Friday, February 26, 2010

Gertie's Boy Crush

Meet Gertie's boy crush -- her human one, that is.
Yes, it's true: Our dog loves "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan.

As frequent fliers to this blog know, Fellow Traveler and I have an embarrassing penchant for questionably educational/redemptive "reality" programs like Intervention and Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab. ("It may be trash TV," I remarked to FT the other evening, "but at least it's quality trash TV.") 

We also enjoy The Dog Whisperer, in which Milllan -- who has an almost eerie ability to communicate with dogs on a visceral, unsentimental level -- rescues misunderstood, misbehaving dogs from their well-meaning but chowderheaded humans and retrains the humans to better relate to their dog on a canine level. What's amazing to us is how interested Gertie -- a dog who is generally indifferent to television -- is in this show.

During the opening scenes of each case study, showcasing a particular dog's dysfunctional behavior, Gertie will walk right up to the screen, stare at the dog, then look back at us with an expression that borders on the incredulous: "Mamas...that dog is really messed up!"  She then hops on the sofa to watch Cesar work with the dog and the rest of the household, her attention riveted on his every word and action. The other evening, when we watched one episode and then switched to the Olympics, Gertie actually sighed -- I wasn't sure if it was in relief that another human family finally started understanding their dog or irritation that we were interrupting her must-see TV.

When you think of it, The Dog Whisperer is very much like an Intervention for dogs. So I don't know whether to be proud or ashamed that Gertie has, in her own way, taken a shine to one of our favorite guilty television pleasures.

Friday Five: Olympic Edition

My RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is rather late today because I'm having an issue with cutting-and-pasting, thanks to my wonky touchpad. (The victim, I fear, of too much mah-jong and Scrabble.) But I am slowly piecing together this week's questions.

1) Which of the Winter Olympic sports is your favorite to watch?
I really enjoy the freestyle skiing, downhill slaloms and snowboarding. Women's hockey was great fun this Olympics. And this year we got into curling in a big way. I used to be all about the figure skating, but the intrigues and scandals and vagaries of the scoring system have managed to dampen my enthusiasm for those competitions.

2) Some of the uniforms have attracted attention this year, such as the US Snowboarders' pseudo-flannel shirts and the Norwegian Curling team's -- ahem -- pants. Who do you think had the best-looking uniforms?
Hmmm...none of their actual uniforms made much of an impression on me. I did think we Yanks were stylin' and profilin' in our Ralph Lauren duds during the Opening Ceremonies.

3) And Curling. Really? What's up with that?
Oh, now we were quite taken with the curling (which we watched on the USA Network while NBC was running tape-delayed coverage). We like the combination of kinetic skill and strategizing. It's also a sport that -- well, that un-buff, un-glamorous, un-young people seem to have a chance to shine in.  And, yes, the brushes are kind of goofy -- I think the Swiffer people might be able to spoof them in their ad campaign about obsolete household cleaning devices -- but they do seem to work, don't they?

4) Define Nordic Combined. Don't look it up. Take a guess if you must.
This non-jock might know the answer without looking it up. Isn't it cross-country skiing combined with ski jumping? But not with the shooting, which would be the biathalon. Or something like that. Actually at our house "Nordic combined" would look more like smorgasbord washed down with Carlsberg.

5. If you could be a Winter Olympics Champion just by wishing for it, which sport would you choose for winning your Gold Medal?
Definitely Couch Commentary. I enjoy it and I'm pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tastes Great...Less Filling?

I wasn't going to blog about this, because it's really not my business how other people work out their salvation with fear and trembling...but it's been bugging me for almost two months now; and the guy has a public blog, so he's got to expect that what he writes will generate opinion one way or another. Anyway...
Mark Herringshaw is a pastor at North Heights Church, fka North Heights Lutheran Church, a congregation with roots in the so-called charismatic renewal movement of the 70's and that, apparently, after a kind of mutually uncomfortable gadfly existence within what's now the ELCA, finally split to do its own thing under the umbrella of the socially conservative, charismatic Alliance of Renewal Churches. A visit to its website made me think of an Assembly of God megachurch, but with Sacraments. Something like that.

 Anyway, Herringshaw is also a blogger on Beliefnet. And last month, when people's minds were on New Year's resolutions, he began a series on his blog called The Eucharist Diet.

