Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The End of Another Literary Landmark

It's no secret to anyone who has read this blog how much books and great bookshops mean to me; in a way, they're almost my lifeblood. So it was very distressing this morning to wake up and find several articles in my e-mail inbox about the demise of the Gotham Book Mart, a literary institution in New York City for decades.

I had the opportunity to visit once while I was in New York in 1995, and the one thing I remember strongly about walking through the front door was the tremendous history that hit me in the face, knocked me around, surrounded me. It was one of those extraordinary places where world-famous authors could be found scanning the shelves alongside the average Joe or Jane off the street (although on the day I visited I think it was just Joes and Janes in the stacks). The owner, Andreas Brown, was a real gentleman; he had been trying to help with the appraisal of some books signed by Truman Capote that were owned by the Alabama museum where I was working at the time, and I wanted to drop by to put a face with the name.

And now, the passing of another literary landmark, and it seems to have been a depressing event all around. The picture above and the following article are found in today's on-line edition of the New York Times.

Wall-to-Wall Books, and All of Them for the Landlord
by Ethan Wilensky-Lanford

The line outside the Gotham Book Mart in Midtown snaked down the block yesterday morning. Several dozen eager bargain hunters, book dealers, art collectors and former employees of the storied shop waited to bid on a piece of literary history.

They had each put down a $1,000 deposit for the privilege of attending the auction. Books signed by John Updike. Letters from D. H. Lawrence and Anaïs Nin. Andy Warhol’s wig rack. All were up for sale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

$21-a-Week: The Follow-Up

There was a follow-up article in today's Washington Post about the members of the House Hunger Caucus who were trying to live on $21-per-week. They knew it was going to be difficult when they started, but I don't think they realized just HOW difficult.....

Pangs of Hunger -- and Bit of Guilt
by Lyndsey Layton

A pork chop and a bag of peanuts proved too tempting for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), one of four members of Congress who has struggled for the past week to subsist on $21 worth of food -- the equivalent of benefits received by the average food stamp recipient.

Last Friday night, in New Hampshire to deliver a commencement speech, Ryan succumbed to a pork chop in the hotel restaurant because he feared he would otherwise be too weak to give the address.

A Bossa Nova Break

There are so many serious things I can post about today, and I may get to those later on. However, in an attempt to provide a little bright spot, I opted instead to post this video of one of the best bossa nova songs ever: Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aquas de Marco" ("Waters of March"). They just don't write music like this anymore.....

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sermon Excerpt - Food for Thought

One line from our rector's sermon at church on Sunday really got me thinking:

"It's not the unexamined life, but the uncommitted life, that's not worth living."

I'd be curious to see what you have to say about this; it's an intriguing -- and powerful -- statement.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In Which Pew Should YOU Be Sitting?

Karen had this interesting quiz posted over at her site, and I have to admit that the results surprised me. As an Episcopalian, the high percentage of Roman Catholicism didn't really surprise me. But where did the high Evangelical ranking come from? And with the way my thinking has evolved in the past few years, I'm curious that my Post-Modernist leanings didn't rank a bit higher.

You scored as Roman Catholic. You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox




Modern Liberal


Classical Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with


Based on this, where do YOU belong?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Living Your Life for the Very First Time

There is a wonderful scene in the movie adaptation of The Cider House Rules where Homer Wells (played by Tobey Maguire) makes his first-ever visit to a movie theater and takes in "Wuthering Heights" (the only other movie he had seen having been "King Kong," when he lived at the orphanage). The look of sheer wonder on his face as he watches -- experiences -- something completely new is really something to see.

Now translate this into your own life: imagine how wonderful our lives would be if every day, every thing we do and see could be experienced as if for the very first time. Going to job on your 157th Tuesday morning would feel like your very first day on the job; seeing your child on their 15th birthday would feel the same as the first time you looked at them and held them on the day they were born; looking at your spouse every day would be as if it's the first time you've seen them; reading a passage in the Bible or a great theological work would generate feelings of exhilaration you felt the first time you read it years ago.

I think that the power to do this is in us, with us, around us. Having this same sense of newness and wonder would make every day feel like it was the first day of your life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Congress (At Least Part of It) Tries to Live on $21

Interesting story in today's Washington Post about members of the newly-formed House Hunger Caucus who have taken on a difficult challenge -- to try and live for one week on only $21. Definitely worth a read.

