful to the cow to be milked? Where does it fit in the decision about eating animals or their products whether it is ethical to use their excrement for fertilizing our plants that we accept as food?

I’m thinking of a diet where no living things are harmed. It could include fruit from trees, like apples, because the tree will produce apples whether we eat them or not, but not carrots or potatoes because they give up their lives for the harvest. And not grains or corn, because it is “toast” for the plants that produce them. Perhaps vine produce is okay. Grapes and berries. Squash, pumpkins, and watermelons? You can pick them without killing the plant. And, milk, cheese and eggs would be okay because the animals do not die as a result of the harvesting. Oh, the eggs would need to be unfertilized, otherwise we are eating babies.

Some individuals eat in order to stay alive. The starving may not care where their food comes from as long as they can eat some and live a little longer or a little better. Others have the great luxury of choosing a diet based upon their ethical standards. I find examining the ethical decisions that we make about our diets to be fascinating topic.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A thought on a dark, rainey Saturday morning in July.

I expressed this in a message to a friend this morning and include it here to share with you.

Some stuff that I have been reading lately has been referring to how God is present in our worship services, in our sanctuaries, and even in the adoration of the consecrated communion host. And I think "How narrow is that thinking!" God is with us all the time. St. Patrick's Breast Plate: before me, above me, beneath me, around me, in me. God is there before we get there, wherever "there" is. We don't have to go to church to be in God's presence. Yes, it is good to worship together. Worshipping together can heighten our sense of Presence, but it is not the only place where God is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Inspiration from one customer/friend's life

This is an exerpt from a message from a customer/friend. It inspires me to care for others and not just myself.

Well, let me just tell you and your wife that, as you know, there are several places online to purchase these types of items, but because of your outstanding customer service, for me, there is only one place online and that is the Episcopal Bookstore.

**** is my families business. I'm a writer, but I moved back to Colorado to help out my family with their business. My father's health is not all that great. I write books as well as bits for celebrities including **** and ****. I had to leave my beloved church in Hollywood, St. *****, which I am a member. But I know in time I will return. So my identity as an Episcopalian is something I hold near and dear. Thank you for products that help me to remember who I am and why I love Christ (my family are Non Denominational). Thanks again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The best customers in the world, chapter 357

This morning a new customer entered our store. Her priest told her to visit us to shop for a new study bible. She has worn out her old one. (!)

I offered four books for her consideration and encouraged her to sit at the nearby desk, opened them to the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggested that she read the study resources in each one for comparison. Twenty minutes later she said that she had decided on the book that she wanted. It surprised her because it was not the one that she thought that she was going to choose when she began.

She also informed me that she had inadvertently tore one page of one of the books, not the one she was buying. It was page 1884. She had laid another bible on top of it, then slid the top one off which tore the thin paper on the bible beneath. She was willing to purchase the $52.00 bible with the tear on page 1884.

We negotiated a compromise. I reduced the price of that volume by four dollars and wrote on the price label, “As is” “Page 1884” and the reduced price.

The woman insisted that she pay the $4.00.

How many customers in how many stores would have quietly closed the bible with the torn page and returned it to the shelf? Not this one. Not our customer.

We have the best customers in the world!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is the Trinity too limiting?

Recently I’ve been thinking that the Trinity lacks some expression of God.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all the One God.
Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Or replace Sanctifier with Sustainer. Okay.

Do we have to fit into one of those three the awe of a sunset (or sunrise)?
Incredible gravity. Do you really understand gravity, or perhaps magnetism?
Okay, matter and energy may fit in Creator. But, if so, then does everything and every non-thing?
Music in our heads, what some refer to as “ear worms.” Which one of the Three gets to have that one?
What is the Mind? Where is it located. Which part of the Trinity does it “belong” to? Yes, I know about the Unity of the Trinity, but still.

Is the person crying on the other end of the phone transmitted through the medium to your ear via Creator, Lover, or Sustainer? Can we have another description of God that includes the medium through which we communicate our pain and reasurance to each other?

God is so much more than we can describe, but so also is the world that we interact with and through.

