Big Block of Cheese Day

This is for all of my friends who are enamoured of The West Wing.

A quote from The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch, p. 96:

"On a national level [the Baptist itinerant preacher John] Leland was best known for the 1235-pound 'Mammoth Cheese' he presented to President Thomas Jefferson. In New York and Baltimore crowds flocked to see this phenomenal creation, molded in a cider press supposedly from the milk of nine hundred cows and bearing the motto 'Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.' Leland made the presentation to Mr. Jefferson at the White House on New Year's Day, 1802, as a token of esteem from the staunchly Republican citizens of Cheshire. Two days later, at the president's invitation, he preached before both houses of Congress on the text, 'And behold a greater than Solomon is here.'"

'Cause I know you were dying to hear of this reference.

My Mac - Follow-up to November 14 entry

Spent some time on the phone with that higher-up Mac expert this morning.

We have resolved my Mail problem, and it only took about two and a half hours from first phone call placed to my system being fully back to the way it should be.

The problem had been related to my preferences. We didn't even take the time to narrow it down to specific Mail preferences, but instead removed ALL of my preferences from the entire computer. This, unfortunately, meant importing all of my old e-mail messages back into the program and setting up my system and mail preferences nearly from scratch, but I was pleasantly surprised that it held onto more than I'd anticipated.

For instance, the import separated my e-mails into the specific box they had been in before - granted, still within a separate "import" mailbox, but moving them around took significantly less time than if they'd dumped everything without any direction into a single folder through which I would have had to go through every single e-mail I've kept since fall 2002.

And, I think my computer might actually be running a little bit faster. Really, it could have been worse. And, my Mail program hasn't crashed all afternoon.

A Rant

I love my MacBook. I am a hard-core AppleUser and have been since 2002.

I have had problems with the new machine I bought in May.

1) Upon first use it was incapable of letting me change the time zone. It always reverted back to thinking it was GMT, which made time stamping, well, interesting. This got fixed a couple of months later when I had a chance to take it into the Apple store where they booted it into a mysterious black screen that reminded me of DOS, typed in a few things, and called it fixed, which it was.

2) The big issue - not long after the above incident was resolved, my Mail program suddenly "Quit Unexpectedly." That's not supposed to happen with a Mac, but I moved on. But then it did it again a few days later. And again . . . Until a day would rarely go by that the Mail program didn't "Quit Unexpectedly." So, I called Apple Tech Support. They tried a few somethings that didn't seem to help. Then they told me that my best bet was to "Archive and Install" my operating system. It saves a copy of the entire system and settings, reinstalls the operating system, and institutes all of the old system settings and files. Handy. And, it worked. For at least a couple of weeks. Once it got bad again, I did another "Archive and Install." It worked again, for at least a few days. By Friday this week, it was getting frustrating again, so I did an "Archive and Install" for a third time. It worked for the first time I opened my Mail program. But not the second. There went my Mail program once again. (Note that this problem is highly intermittent. I can't make it crash. It doesn't always crash. But, it does crash often.) I called Apple again last evening. They got me connected to one of their Super-duper-Mail-Program-Experts-of-Spectacularness. Who was still flummoxed. He told me to delete the "MessageRules.plist" from my Mail Library, since sometimes a corruption in that file causes crashes. Seemed to work. Until I first started up the program this morning. Between seven o'clock this morning and one-seventeen this afternoon, the program crashed 11 times. (I kept a log.) Called again at that time, and they tried having me create a separate user account to try to make it crash there - if it didn't, could be that the problem is some random setting under my user account. It didn't crash there in the five minutes we had that open. But, it hasn't crashed in my account since then today, either. Assuming that it hasn't miraculously fixed itself, the only options left for diagnosis, according to a second Super-duper-Mail-Program-Expert-of-Spectacularness (who gave me his extension number), are to remove all settings from Mail and re-introduce them one by one to see which one is causing the problem, or to wipe the machine, re-install the operating system and start migrating the old settings one-by-one. Neither of these is a process I have the time to deal with until my semester is over in December. I told the guy it just has to wait with me being frustrated until then.

The Apple experts don't think that this is hardware related. Neil's not so confident about that. He can't imagine how something soft-ware based could be this intermittent and have actually gotten worse over time. He's concerned that it could be the beginning of a bit of damage on the hard-drive. So, considering how much mucking I've been doing with the system and the possibility that my hard-drive is beginning to fail, I've taken to doing back-ups. At the very least, I considered backing up to an external drive the correct choice before doing any of the "Archive and Install" processes, or before taking it into the Apple store.

This leads us to my latest issue.

