Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Faith of M.F.K. Fisher

I've read thousands of pages of MFK Fisher's writings. She is almost like a friend.
As a Christian, I've grieved a little inside, over the years, in my assumption that she was probably not a believer. One should not make assumptions, especially on that topic. But immersed in her words and thoughts as I was, I felt that I knew her. And anything as permeating as faith, I thought, would surely be evident in her books somehow. She seemed to me a spiritual person. But a Christian?

I'm reading a compilation of excerpts from her journals, 828 pages worth. What a revelation! In chronological order, her growth as a human, a lover of food, a student of her fellow men, and a writer is laid bare.  Her final years' writings are taken from her last book, Last House. I'd read that book, or thought I had. I'm at the end now, of these journals, reading her thoughts in the last few years of her life. And I found these words from "My Grown-Up Ears":

"It was in August 1945, and I was sitting in the North Reading Room of the New York Public Library. There was heavy dark rain falling, and the enormous hall was full of the scratchy rustlings and the smell of unaired clothes inevitable when many research workers congregate. I was grubbing in a concordance, looking up some such word as gluttony and thumbing here and there in a very neat practical copy of the King James Version.
And then I was reading:
'In the beginning ...'
"The words came out clear and strong and in a most beautiful order. They were the most straightforward words I had ever read, and although they were familiar to me from my youngest day, I knew that I had never really heard them before. I read for many hours without any knowledge of time or weariness ...."
Fisher tells of her childhood rearing in the church by her stern, dispassionate grandmother, of her own rejection of Christianity and eventual mockery of it, and finally of a drift into agnosticism. But the event in 1945 in the NYC library was pivotal. It shifted permanently her attitude toward faith. She was 37 years old.
"It was not the fault of my grandmother or boredom or my own stupidity that it took so long. I was simply incapable of it, until the summer of 1945. Since then, oh rich fortunate me, I can go almost anywhere in [the Bible]. The violence and the plottings and the blood and tenderness are more exciting than in any book I have ever read, I think, and they are told in a better simpler stle. And the mystery of man and his faith, if no clearer to me, shows itself like a thread of water, forever flowing round and round the world.
"For when Israel sang a little song to the well -- 'Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it' -- and the well did spring up to slake his people's thirst, and when I remember that wandering Arabian tribes still sing thus to their wells, I know more about faith than I ever thought I would, and I am glad of it." ~1989 (p. 795)

I don't presume to know another's soul, and I don't attempt to plumb the depths of Fisher's elegant prose. But it seems to me that God's Word (for such it is) was the tool God chose to change her, to crack open her heart to the wonders of what He had to say. And as a writer, she could not resist such a book, such a Tale-teller. Some may poo-poo her praise of the Bible as the finest of literature, but from a wordsmith like Fisher, there is no higher acclaim. Beyond that, she is transfixed by faith, the faith of humans throughout history, round the world and from ancient Israelite to the modern shepherd on his Middle Eastern hill.

The passage she quotes from Numbers 21:17 is telling. Buried deep in the Pentateuch, Fisher must have been an avid and frequent reader of Scripture to fix on such a verse to commit to her mind. God's people were tired, disobedient, punished, and wandering from place to place. In the span of ten verses, the nation moved nine times. Millions of desert nomads, packing tents and a huge tabernacle. And they were thirsty.

In the midst of this weary, chaotic life, God gives water. Fisher led, in my mind, a weary, wandering life as well. It's a reasonable parallel. But what she seems to love about this verse is its connection to today. Shepherds still sing to wells. The actions of Numbers 21 are still performed. It's a shining evidence to her of how the tiniest piece of the Bible is so very true. The faith rang true to her ear, her heart.

That's why I have hope I will have many years conversing with MFK Fisher on God's New Earth. I believe such a love for God's Word can come from only one source, God Himself. I was thrilled to read this brief account of her joy in the faith of those who trust in God to satisfy their thirst. To the one-time agnostic, the twin spiritual mysteries of Jesus's life and death and the believer's faith in them became things of beauty and wonder, not fairy tales to be reviled. For a woman with Fisher's intellect and worldliness, that is a large leap indeed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Still Life Crystal

In art class this week, Julia tried her hand at some crystal.
I think painting clear items is difficult, especially with watercolors. I really like the look she's achieving with watercolors now.
I love the base and how she got the effect so perfectly with so little paint. How do artists do that?
I don't really think Mr. Bob gives her a lot of instruction on technique; everybody else was painting boats and water with acrylics. He comes by and gives hints over the shoulder on little points. Julia often likes to choose something different from what the others are painting.
I was very pleased. Poor girl -- I never let her take her art to her room. I love to keep it in the living room so I can look at it all the time. I tell her she can have it all when I'm dead someday!
I couldn't remember if I'd ever posted this sketch of a duck she did last semester. Anyway ... here she is.