Can’t we add a few more “personae” without being a heretic?
Or, perhaps I’m just a heretic through and through. Have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book review of "Windknocker: A Novel of Friendship, Summer Sausage, and Last Gaspers," by Bud Malby

A concern for our ministry-which-is-the-store is the huge increase in self-published books that is thriving at this time. A bookstore can run efficiently when it buys books from well-known publishers and through distribution channels that encourage efficient ordering and delivery of books. We know that Church Publishing, Inc. is an Episcopal Church publisher, Abingdon Press is United Methodist, Westminster/John Knox Press is Presbyterian, and HarperOne is a non-denominational publisher that offers titles from a wide spectrum of interest categories. We can order books from a combination of publishers through our favorite book distributor. It is efficient and we are confident in the products that we will be receiving as well as confident in delivery dates for them.

It seems that every city has at least one self-publishing business and most cities have several of them. If I write a manuscript that I want to become a book I can offer it to several well-known publishers and wait for their rejection letters. Madeleine L’Engle received rejection letters from about thirty publishers until one accepted her manuscript. With that beginning L’Engle went on to write dozens of books that sold millions of copies and became an author that many publishers would have been thrilled to have “in their stable.”

My other choice is to take my manuscript that I want to become a book to a local self-publisher, pay them to print and bind one print run that will become my book. The average print run for a self-published book is twenty copies. For a bookstore to find good books that fit our niche market from hundreds of self-publishers and small print runs is a formidable task.

We found one.

Windknocker is a novel about two life-long friends. They have many boyhood adventures, lose track of each other as young adults, then reconnect later in life. Their friendship seems as close as twin brothers. One of the boys, “Mew,” becomes a Catholic priest prior to the tectonic plate shift that was the result of the Vatican II council, and well before clergy sexual abuse of children made the news. He lived through and beyond the changes of Vatican II and worked with children and clergy during the abuse scandal reports and lawsuits.

Mew’s friend, Leezie, takes a different path in life, serves in the Army, is traumatized by his work in war, marries and has a child. Leezie does not have a church affiliation but he has an active spiritual life.

The first time I began the book I put it down after reading less than 50 pages. It was a story about two young boys and their life in a small town. It was somewhat interesting, but not enough to keep me reading with all of the other commitments in my life at that time.

Recently I picked it up again and gave it another try. Soon I had difficulty putting it down. I became connected with the lives of these two very close friends. The book takes us through their whole lives. It informs me about deep friendship that can be stronger than any other relationship. It also informs me about the Church and the spectrum of life of Catholic clergy, from loneliness to the power of authority, and how power helps a priest handle loneliness.

The author, Bud Malby, also critiques the institution of the Church. He exposes and describes where the institution pulls the laity and clergy away from God. Malby also illuminates what can happen when a strong faith and commitment to love your neighbor combines with deep-seated understanding that God loves and accepts you as you are more than you can possibly imagine. At the end of the story Malby offers us a riveting comparison of two lives and their impact upon those that know them.

I am glad that we stumbled across Windknocker by Bud Malby. It is well worth reading and pondering its message.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Nancy at booksellers trade show

Nancy flew to Chicago last Monday to attend her annual Episcopal booksellers trade show. She has spent the days in meetings, listening to famous religious book speakers, working with other bookstore managers, and communicating with and placing orders with dozens of book publishers as well as some suppliers of non-book items. Typically she has been up and involved with others for 18 hours each day, leaving only about six hours for sleep and little or no “down time” to herself. I will pick her up at the airport this evening. I will close the store and immediately zip to the airport where she will be waiting for me. She will be exhausted. I’ll try to help her recoup her life by encouraging her normal routine in Seattle for the rest of the weekend (Sunday).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rehearsing or performing?

Here is a portion of my weekly letter to my granddaughter who lives far away. This week’s offering is not specifically religious, but perhaps reflecting on it will do something for you.

Last week I wrote about the community choir concert that I was blessed to sing with. The concerts on both days, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon did occur. I think that they were pretty good concerts. The audiences seem to enjoy and appreciate them.

I’ve been trying to figure out since the concerts my level of joy while singing in the concerts. Being there, performing, was very good. Was it “fun?” I don’t think I can refer to it as fun. One good part about singing in the concerts was that I knew that when we began a piece of music that we would not stop singing until the end. That is very unlike rehearsals. Our director is adamant about not allowing us to sing a song incorrectly. (“Practice makes perfect?” Only practicing perfection makes for perfect.) He won’t allow us to go two measures when it is not right. As a result we stop frequently and continually when we are rehearsing. It is rather normal, when our rehearsals are approaching concert time for him to state, “Okay, we are going to sing this one straight through this time” only to be stopped, corrected, and to try it again before we are one-fourth of the way through the piece.