3) I tried to do a system back-up utilizing Time Machine this afternoon. I've run a few in the past, so I wasn't entirely surprised when it failed because it said that there wasn't enough room on the external drive. I was somewhat surprised, though, that it hadn't done what it's supposed to do in just re-writing over previous back-ups. So, I tried again. I went ahead and reformatted the external hard drive (manually deleting all previous back-ups). Still said that there wasn't enough space. I noticed all of a sudden that it was telling me that my drive that holds 75 GB wasn't large enough to hold the 91 GB of back-up data. Now I start to freak out. How could it be trying to back up 91 Gigs when I'm confident that I can't possibly have more than 35 Gigs of information?!? I check my hard-drive stats. It's telling me that it's using 76.4 GB. What could be taking up that much space? My hard-drive might be beginning to crap out, I've just wiped clean my external hard-drive of all previous back-ups, my computer claims it's impossible to back-up onto the empty drive, and suddenly my hard-drive is telling me that it has more than twice as much data on it than it should! I call Apple again.

While poking around during cursory conversation with the support guy, I notice a folder in the main Macintosh HD directory called "Previous Systems". In it are three folders, each with a date as its file name. By general recollection, each date was the date of one of the three times I performed an "Archive and Install." I click "get info" to find out how much data is in this "Previous Systems" folder. It takes minutes for it to calculate the 42.8 GB of data inside that folder. I'd already mentioned it's strangeness to the support technician, and he was impressed when it finally spit out that huge number. All three of the "Archive" steps of my previous "Archive and Install" processes was still saved on my hard-drive, even though these folders are supposed to be deleted once it's finished re-installing. He took a few minutes to check with his supervisor to be sure that it's safe to delete these folders. It was. I did. There were more than 400,000 files, and it took nearly an hour to empty the trash. My hard-drive now holds a mere 34.5 GB of data. Right where it's supposed to be. And it's in the process of backing up those files right now.

The thing is, Macs aren't supposed to be like this. I am faithful to Mac to avoid crap like this.

Macs should not have problems setting the time zone from the first time they are loaded.
Macs should not have highly problematic intermittent issues with the sudden crashing of an important piece of software that literally comes with the operating system.
Macs should not keep the entire old Archive of a system after a re-installation.

Why do the computer gods suddenly hate me with this new shiny machine?

'Cause I know you wanna read it

Sermons are an oral form of communication. Yes, many ministers write manuscripts from which they/we preach. However, how the sermon comes across can be very different in being preached than it is read from manuscript.

I'll try something here and post what I preached in class on Tuesday. It's far from fantastic, and would benefit from some careful editing and some changes. But, here it is anyway.

. . . . . . . . . .

Prelude – “Come, Come whoever you are”

Reading “Remember Peace” by Jill-Beth Sweeney Schulthesis

Fear, impatience, anger,
resentment, doubt greed,
you are welcome here.

We will hold you until you soften.
We will love you until you begin to melt.
We will sing to you until you remember peace.

Darkness and sadness,
loneliness and sorrow,
You are welcome here.


We come.
We come from our homes, our jobs our families.
We come together.

Who are we when we come together?
What do we bring with us?

Fear, impatience, anger, resentment, doubt, greed?
Darkness and sadness, loneliness and sorrow?

Too often, we come to church not as we are,
but as we believe we should be.
We put on our smiles, talk about the weather,
and neglect to truly be present to one another.
We get wrapped up in committees
and stewardship campaigns
and the business of being a church.

The fear, impatience, anger, resentment, doubt, greed –
they are with us, but we keep them hidden from each other.
We lock away our darkness and sadness,
loneliness and sorrow so that they will not be seen.
So that we will not be judged.
So that our inner truth is not revealed, leaving us vulnerable.

But, if we always hide our true selves from the world,
how can we continue on bearing such burdens alone?

Together, we will hold you until you soften.
Together, we will love you until you begin to melt.
In community, we will sing to you until you remember peace.

You are welcome here.
You are welcome here.

I recall my first Young Religious Unitarian Universalist youth conference.
It was the winter of my freshman year at high school, and it was held at my own church.
My entire youth group had spent hours planning the Saturday night worship,
which was to culminate in the extended joys and concerns session
that was central to youth worship at the time.
There we sat, two hundred youth,
maybe more,
on the floor of the sanctuary.
The only light came from the flood lights outside
shining in through the windows at the top of the room,
bathing the space with a dim orange glow –
and the chalice with its steadfast flicker in the center of the room.

We sat, and we listened.
We listened to each other.
We listened to the voices deep within ourselves.
Through our listening, we held each other’s souls in warm embrace.