Lawmakers Find $21 a Week Doesn't Buy a Lot of Groceries
by Lyndsey Layton

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill yesterday and looked longingly at the eggs.

At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn't afford them.

Ryan and three other members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food, the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That's $3 a day or $1 a meal. They started yesterday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Times They Are a Changin'

Coming back from my in-laws' house earlier today, I heard on the radio of the passing of Jerry Falwell. I haven't had any connection to Dr. Falwell (other than having him run me off the road while he was pulling out of a car wash in my hometown of Lynchburg years ago) or with his church and university (other than having gone through a phase where it seemed that every girl in whom I had an interest attended either Liberty University or Thomas Road Baptist Church - or both!), but his death marks another transition in my life -- through that of Lynchburg.

For those who may not be aware, it was Dr. Falwell who first put Lynchburg on the international map, beginning in the early 1970s with the first broadcasts of "The Old Time Gospel Hour" on television. As I got older and grew, so did the Falwell family's presence and impact on Lynchburg -- the college grew and became a university; the church grew to the point where they recently had to move to new and larger quarters in a new part of the city; Moral Majority was formed and was a force among the religious right for many years (the extent of that influence remains a point of debate, but how else can you explain politicians and world leaders beating a path to Lynchburg, and Falwell in return having such access to those leaders.

No matter where I've gone in life, when people ask me where I was raised, my answer is always greeted with, "Oh, you must know Jerry Falwell!" (I will say that on rare occasions, people have gotten their Lynchburgs confused and have answered with, "Oh, you make Jack Daniels!" to which I respond, "No, we MADE Jerry Falwell!") Even as I left the city, moved to other areas of the country, and started a family, I remained amazed by the amount of influence he wielded over the community; how else can you explain millions of dollars in debt to area construction contractors being forgiven, and countless tax "privileges" being extended to his organization every time he threatened to leave the area over something that hadn't pleased him.

I don't want to use this post to walk all over him, though. Even I can't argue the fact that he did make a huge impact in the lives of tens of thousands of people -- folks who found inspiration in his preaching, who got an education when it might otherwise have not been possible, and who found fellow Christians who were (and are) strong in the faith in the families of Thomas Road and Liberty. My prayers are certainly with his family and with everyone affected by his passing, but most especially my prayers are with my hometown; while plans had been made well in advance for a smooth transition in the leadership of the church and university, this will also impact Lynchburg. Their "big draw" is gone, and it leaves me wondering how the tremendous growth in the city over the years will be affected.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Visit to Virginia Tech

A. and I took the girls over to Blacksburg today to visit my youngest sister, who still lives in the area. After a great lunch at a local eatery, we took a stroll over on campus to enjoy the great weather and the beautiful scenery. Another goal, though, was to stop at the memorials that had been established for the victims of the April shootings on campus; MB got bored early and wandered with my sister on down to the duck pond, but A. and I (with our youngest) stayed behind to spend some time at the memorials.

I wasn't prepared, however, for just how emotional the experience would be for me. I was certainly very concerned about my sister's safety the day of the shootings, as well as that of any of her friends in the college community. Being removed from it like I was, though, I could only begin to imagine just how difficult it was for the Blacksburg community and the families of the thousands of students in the days after the event. When I saw the memorial to Professor Librescu (above), my emotions stared to get the best of me.

And as we walked and looked at the subsequent memorials blanketed with flowers, notes, pictures, and mementos left by friends and family members, I really got emotional. A picture of one of the victims with a friend, and a note left by that friend asking that God watch over her. Another picture of a young man in his lacrosse uniform -- an example of just how vibrant each of the members of the Virginia Tech community these people were. From a certain angle, all of the individual memorials blended together (above) into one large display, another example of how, while this may be a college made up of thousands of men and women, it is also a single family.

Amazingly, and in a touching display, the central area of campus was ringed by banners and messages sent from other colleges around the country. As but one of many examples of the message of concern and love they demonstrated, one sent by the student body of San Diego State University read:

San Diego State

Behind it all, one of the main buildings on campus towered behind the beautiful, touching, emotional displays. If there was any sure sign of the continuing strength of this beautiful place and wonderful community, it is this building.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Finished Styron -- and Now?