On the other hand, I am much more anxious while singing in a concert. I am more likely to make errors myself during a concert than during rehearsal and I do not like that side of concerts. A very good part of singing in a concert is when we finish a song and the director just freezes his posture for a second or two with a look on his face of pure joy and the audience is spell-bound enough to hesitate to applaud. Then I know that we “did it right” and that is a very good feeling.

The best part of singing in rehearsals is that I get to hear the singers of other parts of the music rehearse their parts. In this last concert there was a piece about the winter winds. The sopranos and altos sang a portion of the piece, singing “Ahhh” in harmonies that together felt like a cold wind swirling around in a winter storm. It was fantastic. I would feel chilled just listening to it. Then, when all parts are singing, and I’m singing, the upper voices’ chilling sounds become part of the whole piece and I can not hear them so distinctly. This is part, along with the lesser anxiety I feel during rehearsals that I enjoy more than the concert itself. The music itself if really enjoyable to me. Rehearsing is good and enjoyable. The performing, for me is less enjoyable, but not bad.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Putting our baptismal covenant to the test.

From our baptismal covenant: (page 305, Book of Common Prayer 1979)
“Will you…respect the dignity of every human being?” Answer: “I will, with God’s help.”

Notice that there is not any “fine print” with exceptions. It does not say, I did not say, or was said on my behalf, that I will respect the dignity of only those that I agree with. It does not except those who have harmed me, abused me, or killed my son/daughter/brother/parent. They are all included in “the dignity of every human being.”
Osama bin Laden is included in “every human being.”

Who said living a Christian life is easy?

I grieve all those who have died because of the actions of Osama bin Laden.
I grieve that our world has become a place where killing of other human beings is an accepted practice, and is even, on occasion, celebrated.
I grieve for our President and all who acted to kill another human being.
I grieve that we all have supported the killing of others by supporting our government that kills humans, by electing those who make the decisions to kill others, by paying taxes to pay for the killing of other human beings.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lent is over, are our actions and commitments?

Lent is over (obviously).
The actions, thoughts, things, that we give up for Lent, now we pick them back up again? What was the point of whatever we did for Lent if we then revert to our old routines? Was it just a time of trying out being a better person and now we slip, slump, back into our old ways?

Wednesday after Easter Day, I turned on the radio while I was ironing shirts. I had given up for Lent listening to the radio while I “worked” or did chores. The quiet time gave me time to think more. It was nice to be able to have some quiet time to think. Yes, I missed listening to some music and to some news reports, but not all of them. Should I keep the radio off after Lent? It did take me a few days to return to the habit of listening while busy with something else. Actually, I quickly discovered that there wasn’t any music on the radio that I wanted to listen to at that time so I put in a recording and listened to some music that I had not heard for many months.

My friend Grace used to give up book buying for Lent. And, within a few days after Easter Day she would visit the store and purchase all the books that she had been wanting during Lent. It seemed to me at the time that she was not giving up books for Lent, but just postponing the purchase of them. Grace died a few years ago. We miss her spirit. Yes, she was a regular book buyer, but that is not the part about her that we miss. I sometimes wonder if she was able to read before she died all of the books that she purchased. I rather expect that there were many unread books in her apartment at her end. She was, after all, a book lover.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter creep

I write a weekly letter to my granddaughter who lives far away from me. It is a way in which I try to stay connected to her life. This is a portion of this week’s letter.

It is Holy Saturday as I write this. Traditionally this day has been for the Church a day to kind of hold our collective breaths. It is the part of the observance of remembrance about Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection. On this day, symbolically, Christ was dead and in a tomb. We all kind of held our breath from the time of his death yesterday until his Resurrection tomorrow.

For some, a few I think, today remains a quiet day of meditation, but for many congregations this is a day of preparation for the Easter Vigil service which will be held this evening, where the fast of Lent is broken and the light of Easter is celebrated.