Okay. I'll lay out my cards. I don't particularly understand or enjoy charismatic Lutherans, based on my encounters with same. So I came to Herringshaw's blog with an established negative animus. But I tried to give him a hearing. Here's what he has to say, at the beginning of his project:

Jesus said that I should hunger and thirst for righteousness, and if I do I will be filled. He said that he had food, to another kind of food, that we know nothing about. He said that while the need bread, we don't live on bread alone, but on God's words. And Jesus himself is called the "Word." We live first and last by consuming Jesus himself... He is the Eucharist. When I feed on Jesus, the inner empty places are filled. I need be a glutton for nothing but Jesus!

So I am here beginning an adventure. For the next six months I will follow this discipline and write about it. Here are my five rules for The Eucharist Diet:

1. I eat anything I want... AFTER...
2. I ask God if it is right for me... AND...
3. I ask God to bless my food so that it feeds my body... AND...
4. I ask God to feed my soul with what food cannot fulfill... AND...
5. I eat the Lord's Supper with another follower of Jesus each day.
As I read this, I thought, "Well, so far so good; not as off-the-wall as I'd suspected." I even thought it would make a good Lenten discipline, at least for anyone who has access to daily Eucharist.

But as the weeks progressed and I kept reading Herringshaw's updates, my weirdness meter kept ticking up. Was this a spiritual exercise, or a diet plan? Was there an inherent suggestion, in the updates, that some sort of correlation exists between getting on the "Eucharist plan" and losing weight? Really? Seriously?  What's the difference between that attitude, on the part of a pastor, and some poorly catechized layperson saying, "This Lent I really need to lose about 10 pounds so I can fit into my summer clothes"?

I checked out Herringshaw's website and noticed that, among other things, he seems to have a similar faith in the magickal powers of prosperity thinking.  Hmmm.

Like I said, at the end of the day how Herringshaw chooses to walk his Christian walk is nonnamybeeswax. But for me trying to conflate the Sacrament of the Altar with a personal weight-loss plan would be like...well, like conflating Holy Baptism with a candlelight bubblebath. Call me ungracious or non-Spirit-filled or a blue meanie, but...I don't get it. Maybe the rest of you do.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Which Our Two Heroines Are Frightened By the Soul of an Old Building

One of our destinations, on our off-the-cuff weekend vaycay up north, was the Traverse City Commons. This development, which includes spendy condominiums, artists' lofts, shops and professional offices, is on the sprawling campus of what used to be the Old Traverse City State Hospital -- in fact, most of the original buildings are extant, and have either been renovated or are in the process of being so.

The hospital -- memorialized in many a young Michiganian's mind with the threat, "If you don't stop acting that way you'll wind up in Traverse City" -- was closed in the 1980's during the final phase of deinstitutionalization, and in the decades to follow the buildings had become vandal- and vagrant-ridden eyesores. A developer finally bought the entire property for the sum of one dollar, and proceeded to, after much effort, create something new and exciting.

That's what we were looking forward to experiencing, anyway. I have a familial connection to the old hospital -- my sainted Aunt Marian spent an extended stay there after having some sort of undefined psychotic breakdown in her early 20's -- so for me a visit to the grounds had an equivocal feel to it; I felt sad for my aunt, who had mightily resisted going there, but I also knew that the institution was well regarded in its time and was doing the best it could with what it had to work with in terms of medical knowledge. I was also happy to see the property being developed in what sounded like a respectful manner, with an emphasis on local artisans and entrepreneurs.

We turned into the drive, and headed through the wooded front yard of the property toward Building 50, the combination condo/indoor boutique mall that's the present focal point of the development. (A multimilliondollar hotel is in the works nearby.) The trees were pretty; it was like entering a large estate of yore. The founder of the hospital, a Dr. Munson (namesake of Traverse City's large medical center next door), had declared that "Beauty is therapy," and one of his innovations was to turn the campus into an arboretum featuring just about any tree that can survive a Michigan winter. And Building 50 itself, which at one point had fallen into quite a state of disrepair, was now bright and shiny, surrounded by cars and directional signs enticing visitors inside.

As we entered the building, though, and proceeded to the Mercato, the collection of boutiques on the ground floor, the former life of the building seemed to hang heavy in the air. We passed glass showcases of hospital memorabilia, including some scary-looking electric devices from the turn of the previous century. A poster hanging above was a reproduction of an old tourist postcard from Traverse City, showing a spooning World War I era couple against a backdrop of the hospital grounds, with a legend, "No, I'm not looney -- just mooney." Most of the boutiques were still shuttered in iron bars for the morning. Down the hallway, a pensive young man sat slumped in a chair next to a locked art gallery.