As I listened to the stories of my new friends and many others I had yet to meet,
the words touched the fears and sorrows deep within me.
I began to cry.
A hand reached out from behind me rested upon my shoulder,
encouraged me to let myself be held.
I did not even know the young man who held me as the tears came.
He was there, as was the entire room, each person supporting every other person.

A tall youth stood to speak.
He was backlit in the light from the windows as he raised his arms and spoke from his heart:

Do you feel it?
Do you feel the love?
So much love rising from this room!
Do you feel the love?

That moment,
sobbing and listening to these words,
has forever shaped my vision of religious community.

Who we were, all of our worries, grief, pain,
struggle, uncertainty, and joy meeting each other in the arms of love.
A religious community.

A religious community –
a coming together of persons of faith.
We call ourselves a church, not a social club,
not a lobby group, or an association of volunteers.
These groups do many of the same things that we do.
They engage one another socially
and work hard to make a difference in the world,
but they are not churches or religious communities.

A religious community is bound to faith –
the faith that in being human each person’s experience matters.
Faith that there is goodness in human relations.

A religious community strives to bring its members together on a deeper level –
to come together over our struggles and pains.
Church is the place where the realities of the most difficult parts of life may be shared.
For all of us struggle, and each of us seeks meaning.
Here, in religious community, we can care for each other.
Our faith in love and hope calls us to care for each other, just as we are.

People come here to change.
They want to be held and heard.
They want to find deep relationships that can nourish their souls
and bring them hope they have lost or never known.

Everyone who seeks a church seeks some kind of change in their life.
They may be lonely.
They may struggle with depression or grief or loss.
They may be facing life changes – a new location to call home,
the loss of a job, the beginning of a family,
the diagnosis of an illness for themselves or a loved one.
They come here searching for something more.

People come here to change.
We come here to change.
What change do you come here in search of?

Change is difficult. This is why we come together in this place. We cannot do it alone. We cannot change ourselves alone just as we cannot change the world alone. To do this together, we need to meet each other where we are. Acknowledge the hurt and pain and struggle to one another. Listen to one another. Hold each other’s hope for change.

Come. Come together, for truly,
you are welcome here.
Just as you are – just as you want to be,
you are welcome here.

We will hold you until you soften.
We will love you until you begin to melt.
We will sing to you until you remember peace.

You are welcome here.

Final Hurrah as a Rock Star

Last night, I joined singer/songwriter Ann Reed on stage (along with the rest of my church choir) at her big CD release concert. We sang a wonderful song, "We Will", that Ann wrote for my church's sesquicentennial celebrations. The choir part adds a lot to the song, so our voices are also on the CD, which we recorded back in June.

I fear that this is the end of my rock star identity. No other engagements shine on the horizon, and I am dismayed. I miss the band. I miss being able to say that I'm in a band. Maybe that small hope of someday being a rock star doesn't fade, but it's hard to keep it real with no prospects of furthering it.

Book-signing Etiquette

First - if it is a book-signing that might be popular (as the Wheel of Time reality proved last night), be on time. This is not just so that you get the chance to hear the author read and ask questions, but also because the bookstore will probably hand out numbers so that those who got their first get into line first. Just passing this on as an FYI just in case you decide to go to a book-signing some day.

Neil was under the impression that this was unlikely to be an issue because Brandon Sanderson isn't that huge of a name yet. (He underestimated the reality of the number of Robert Jordan fans out there who would stream in for a signed copy from his series, even if they've never before read a word written by Brandon Sanderson.) The thought was that by getting there late, the line would be shorter, and we might have a bit more leeway in taking up Brandon's time in conversation.

It started at seven, and, after having a nice dinner at a Korean place, we got there at about eight-thirty. There was a mob of people, and they were calling for persons holding numbers 30-60 to please form a line. We asked about getting a number. The organizers stated that it was late enough that they were no longer handing out numbers and that we could just get in line at the very end.

So, we made a quick stop at Michaels next door. We then thought it would be a great idea to get a copy of Sanderson's Warbringer signed for Neil's brother. So, we asked the people at Barnes about getting our hands on a copy - and found out that they'd run out of that book before the event even began. So, at five minutes after nine, we left Barnes for the Borders on University to pick up a copy of Warbringer. We got back to Barnes at quarter to ten (the store closes at ten) to find that they still hadn't invited numbers 150-180 to form a line.

We were fourth from the last persons to have books signed. His voice was raw and he was obviously exhausted at 10:15. If this was day four of his tour, I wouldn't want to be the city at day twenty. (He's in a different part of the country nearly every day - i.e. MD on Thursday, here yesterday, Vegas today.)