I have two thoughts about this change to Easter Vigil on Easter Eve. One thought is that it feels like “Easter creep.” Easter has not remained on Easter Day. It has crept over to the night before. This creeping to the night before then puts the figurative breath back into Holy Saturday. We don’t need to hold our collective breaths while we remember Christ as being dead and buried, because we are preparing for the big celebration this evening. I am uncomfortable with “Easter creep.”

My second thought is that since so much of the world has given up on religion, that religion just does not mean anything to so many people today, that for those few of us to whom it remains an important part of our lives we seem even more anachronistic. We have become a quaint little sideshow that has no meaning to the lives of so many people. This both saddens and worries me. Whether they will recognize it or not, there is a very real spiritual side to life. By not being aware of it, open to it, or studying to learn from it they are short-changing their lives.

I read in the news earlier this week of a request for volunteers to help in a park this weekend in hiding “Spring Eggs” for the Spring Egg Hunt for the children. They couldn’t even refer to it as an Easter Egg Hunt. They have taken the Christian observance and tradition, removed the symbolism of new life from an egg, and made it a public fun event with evidently no more meaning to it than a fun little adventure for the kiddies.

Pretend that a new fad began that involved numbing our tongues so that we could not taste food. I certainly hope that such a fad does not begin. It would not be long until individuals and groups of people forgot that food had taste. They would eat without enjoying the flavors of the foods, the sweets, and saltiness, the bitterness of beer, the tartness of rhubarb, the hot spiciness of jalapeno peppers, the tangy flavors, the mixture of flavors in a butterscotch, chocolate ice cream Sunday. Neither would we receive the warning of very bad tasting food that has spoiled and is not good to eat. “Have you tasted this (or, “Please taste (or smell) this and tell me what you think…”) is it bad or spoiled, or do you think that it is okay to eat it?” Those aspects of food would be there but we would not be aware of them. Our lives would be less enjoyable and more fragile without the awareness that flavors in foods give us. I see religion and faith and acceptance of the spiritual realm in which we live as similar to food flavors. They are there whether we acknowledge them or not and life is in so many ways enhanced when we recognize them and grow in our understanding of them.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Singing for the non-listeners

This evening the community choir with which I sing is performing at a benefit event. The local food bank is the recipient of a “soup bowl” event. Their publicity for it includes: “Buy a unique handcrafted bowl for a minimum donation of $15 get it filled with soup and bread, listen to music while dining with your neighbors!” according to the events listing. All proceeds benefit the Ballard Food Bank.

The choir will be the “listen to music” portion of the fundraiser. We have a few songs that are part of what we have been learning and practicing for our spring concert in May that we will be performing this evening for the fund raiser. I expect the performance to be quite different than what we are used to. Mainly, people will not, in my humble opinion, stop, sit, and listen to the performance. I expect that they will continue purchasing bowls, eating, and talking with their neighbors while we sing as a musical background. There are some tricky parts to the music, and one very funny piece of music, but to appreciate them an audience must be quiet and attentive. And, for us to perform them our best, we need it to be quiet enough so that we can really hear all of the other parts of the music that other choir members are singing. I don’t expect that to happen tonight. Well, we will see what comes.

It’s just N and me at the store today. About half the Saturdays we will have another staff member to help with the customers, orders, and sales, so we are a little short-handed today. I will need to leave early in order to get to the fundraiser in time to sing. This means that N will run the store for an hour or so by herself, and then close the store and finish the end-of-day accounting work, deposit the day’s cash and checks in the bank night deposit, and head home by herself.

In the early years of the store it was just part of our routine that one of us could manage the store, but that was when business was much less. I hope that N will be okay after I leave her this afternoon.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A life immersed in spiritual matters.

(As part of a letter this week to my granddaughter I included this thought that I share with you now.)

I was surprised, and a little disappointed that Marvin did not include his thoughts about God, God’s actions in his life, or much of anything spiritual. Reading his book reminded me that I the world I now live in is a world where most of us live, talk, write, and read about spiritual matters. I was reminded again, that most of the world does not. I think that “most of the world” is missing out on an important aspect of all of their lives by not talking, writing, or reading about the spiritual experiences in their lives and the lives of others. It would be like talking with a famous sports star and only talking about sports. If I were talking with a sports star I’d be interested in their thoughts about the rest of their lives, including their spiritual experiences, not just what they are famous for. They are famous, but they are also humans like the rest of us. I’d like them to share their humanity with me.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Self publishing or book publisher?