We poked around a florist/gift shop for a few minutes. Fellow Traveler had become uncharacteristically quiet. Finally she said, "I think I want to leave. But we need to find a bathroom." The florist pointed us down the hall toward Trattoria Stella, the flagship restaurant in the development, at the end of a low, brick-arched hallway.

It was there in the nicely appointed bathroom, staring at the original hardware built into the walls and at a man's name incongruously scribbled in pencil onto a brick next to the sinks, that I started acknowledging a heaviness and depression all around me that I couldn't attribute to the architecture or lighting, that I'd been trying to fight off in the spirit of open-minded tourism.  But I couldn't. And I didn't feel it as much as FT, who emerged ashen-faced and said, "I really need to get out of here," with an urgency that bespoke real discomfort.

So we did. We wended our way down and around until we found an exit, and made it back to the Jeep. We drove down the street to Pleasanton Bakery, an artisan bakery we'd heard good things about; FT stayed in the vehicle while I ran in, but I didn't linger. We then visited The Underground Cheesecake Factory farther into the interior of the campus. We let Gertie run around a little near an old, unrenovated building across from the cheesecake bakery but we did not spend a lot of time there, nor did we venture into the Left Foot Charley winery next door. We finally just left -- past the former patient cottages turned into condominium units, past the church-turned-arts-center -- and kept going until we were in Suttons Bay.

As we left Traverse City FT sighed. "I can't explain what I felt back there," she confided, "but I didn't get over it until we got off the property. It was something...bad. I don't want to go back again."

When we returned home I started Googling information about the hospital, and found that we were not alone in our experience. Building 50 was apparently once home to the severely disturbed. And it seems that many visitors to the Commons, as well as employees of its businesses, have had close encounters with various manifestations of weird mojo. I don't know what to do with this sort of thing, because it's hard to fit into my spiritual paradigm...but if collective pain and confusion and fear and loneliness can somehow seep into the very masonry of a building and remain trapped there long after the sufferers have gone, then that's what we felt.

This makes me sad, because I really, really want this thing to be a success -- a redemption of positive from what had become a symbol of negativity, first in its original mission and then as an abandoned, vandalized wasteland in the middle of an otherwise "cool" city. I told FT that the developers would do well to have some sort of cleansing ritual or rituals done on site -- invite a priest or two, a shaman from the local Native American Tribe, anyone else with any spiritual chops, and let them do their thing in Building 50 and surrounds.

Church Tourists

It was approaching Valentine's weekend, and it looked as though we were going to have a fairly standard, quiet family celebration; Fellow Traveler had requested pasta bolognese for V-Day, so I was pouring through cookbooks looking for a good recipe, and she had volunteered to make appetizers and dessert.

Then, Wednesday morning over coffee, FT suddenly said, "Wasn't that place where we had the good bolognese up north?" I thought for a moment; yes, I seemed to recall that too.

"So -- what if we just called up the Red Lion Motor Inn (our new home base in Suttons Bay when we travel in the Leelanau) and made reservations, packed our bags and just spent a long weekend up there?"

Well...knock me over with a feather. Of course that sounded like a swell idea. So off we went, Gertie in the back seat, for an excellent adventure in northern Michigan.

I am not going to detail every place we visited while on what turned out to be an almost-five-day adventure; suffice it to say we went up and down the Leelanau coastline and everywhere in between to soak up as much local culture as time would allow. But I will share our experience in church tourism.

For all the vacations and excursions to the kids' homes that we've made in our years together, FT and I have almost never had an opportunity to worship as visitors in other churches. There's always been some monkeywrench thrown in the works that's kept us from doing it during our other Leelanau trips, and other than our Christmas Eve Mass in Brooklyn the kids' somewhat jealous stewardship of our time with them limits what we do when we travel out of state. But we had promised ourselves we'd go to church this weekend no matter what.