Brandon was pleased and impressed that neither of us held copies of The Gathering Storm (his addition to Wheel of Time) and said "Ah, you have my books!" He was also impressed that I'd tracked down a hardcover copy of Mistborn, which he noted hadn't been printed since 2006. I totally put in a plug for DreamHaven books in this process.

He accepted my compliments on his portrayals of persons of faith, which I qualified justifiably by the fact that I am in seminary. He asked how we'd found out about the signing and was glad that I got the e-mail. He also apologized that it went out so late -apparently, the list has expanded exponentially lately and he and his assistant are having difficulties keeping up the database and its management. (Leaves me wondering if his assistant is in need of being as kick-ass as Neil Gaiman's.)

All in all, it was a wonderful and worthwhile venture. Neil has accepted the signed copy of Mistborn as a thoughtful gift. As boring as book-signings are in general, I still think it was worth it, if for no other reason than the bragging rights.

DreamHaven to the Rescue!

Just got off the phone with DreamHaven. They have a copy of Mistborn, brand new, in hardcover.

So, problem solved. =) I'm going to miss the drumming circle I'd planned to attend, but attending the book-signing is something that's much less likely for me to experience at a later date.

Woot! Off to DreamHaven!

Missing the Brandon Sanderson signing?

Brandon Sanderson is one of our favorite fantasy authors. Chances are that if you've mentioned to me that you enjoy fantasy novels, I've told you about his book Elantris and Mistborn series. They are masterfully crafted to build up to a significant climax. His characters feel human and have interesting inner lives and motivations. He creates worlds in which forms of magic exist but are not easy. He explores various manifestations of faith - including religious faith - that feel real and authentic.

I have to admit that I blew off homework for an entire day a few weeks ago because I just could not put down Mistborn. That same day, I explored his website and sent him an e-mail expressing how much I appreciate his portrayals of religion and faith. This got me onto his regional mailing list, and I received an e-mail last night informing me that he would be signing books at the HarMar Barnes & Noble in Falcon Heights TONIGHT.

We currently own paperback copies of Elantris and the entire Mistborn series, but they're well loved and show it. Neil also has Warbreaker in hardcover, but he surprisingly did not love the book and sees no reason to have it signed. The book-signing is for the recent release of The Gathering Storm which is the first of his efforts to actually finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Both of us have been intelligent enough to go nowhere near even thinking about reading that series.

So, we went to Barnes last night to pick up a hardcover copy of either Elantris or Mistborn. They only have paperback. Half Price Books didn't have any of his work. A quick internet search proves that none of the major booksellers actually keep hardcover in stock in their stores. It is only available online - which doesn't work when you only have 24 hours notice of the book-signing! I'm going to call DreamHaven this afternoon (I'm not holding my breath - their online database didn't know who Sanderson was). I might try that big used book store at University and Snelling, as well, but I can't imagine owning these books in hardcover and not coveting them for the rest of your life.

So, unless a miracle occurs in the finding of hardcover, it looks like we're going to have to miss the book-signing tonight. I really hope that he comes through these parts again with his next book. I honestly respect Brandon Sanderson (which is an odd feeling of its own because he's barely older than I am), and I want to show him my support and discuss faith with him.

May there be a next time.

Odd things we remember

I'm taking World Religions this semester, and we're starting our look at Islam.

I have a lot of respect for the textbook the professor selected, A New Introduction to Islam, second edition, by Daniel W. Brown. The author is competent in demonstrating the diversity in and complexity of the tradition, its history, and the field of scholarship.

In discussing the Arabic culture prior to the rise of Islam, he cites a Bedouin poem. Translated by a man named Michael Sells.

The name looked really familiar. My mind treated the word "Sells" like one I'd used many times before in introducing quotes and paraphrases.

I did a spotlight search on my computer.

In fall of 2001, I took Tyler Roberts's class on Major Western Traditions at Grinnell College. We apparently read a book titled The Bridge Betrayed by Michael Sells and wrote a paper on it. How is it possible that I remembered the name eight years later?

Conservative Bible - Paraphrase or Translation?

A friend posted the following link on our college blogging system.

It's about a supposed effort to create a bible (in wiki-style?) that "conservativizes" the text. There's no reason they can't do this, but it sounds more like a paraphrase than a translation to me, which is something they're going to have to be careful about.

I also wish them luck.

They don't have much to work with, especially in the gospels. I mean, really, how could they manage the part where Jesus says that it's harder for a rich man to get into heaven than to thread a camel through the eye of a needle?