There is the continuing, eh, “situation” that I experience with self-published books. It evokes a few thoughts.

This morning I noticed in one book that I’m reading, Desmond Tutu’s, and his daughter Mpho’s Made for Goodness their pages at the back of the book, “Acknowledgements.” Without permission can I display some of it near the beginning?…”We thank God for the skill and sensitivity of Doug A… who is not only our editor but also a writing coach in disguise… We owe him a debt of gratitude for his many readings of this manuscript; for the gentle wisdom that has helped us to create a better “best” than we started out with.”

Recently I’ve read a couple of books by local authors who have self-published their books. Reading them it is obvious to me that they have not had the expertise of an editor or professional proof reader.

Dennis Michno, author of A Priest’s Handbook told me some years ago that he and the publisher went through an exhausting 40 revisions of his book before it was published. A Priest’s Handbook has remained in print for many years, now in it’s Third Edition, certainly due to its value to clergy, but also no doubt to the many revisions that made it excellent and “right.”

I wonder in this age of “me,” when we not only “get to” but expect to do it, whatever it may be, our own way, if some of us write the book that is in us and that we think the world needs to see without going through the tedium of many rejections by publishers or revisions that an editor and professional proof reader may require before it is ready to be published.

Those book publishers that have editorial staffs and proof readers reject many books. The famous author whose books we love to read and offer to others, Madeleine L’Engle, has described the thirty or so rejections from publishers that she received before a publisher accepted her first novel.

Some of us write our books, then pay a publisher to make, on average less than 100 copies. That is certainly different from the book publishers.

Book publishers also have distribution pathways that bookstores rely on for knowing about and for ease of ordering books. Why should we as bookstores spend the extra effort to find and purchase ten different titles from ten small, unheard of self-publishers, and receive a smaller profit on them when we can easily purchase twenty-five titles from known publishers from one book distributor, receive better terms of sale, and receive those books quickly through a method that we know and use frequently?

From a bookstore’s perspective there is more to writing and publishing and selling a book than many recent authors may consider.

Monday, February 28, 2011

How many sermons?

I heard a good sermon yesterday. (It has been a while.) Besides the message that correlated the Gospel with our lives today the preacher mentioned the topic of how many different sermons a preacher actually has. He described a fellow clergy person whose idea is that every preacher has really only about six sermons. The same six sermons are described somewhat differently, but stay to the same themes throughout the preacher’s career. Yesterday’s preacher suggested that he has really only one sermon and it concerns the interior life and our finding of God within us as we work through our lives.

One of the aspects that made yesterday’s sermon good in my mind was that I could carry on a conversation in my head with the preacher while the sermon was presented, and then follow up conversation in my head after the worship service concluded, even in this morning. (Yes, it would have been good for me, and perhaps the preacher, to actually engage him in my conversation, perhaps during coffee hour.)

Part of my conversation concerns how many “sermons” each of us has within us as we “preach” our lives in the world. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Each of us is preaching our gospel by our actions in our daily lives. How many sermons do we have? I think that I have just one sermon, “God is love.” Grace, undeserved, unearnable gifts of love in our lives.

How many sermons do you express in your life?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tucson shootings

I began writing a weekly letter to my teenage granddaughter, thinking that teenagers need support, and my writing helps me to think. My granddaughter is no longer a teenager, but the letters continue. Here is part of last Saturday's letter. Perhaps it will interest you.

Since last I wrote to you there has been the shootings and killing of those members of the Tucson AZ community. Nine-year old Christina. The judge. The husband who blocked the bullets for his wife. Others, and the congresswoman, Gabby Giffords. That was followed by the take down of the shooter by other bystanders who were just regular folks in the community, including an 80-year old (?) woman who wrestled the shooter's next clip of bullets from him. There was also the mild mannered, humble, very large man who was a member of the congresswoman’s staff who jumped to her rescue and held her head trying to stop the bleeding from the bullet that she received. And there are the trauma specialists and trauma surgeon who used all of their skill learned on the battlefields in the mid-east to help save the congresswoman’s life. Finally, there was President Obama’s speech at the community memorial service on Wednesday. I think that it was the best speech that I have heard him give. Among other things, it encouraged me to pick up a volunteer activity as my offering to the support of those in our community who need more help. For some reason the events of this week have resulted in me expressing more emotion about the deaths and injuries from this event. Have I been more deeply affected by this tragedy or am I mellowing and allowing my emotions to express themselves more fully? I don’t know yet.