So we did, despite some sleety-mushy snow blowing off the lake. We carefully made our way up to Northport, at the very tip of the Leelanau finger, for breakfast at one of our new discoveries, Kamp Corners Coffee inside the old Northport mill. (Toasted bagels slathered in salmon spread...real English-style scones, served with clotted cream on request...excellent coffee...a cozy setting at one end of a venerable old Northport building that has been renovated into a rental hall for weddings and parties.) We then headed to Bethany Lutheran Church on Nagoba Avenue, one of the main streets running through town. (As you can see, the photo to the side was not taken on the day we visited.) This is a very old church whose pastel interior seems to reflect a creative tension between Scandinavian sparseness and Germanic fussiness; an inlaid  painting of Jesus' ascension, framed in carved, gilded wood, provides a focal point in the otherwise plain design.

As you might expect in the middle of February, the congregation was down to about 25 -- maybe a third of whom were in the choir. A decent mix of ages, though, I thought, and a healthy gender ratio; sistahs may be doin' it for themselves these days, but I always feel sad, and a little alarmed, when I walk into a church filled with all women. Despite the small number of worshippers, though, these folks sang, and sang well, and FT actually got to participate in a sung liturgy from the ELW.

FT is not a cradle Lutheran, so some of the service was new to her, not the least of which was a Service of the Word on a Sunday morning; bummer. Because all the local churches are missing their snowbirds, this congregation is pairing up with the Episcopal church down the street for Lent, and it was rather amusing to pick up on the unspoken but nonetheless palpable angst on the part of the congregation that, for the next four weeks, they'd be expected to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday for the sake of their Episcopal guests. ("What is up with that?" asked FT afterward, so I had to give her the short course on Pietism and liturgical renewal and general old-Lutheran cussedness regarding change of any kind.) We pondered the novelty, for us, of canned Prayers of the Church written right in the bulletin. We enjoyed the children's sermon, and were in fact happy to see kids present, in this community that's lost a lot of the younger population to economics-driven flight out of state. And we were happy to be welcomed in a genuine way by everyone from the usher to the nice lady who sat in front of us to the older gentleman who appears to have the role, found in nearly every congregation I've ever been part of, of Mr. Congeniality -- the guy who comes across the aisle to shake your hand and say, "So where you from, and what brings you up here today?"

We had a great morning there. We will be back.

Oh...and the bolognese, at Gusto's in Suttons Bay, was delicious.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Settling For Less

A great Lenten essay by Barbara Brown Taylor. (Hat tip to RevGal/Facebook friend the Rev. Beth.)

Frugally Foodie

I was in search of a recipe today, a recipe for applesauce pie -- my mom never made this, but we have some home-canned applesauce that I think would be mighty tasty in a pie -- so I went to my mother's battered (mostly battered by me, as a small child) "green cookbook."

The cover and first few pages have been missing for decades, so I can't tell you the title. I know that my mom got it as a wedding shower present back at the beginning of the 50's; the artwork and photos suggest that it was published a decade earlier. My mother seldom used this book -- she told me the recipes were too fussy and never worked out for her -- but she kept it all her life, with all her other recipes. And it was a big part of my childhood; I treated it first as an interesting picture book, and then later as an inspiration for my budding culinary impulses.

I never did find the applesauce pie recipe I was looking for, which involves eggs and creates a kind of appley custard. Instead, this book suggested simply pouring applesauce into a graham cracker crust, chilling well and plopping some whipped cream on top -- tah-dah: pie.

You've got to love the thrifty, silk-purse-out-of-sow's-ear ethic of the green cookbook. While it has its share of early 20th-century fancy fare like baked Alaska and intricate party canapes, it also contains lots of recipes using stale bread; odds and ends of leftover stews and roasts; wildsourced fruit and game; and what cooks delicately refer to as "variety meats." (If tripe, sweetbreads and hearts ever make a comeback, our household is hooked up with recipes, I'm telling you.)  Need a cake but only have one egg? Bake a one-egg cake. Can't afford a crown roast for a special dinner? Make a sausage "crown" filled with potato salad.  Did the milk turn sour? Make pancakes. Leaf lettuce a bit past its prime? Toss it with a hot bacon vinaigrette.

This shames me a little, as I think about our own penchant for shelling out serious money for the esoteric ingredients of one experimental recipe even as we regularly throw out literal buckets of leftovers,odd bits and Good Ideas At the Time.

Using what you have instead of wanting what you don't have -- not a bad Lenten discipline.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bring Out Your Dead

We spent most of the daylight hours in church on Sunday.