The Big Purse

I've been a finishing maniac, since that purple scarf is behind me. Today I tied the last knot on this large crocheted purse. I blogged about it here when I'd finished the front panel.
It's about 11" across and 10" tall, with a 1" depth -- I put in a side/bottom panel too. You could probably fit about 3 or 4 paperback novels in there.
Here's a photo so you can see the yarn close up. It's Simply Soft. The button is large too, about the size of a quarter.
I lined it, of course, a necessity in a purse of holey yarn. And I put a little pocket on one side for lipstick or keys, so you don't have to go diggin'.
Pretty roses.
Anyway, here's my question, readers. I'm selling this at the market. What do you think is a good, reasonable price? If you saw it at a market, knew it was all hand-made, what price would you expect? If you liked it, what price would you be willing to pay? It's hard, because a hand-worker can never really charge for labor; the pieces take time. I probably put at least seven hours into this purse, I guess? (It might well be more.) Can I charge $7/hour, plus cost of supplies? No. That's silly. But how much will people pay? I always wonder. So I make a stab at prices, and I usually price too low, which means things sell. But perhaps that's not wise. Any thoughts, entrepreneurs of the world?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring Smittens

Smittens were some of my best sellers during fall and winter, so I wanted a way to keep them going into the spring. I found some neat cotton yarn at the store. Sugar 'n Cream makes it; it's called "Twists."
The yarn is light, string-like, and fun. Instead of smittens, I'm thinking of calling these little lovelies "twisters," since some people call these kinds of gloves "wristers."  Here's a close-up of the yarn and how light and airy it is.
They're also shorter, not covering the fingers. They're for looks, not warmth. I think this is a look that the modern teen might like.
I also made a posterboard cut-out of a hand, to help me display them at the market. Julia adores this pair and made me promise to make her a pair this spring. Of course, I will.

Short Smittens

I've been needing a new pair of smittens for myself. My old pair -- about 4 years old? -- are pretty ratty looking. My soft green pair from last fall are lovely, but the yarn is so soft that they don't keep their shape. Plus, they're really hairy. Soft yarn is pretty furry sometimes.
So I whipped up a new pair with some yarn I bought and liked. It's Loops and Threads "Charisma," and the color is "Toadstool." These variegated yarns are fun to work with, and the "Charisma" wasn't too tricky on the hook.
I tried a new design for the thumb hole, a one-row slit. It gives more coverage to the thumb. I also made these smittens shorter, for spring. They're more for looks and fun than for much warmth. Although I wore them last night to chorale practice, and they were very toasty. Nice.
Julia says she wants them. Not happenin'. Oh -- also, on almost all rows, I only put the hook through the back of the stitches, which gives it that neat tiered look, like waves perhaps. I put a little scallop along the top edge too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Purple Scarf Saga

I won't bore you with all the details, but sometime in January a lady asked me to make her a scarf. I thought she wanted one of my short crocheted snuggies. I can make one in about 3 hours, easily. But she wanted a particular color purple, to match her coat. I told her, "You choose and buy the yarn, and I'll make it. I'll knock a few dollars off the price, since you're buying the yarn." I told her to buy two skeins. And off she went.
She came back with this lovely and slightly expensive bamboo yarn. Worsted weight, but smooth and thin and soft.
Then she told me what she really wanted. She really wanted a  L  O  N  G  scarf. She likes to double her scarves, making a loop on one end and the two tails on the other end. Then she wraps the scarf around her neck, and sticks the two ends through the loop. It falls to her waist. She presented me with the measurements.

She wanted a scarf 87" long by 10" wide. In the confusion of the moment and the business of the market, I agreed. I even knocked a few dollars off the price of a snuggie (that I can make in 3 hours), because she'd paid for the yarn. Sheesh. I'm insane. Oh, did I mention she wanted it knitted? A knitted scarf over 7 feet long. Yeah, I'll be working on that the Rest of My Natural Life.

It wasn't her fault. The lady knows nothing of knit or crochet. She didn't suggest the knit; I offered it because I thought she wanted a flatter, finer look. I did it to myself.

After one false start, and hunting for more yarn (two skeins does NOT make a 7 foot scarf), not finding said yarn, buying other worse yarn, doing and undoing, and knitting endlessly for four weeks, I finished the scarf yesterday:
Here's the second yarn she chose, because the first purple yarn was discontinued:
Red Heart Super Scratchy gives me the heebie-jeebies. But she thought the color of it might work with the other purple.
The scarf is rather wide.
 I wet it thoroughly and blocked it gently overnight on my ironing board. It's curling along the edges, of course. 