Perhaps, hopefully, writing more about my thoughts and feelings will result in a better understanding by me of these events.

The shooter. Evidence indicates that he was mentally spiraling down and out of reason and rational thought. That our community’s safety net did not capture him and begin a process of healing and repair is both sad and yet somewhat understandable. He had not reached the level of major concern by those who need to identify such individuals. Certainly there are others in our communities and nation who are more radical, perhaps more insane, than he is. He must be insane in order to be able to plan and attempt such an awful event.

The families and friends of the victims. None of us are guaranteed that our lives will be free of such violence and tragedy. Should we all avoid community gatherings where such events might happen? A family living on a single-family farm in a rural setting is much less likely to experience such community violence, but it won’t guarantee a life without tragedy. Besides we can not all live on isolated farms. It is better that we work with our community to build healthy relationships between disparate factions so that we can disagree and yet respect the dignity of each individual. I heard a statement last evening about civility. To be a civil society, a civil community, we need to nurture civility within the community. And, civility is not a trait that can be learned in isolation. We need to interact with others who have views that are different from our own in order to grow in our understanding and acceptance of others that differ from us so that peace among us can be nourished and grow.

The victims that are still alive. Their lives have changed “forever.” Whether they are the individuals who received bullet wounds, or they are the family, friends, or co-workers of those who were shot, their lives have changed. How will they cope? How will they live with and heal from the tragedy in their lives? What will they do to help prevent such events in the future? How have these events changed their faith?

The community leaders who realize that such a horrific event could happen to them personally. How do they go forward? Are armed body guards now to become either normal or required? Will they isolate themselves from their constituents in order to be safer? Will the knowledge of this event cause others who were thinking of devoting their lives to public service and community leadership decide to avoid such roles in their communities resulting in fewer leaders who are committed to listening to the residents and bettering our society?

Guns and ammo. Is this a call to make major changes to guns in our communities? If we allow individuals to own guns “for sport and personal protection” do we need to allow semi-automatic weapons that can fire a clip of thirty bullets in seven seconds? What kind of “sport” does that cover, or what kind of personal protection does that provide? Has our culture encouraged higher levels of violence through the sports that we watch (our national religion), the movies that we view, the computer games that we play, and our encouragement of winning at all costs that results in the acceptance of guns and killing in our communities?

Can we pass laws that will prevent all of this?

Will our personal interactions change to more civil, more moderate, and more understanding of those who differ from us?

I only have questions, mostly, with few answers.

What can I do? I recommit myself to listening with my full self to the views of those who differ from me. I will try harder to understand the thoughts and experiences of those who have different values than I do. I intend to pick up volunteering in my community again in order to try, in some small way, to assist those who need the help that I can give. As much as I may want to avoid hearing the news about what is wrong with our country and my community, I recommit myself to studying the news, listening to commentators who try to make common sense out of events and trends in our culture so that I can act for the betterment of the world community. Of course I will continue to vote, but I intend to do more than that.

How does a Christian respond to these tragic events? Pray, certainly. Pray for the victims and their families, friends, co-workers, and communities. Pray for the shooter, and his parents. Pray for the responders and medical personnel. Pray for our communities to “get it (more) right.” But more than praying, I must act. I must change my activity so that I can help change our society so that we lessen the possibility of such events happening again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thinking "about" and thinking "on"

Thinking "about" things in life does not take much time. I've been thinking "about," and acting upon, replacing a printer, hiring a staff member (welcome Jon!), and fixing the leaking toilet.

Thinking "on" things of life takes more time. Not during the Christmas busy-ness at the store is there time. Not after Christmas with its own busy-ness has there been time.

Anticipating the chance for a snow event that would put normal life on hold causes me to realize "I must replace some of the busy-ness with thinking time." Reading time helps me find thinking time.

I can't wait until Lent to create time for reading. I need to get back to reading now, in Epiphany. A major snow event would have encouraged the reading-thinking time, but I can order my own life without the intervention of a snow event, when I become aware of it.

I have become aware of it.
It's time to act, by reading and thinking.
Maybe you will want to join me, on your own, where you are.