It was all good stuff. In the morning we had a three-fer adult baptism -- we've been seeing a lot of those lately -- so church ran long. After a quick lunch and an errand in the neighborhood, we were back in church that afternoon for a half informational meeting/half brainstorming session on how our church "does" funerals and how we can help families, both in the church and those with little or no connection to our parish, during a time of transition in our society -- largely based on economics -- regarding how we care for our dead.

Our pastor thinks that families are increasingly choosing, or being forced by economics, to take back more responsibility for caring for their dead; finding alternatives to funeral-home-planned funerals and burials; having to do more with less time and less money. So part of our discussion was about our church's capacity for assuming some of that burden; offering to host visitations at our church, for instance. We talked about the increasing popularity of cremation and increasing tendency for people's remains to wind up somewhere other than a cemetery, and how a columbarium and/or a memorial wall and/or memorial garden might be a creative way to respond to that as well as to ease the pressure on our rapidly filling church graveyard.

We also began talking about how to assist our unchurched neighbors in bereavement while at the same time providing some guidance and boundaries in terms of funeral protocol (as in, "Highway to Hell" as funereal hymn, tequila shots in memory of the deceased and other DIY rituals are not appropriate elements of a Christian funeral) and cost-sharing. We can pull off a pretty cheap funeral for a truly financially hurting family; but there are other equally thrifty alternatives in our community, so we don't want to become patsies for people who pretty much want to throw Gramps into the nearest hole and fuggetaboutit.

Spending almost two hours talking about subjects like the logistics of hosting the dead in our sanctuary overnight ("Might not be a good idea on a lock-in weekend," someone deadpanned) might not sound like the most pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon...but Fellow Traveler and I came away from this feeling like our congregation is going through some good, healthy growing pains that are goading us into better people and a better faith community.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Hangin' With the Saints

Since I began our church blog, one of the regular features I've established is Saints Alive -- little hagiographies of the people who show up in the ELCA and TEC calendar of commemorations. I began by sprinkling our usual weekly rota of features with a bio on that individual's commemoration day, but recently switched to giving the saints their own day on the schedule.

Like most Lutherans, my knowledge of the saints was pretty spotty before embarking on this project. The names were recognizeable, sure; but I couldn't have told you anything of substance about most of them. And, deep down, I suppose I held the sort of knee-jerk inherited reservations about paying too much attention to the sainted faithful: that much of their actual stories have been obscured by imaginative embellishment; that they themselves would say, "Don't pay attention to me; pay attention to Christ"; that focusing on extraordinary, rock-star Christians takes away from the quiet, faithful everyday discipleship of the majority of believers; that -- oh, dear -- celebrating the lives of the saints might make one favorably disposed to a theology of [shudder] works-righteousness.

But after several months of laying aside my enculturated skepticism I've got to tell you all -- I love these people. I look forward each week to learning more about them; especially the less celebrated among them.

Just this week, for instance, I learned about Ansgar of Hamburg, the patron saint of of the ironies of Christian history, since both Denmark and Sweden proved almost impossible missionary nuts to crack for this poor man. He just couldn't catch a break. He toiled for decades to spread the Gospel in the Scandinavian countries, but with little success -- and wound up losing his own diocese to war and the vagaries of politics. After he died, much of the Scandinavian missionary effort fell apart and stayed that way for two more centuries. Ansgar should be the patron saint of every failed mission startup, every pastor who's had to oversee the dissolution of a congregation, everyone whose ever had a great idea for following the Great Commission that's completely blown up in their faces.

Gladys Aylward: another great saint, of modern times (who became the subject of a very good movie, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman). Here was an English parlor maid with no means or education, who after attending a revival meeting was struck with a sudden conviction that she needed to go to China as a missionary. Rebuffed repeatedly by various missionary societies as being an unacceptable candidate, she persisted in this dream until she finally wheedled her way into a job helping an elderly missionary in China; she took her whole life savings, leveraged it into train fare and rode through Asia to get to this remote outpost. Aylward eventually took over the mission, won the trust and affection of her neighbors, eventually founded an orphanage, and during the Japanese invasion of World War II helped save 200 orphans from almost certain death by leading them on an arduous trek through the mountains to safety. And those are just the highlights of a remarkable career. When Inn of the Sixth Happiness came out the Newsweek film critic, apparently not understanding that it was based on a true story, panned the movie as being too fantastical to be compelling -- when in actuality the movie wasn't real enough in terms of adequately portraying Aylward's life.