A minor accomplishment (or a major one, when trying to complete it along with job hunting, tending to children, etc.) today when I completed my reading of Sophie's Choice. I hadn't read it before and hadn't seen the movie (although it's now on my Netflix list), and A. had repeatedly asked me during the course of my reading whether I wanted to know what "the choice" was (naturally, I refused, not wanting to have the crucial part of the story given away). Needless to say, I was extremely surprised when I got to that point in the novel, and I can only imagine how difficult it was for Sophie to make the decision which she did.

Not only was it a great read, but it was also a great introduction to William Styron -- another of the "new" authors that I've turned to lately, along with John Irving, John Updike, and Thomas Pynchon. If you haven't read it -- and you have the time -- give it a read.

Now, what do I read next?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I've Been Tagged!

I was tagged by Bob earlier today to list eight random things about myself. Before I actually complete my list, I'm required to list the following rules:
  • I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I like the categories of random things that Bob picked for his list (which for me doesn't make them random, does it??), so I think I'll stick with those broad categories.

Food: If I could have just Taco Bell for every meal, I would -- but in the interim, I'll take a good steak, good pasta, good hamburger, or a great pizza with extra tomato sauce. A large stockpile of chips and salsa is also a requirement.

Family: Married for over ten years with two wonderful daughters.

Exercise: Hmm? What's that? Occasionally do walks around the neighborhood, and I was faithful about walking on the treadmill every day -- but that ended in May of last year.

Profession: Spent the last 10 years working for the U.S. House of Representatives before falling victim to voter dissatisfaction in the November elections. During my life, I've also worked as a bartender (not a very good one), a museum archivist (a fun job), a research assistant for George Plimpton (an amazing opportunity), a library page (my first job), a J. Crew telemarketer (my least favorite job, and thankfully a short tenure), and two jobs working in retail (yawn). Quite an eclectic and jammed life!

Obsession: Perhaps my wife should answer this one. Keeping a clean house all the time would be great, but with two young ones and a lot of activity, who can? I guess my biggest is taking care of my collection of books -- my second tier of children.

Faith: For regular readers of this blog, there's really no mystery here. I am a cradle Episcopalian who loves my denomination and the way it has grown and evolved over the course of my life. Many years ago, I developed a frustration with my own journey in the Episcopal Church and considered moving to either the Methodist or Catholic Churches, but stayed right where I was -- and I'm very glad I did.

Ailments: My knees are starting to go, and I suffer from bouts of insomnia. Otherwise, I feel okay.

Games: I love golf, but don't get to play that often. In the 19 years I've been at it, my career best score is 101. I love to tell folks that my golf and bowling scores are comparable, and let them figure out which is better.

Okay, let's see -- who should I tag? I'll go with Lone Grasshopper, Patchouli, Dave, Kelly, Margaret, Paula, Carrie, and RDL.

A Reclusive Birthday

Thomas Pynchon hits the big 7-0 today. I'm hoping that he gets out and celebrates this noteworthy point in his life, but even if he does we wouldn't know it -- no one knows what he looks like; in fact, a photograph of him hasn't been published in over 40 years.

Short of that, however, and in honor of his birthday, I've posted this clip from "The Simpsons." It's Pynchon's voice, but that's all we know.

An earlier appearance had Pynchon standing on the street inviting folks to stop and have their picture made with a reclusive author. Video isn't available, but this picture -- for those who know how reclusive this guy really is -- is good for some chuckles (sound clip was available at one point, and I'm trying to find again).

Summary of this first episode, written by Erik Ketzan and posted at After Marge finishes her novel back at home, she finds a publisher who decides that it needs some glowing reviews by famous novelists. Enter Thomas Pynchon, cartoon character. Wearing a paper bag over his head (Pynchon may have broken his silence, but we still have to guess what he looks like now by mentally ageing his high school portrait fifty years), he stands next to a flashing sign, reading, “Thomas Pynchon’s house,” pointing. . . at his house, presumably. On the phone with Marge’s publisher, he says “Here’s your quote. Thomas Pynchon loved this book. Almost as much as he loves cameras,” a reference indicating, with sly sarcasm, that Marge’s book, well, sucks. He hangs up the phone, dons a waffle-board sign reading “Thomas Pynchon” (with a big red arrow pointing up at his head), and yells at passing motorists, “Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we’ll throw in a free autograph. But, wait! There’s more!”