And -- speaking as a feminist who isn't afraid to use the F word -- how can one not be impressed by the witness of such strong women of history? -- women who usually had to contend against the institutionalized sexism and vocational limitations imposed on them by the very Church that now celebrates them as exemplars of Christian life? I am constantly amazed by the courage, persistence and tough-mindedness of the women who've wound up in the Church's saints' days and commemorations.

It makes me wonder what we Lutherans have lost, in terms of inculcating a sense of identity and aspiration, by more or less kicking the saints of the Church to the curb. And our odd treatment of God's people in history -- our focusing almost solely on Bible stories, then ignoring the next thousand-and-some years of Christian history to fast-forward, sans context, to Luther nailing his theses to the church door 'n' stuff, then fast-forwarding again to the present day and telling one another and our kids, "We're all saints! Yay, team!" -- sorry, but if my kid came home from a history class with that kind of syllabus, I'd be having A.Talk.With.The.Teacher.

But, anyway...I am having a wonderful time hangin' with the saints, old and new. And as the famous hymn says, "I mean to be one too."

Friday, February 05, 2010

Gordon Ramsay: Church Consultant

Our household's new boy crush this winter is amped-up, foul-mouthed celebrity chef/restauranteur/ubiquitous television personality Gordon Ramsay.

We've gotten hooked on BBC America's version of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, in which, each episode, Gordon lands on the doorstep of a moribund eating establishment and proceeds to run the staff through a kind of restaurant bootcamp for a week. He departs for a month, then returns to see if the owners and staff have taken his advice to heart.

It's formula television to be sure, staged and edited for maximum entertainment effect. But despite this, we find Ramsay to be sincerely passionate about food; about the hospitality business; about the importance of honoring local food traditions and supporting local farmers and food artisans; about mentoring people, especially young people, who have the requisite talent and motivation. And he truly seems to want to help the hapless restauranteurs he encounters who have, in his words, gotten themselves in the shit. Yes, he's quite an exciteable fellow; but as my mother used to say, "I'm yelling because I care."

I told Fellow Traveler that I heart Gordon because I suspect I have an inner Gordon of my own who yearns every so often to be let loose on the world. FT, who after her time in the military and at the university spent many years managing food service in places ranging from airline catering companies to urban hospitals to care facilities for aging nuns, has a professional's insight into many of the issues that Gordon tackles on his shows, so for her they're like Old Home Week without the responsibility and stress. (And she freely admits to getting her Gordon on, at least in terms of intimidation if not vocabulary, during her career; her children joke that in a just world she'll wind up in a nursing home whose kitchen staff consists of her fired employees.)

I sometimes wonder what would happen if Gordon would apply to churches the same kind of tough love he applies to failing restaurants. Especially in the climate of the ELCA, where official pronouncements all seem to float amid a word cloud of fuzzy therapy-speak, and where intracongregational relations so often involve triangulation, obfuscation and innuendo ("Pastor, some people are saying..."), what would it be like to have Gordon Ramsay entering into the life of a congregation for a week and goading people into brutally honest communication and active engagement? Can you imagine him, say, critiquing the average church council meeting?

"What the b***** hell? You've gone on for 15 minutes now, and you haven't actually said a b***** thing! Christ Almighty, grow a pair of f****** bollocks and say what you mean!...'Somebody' doesn't like the changes to the Sunday School program? Somebody? Oh, for Christ's sake!  It's b***** well you, madam. You are the somebody. So stop the f****** whingeing and own your own statements! What the hell! You're all f****** adults in a business meeting, not toddlers in a creche, pissing yourselves in your nappies! Grow up! Let's start all over again..."

Or imagine Gordon critiquing an ushering staff on a Sunday morning:

"There's a visitor looking lost -- where the hell are you? Over here counting bulletins? What the f***?  What does an usher do? What does an usher f****** do? You greet people as they come in! You help them find a seat! You make them feel welcome!  You don't stand mooning about here in the narthex, you berk, poking through the b***** bulletins! Shit!  Useless...absolutely useless. Here, let me show you how it's done..."
Gordon attending a confirmation class:

"Turn off that b***** cellular before I take it out and stamp it into f****** bits! What the hell! This is a confirmation class, not a f****** pyjama party! Did you even hear what the pastor just told you about the Apostles' Creed? Did you? Did you? F****** unbelieveable. I'd tell you to go off and join the b***** heathen, but you're there already because you're about as f****** ignorant about Christianity. Jesus. Pay attention. All right then. Here's what we're going to do..."
It's fun to imagine, anyway. And I notice that, in his show, Gordon always pairs his Law with Gospel -- after getting his pupils' attention by verbally reaming new orifices into them, he offers to teach them another way; and models it, and sticks with them until they seem to be getting the hang of it.

In an era where we're all so afraid to offend, maybe it's just refreshing to occasionally come upon a character willing to sin boldly in service to helping other people be who they can be...who acts as a therapeutic rubber band snapped on the wrist of our psyches, making us sit up and take notice.

He yells because he cares.

February Friday Five

We have been having an uncharacteristically un-dreary midwinter here -- just the other day we were remarking on the number of sunny days -- but usually up here it's more the way RevGalBlogPal Sally describes it, in today's Friday Five intro:

Candlemass is past, and Christmas is well and truly over, here in the UK February looks set to be its usual grey and cold self. Signs of spring are yet to emerge; if like me you long for them perhaps you need ways to get through these long dark days. So lets share a few tips for a cold and rainy/ snowy day....

1. Exercise, what do you do if you can't face getting out into the cold and damp?
That's easy -- nothing. Both Fellow Traveler and I are terrible couch potatoes when it's cold and inclement -- FT has to watch her asthma, and we're both just disinclined toward indoor exercise (hence the barely used free fitness center privilege we earn as volunteer webmeisters), and we both have sedentary pastimes we enjoy more.

2. Food; time to comfort eat, or time to prepare your body for the coming spring/summer?
Soup is my wintertime comfort folksinger Greg Brown puts it, Smells like winter at our house/winter smells like soup. Last week I made my mother's winter standard, cream of potato soup with bacon, to rave reviews. (Fry diced bacon until browned but not hard; drain and set aside, leaving maybe a tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan. Use this to sautee a small onion, diced, and about a cup and a half of celery, sliced thin. In the meantime cook about 5 decently sized, peeled and diced, potatoes in just enough water or stock to cover; when they're tender, drain off most but not all of the cooking liquid, then combine in a blender with the sauteed vegetables, and pulse until nice and smooth...or, if you prefer more texture, mash the potatoes by hand in the remnant of cooking liquid, then add the vegetables as is. Whichever you prefer, at this point return the pureed vegetable mixture to the potato-cooking saucepan/leave it there and add about a cup and a half of milk. Add the reserved bacon and heat mixture until hot but not boiling.)

3. Brainpower; do you like me need to stave off depression, if so how do you do it?
My Seasonal Affective Disorder is very positively affected by any extra winter sunlight by about the second week in January I'm already feeling a bit more chipper.  December is usually the cruelest month for me; I think a combination of pleasanter-than-average weather and the busyness of our travel schedule was the only thing that kept me out of my usual December funk.)

4. How about a story that lifts your spirits, is there a book or film that you return to to stave off the gloom?
Garden and nursery catalogs -- garden porn, as we gardeners like to refer to it -- are my books of choice this time of year, much to the amusement of friends and loved ones. This is especially true this winter, as I've been tasked with the projects of 1) making our landscaping more bee-friendly, if we go ahead and pursue that particular new project; and 2) re-doing the plantings around our patio/gazebo, to replace the scraggly spirea that came with the house. The challenge of identifying honey and pollen plants and deciding where to place them in our yard, and the challenge of picking bee-friendly shrubs and perennials that will "pop" around our patio area -- which encompasses three different sun exposures -- has been keeping me very mentally and emotionally engaged. (Fellow Traveler, who is adamant that she knows nothing about color and shouldn't be asked about such things, was nonetheless intrigued by my latest suggestion to combine oranges and blues -- colors that I think would look swell against the colors of the patio and the house, and that I've used with some success in container gardening.)

5. Looking forward, do you have a favourite spring flower/ is there something that says spring is here more than anything else?
Around here it's the first appearance of the robins that usually get people excited.

Bonus; post a poem/ piece of music that points to the coming spring......
I love George Winston; his music reminds me of my bookstore-slumming days, in my 20's, with Windham Hill ambient music wafting through the store all day. Here's Winston performing "Rain":