Irony in the Media? It's Not Possible!

One of my sisters sent me this picture today, which was originally published in a city paper not far from the area where I was born and raised. I love the irony between the photo and the caption that accompanies it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Template

I decided to gamble with the new look for the blog today -- and now I'm praying heavily that this works.....

Reverend Sales??

Long-time readers of my blog are aware that I have been very distressed at the schism that is slowly developing in the Episcopal Church, and that I fully intend to remain with the church -- the church that I love -- and not try and find a breakaway congregation. There are undoubtedly many solutions to this problem out there, and many creative ways to deal with the situation.

I don't think this is one of them (although he gets high marks for trying to address the problem in a manner worthy of Soupy Sales).....

Pastor of Breakaway Church Hit By Pie During Sermon
(courtesy of Associated Press)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- A Colorado man has been arrested for disrupting the Sunday service at a breakaway Episcopal parish by throwing a pie at the pastor.

Witnesses told police that the man entered a side door of Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish and hit the Reverend Donald Armstrong in the face as he preached a sermon on loving your enemies.

Parishioners caught the suspect and held him until Colorado Springs Police arrived. The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado moved to suspend Armstrong last year while it investigated allegations of financial misconduct. Armstrong has denied wrongdoing.

He returned to Grace Church in March, when church leaders voted to leave the Episcopal Church because of the denomination's liberal theology, including its acceptance of gay relationships.

For the Troops

While cleaning out some very old e-mails this afternoon, I ran across one that I had sent last July to several family members and friends. It is a video presentation put together by the staff of "Beliefnet," and as they wrote when they posted this video to their site:

"One of Beliefnet’s most beloved and popular features is one our users helped create. When Beliefnet asked readers to send us photos of your family members and other loved ones serving in the U.S. military, you responded with an outpouring of love. The remarkable photos you provided formed the raw materials for our "When You Come Home" feature below."

Yes, it was put together for celebrations last July 4th, but I think the love here -- in the pictures and the narration written and read by Bob Perks -- is relevant no matter what time of year it is.

When You Come Home

Sunday, May 06, 2007

God at Work

Anyone who says they can't or don't see God at work in the world are either looking in the wrong place or not looking hard enough. Here's a great story that shows how active He really is; it was posted over at The Questioning Christian.

Public Mourning
by Susan Fawcett

For good or ill, the parish I serve is becoming skilled in a particular kind of hospitality: high-profile funerals. A few years ago, before I began working here, the parish opened its doors to hold a funeral for a young woman whose kidnap and brutal murder got top billing on every major news network. With television-news trucks, reporters, and cameras swarming the perimeter, a church that seats 350 on a good day welcomed swarms of people who came to mourn an untimely (and much publicized) death. I doubt the parish realized how that funeral was preparing them for another.

Friday, May 04, 2007

What Would Your Epitaph Be?

Ken Fuson, a columnist with the Des Moines Register, has written a humorous piece about tombstone epitaphs and concludes by soliciting reader suggestions for their own markers. After reading this: what would you come up with for yourself?

Fuson: Here lies a columnist who asked for readers' epitaphs

The recent death of the late, great author Kurt Vonnegut has stirred some speculation in Internet Land - or, as our president calls it, "the Internets" - about what Vonnegut's epitaph will be. The most obvious choice is Vonnegut's signature line, "So it goes," although it seems to me that, "So it went," would be more appropriate for such a puckish writer.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Thinking About YOUR Purpose

How many times do we sit and wonder what God's plan is for us? How many times do you stop in the middle of the day and wonder, "Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?"

One of the best films I've ever seen, Simon Birch, examines that very thing -- and if you haven't seen it before now, I highly recommend you get it as soon as possible. Based on John Irving's book A Prayer for Owen Meany, it's a wonderful story that will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry. I don't know why I thought of that film today -- it was just there. In searching the web tonight, I found this clip from the film; even a child can hold his own in a theological discussion and express questions about his own search for the truth.....