I did a row of single crochet on each end, to help it lie flat there. But if I do that along each long edge, it will only make it wider.
Now I need my lady friend to come over and examine it. Does she want it as it is? I imagine she'll want at least 6" of fringe on each end, which will help. I could double the scarf over, making it narrow, but it will feel a bit thick. The Red Heart is much bulkier than the Bamboo.  The Bamboo would double beautifully. It's a shame there was no more of it.

Well, regardless, it's over at last. I'm so happy to move on to other more creative projects. I realized this time that a yarn project for which I don't pick the yarn and I don't design the look, is no fun. I don't like being a knitting machine. In my next post, I'll show you what I've finished since yesterday ... a purse, and a pair of smittens  for myself!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Why the Book? A Second-hand Life

I just read my friend Gretchen's post about a children's book, Blue Chameleon. As usual, Gretchen is astute, and she makes me ponder things. Her post asks several questions. Why do children's book authors introduce inappropriate topics to children of a certain age, like loneliness to a 3 year old? It's a good post; go read it.

Gretchen also asks why children's books teach colors. She says this: "I'd prefer to teach colors with a book like The Color Kittens -- not that anyone is in dire need of a book to learn about this aspect of every single item in his environment."

My jaw dropped. What an obvious thing. Why do we use books to teach about things that are so ubiquitous? Can we not point to red things, repeat the word "red," and get our point across to the child? Can we teach counting and numbers this way as well? How many other practical, daily things and ideas do we lean on books for, which we could teach to our children directly? Can't we just show them what shoes and chairs and hairbrushes actually are, instead of showing them pictures in books, of real things that lie all around them? Well?
"1 Is One," a number book by Tudor

Books are inherently representative. Nothing on the page is real except the paper and the ink. Is that why reading is such an a difficult and essential skill? It's the skill we use to teach this convoluted, representational, roundabout practice. Learn your letters, which have no real meaning. They parallel sounds we make, but on the page they are silent. Put the letters together to make words, but those merely stand for real objects and concepts. Read lots of words to grasp ideas that you could just look up from your book and see.

Isn't that a lot of work? Why do we do it?

As an aside, I'll mention that learning to read music is much the same, only more laborious. The process of learning that the symbols on the page represent sounds made on a torturous instrument, and rhythms one must learn to feel -- it's a miracle anyone learns to read music well.

But what about my question? Is reading a skill we want children to acquire, so that we can then teach them? Learn to read, we say, so that you can learn everything else, which is written in books. That's changing, you know. Lately a distinct shift has occurred in education that says, Don't read about it. Do it. Touch it. See it. The assumption is that the book is really an obstacle, something that stands between the child and truly experiencing counting blocks or touching a fish or seeing a dinosaur bone or visiting the ocean. Whole educational programs are now founded on manipulatives, on movement and kinesthetics, travel, nature, experiencing the education.
Montessori classroom -- lots of fun, but not a book in sight

Books do stand between us and the world. Dickinson said a book is like a boat that can take you anywhere, with so little effort or cost. Is that a good thing? Wouldn't it be better to go see the world instead? Is a book just a second-rate option? What do you think? Perhaps books stand between us and the world to protect us. How preferable is it to read about dangerous places, dangerous people, even dangerous science projects, rather than discover then first-hand? Is it better for a 3 year old to read about loneliness in a book, so he'll be ready when it visits him personally? I don't know.

In this way, I think perhaps computers have much in common with books. Certainly we use them to experience our world second-hand, more than we ever did with our reading.  I can take a college course, visit Ireland, hear a world-class pianist play Rachmaninoff, chat with a friend from across the world, and see my old childhood home in Virginia, without leaving my laptop. Even a book doesn't do that.

Why do we humans have such a penchant for symbol? For little letters to stand for an object? For many tiny black words to tell a life? If you find an answer, let me know.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Denial at Burger King

Last night, Adam, Julia, and I went to eat dinner at a local fast food place.
And that's very unusual. We don't do fast food. We don't particularly like the fare, and I don't like the prices. But we had three coupons, thanks to those naughty receipts from Dollar General. "$2.00 -- Get a Whopper Jr. and a Value Fries." So we went out in the cold to Burger King.

A sign in the window told me that a Whopper Jr.'s normal price was only $1.29, so I realized we weren't getting much of a deal. I wanted to add a milk shake to my dinner, as did Julia. We had to order and pay separately, to use the coupons. Adam took one look  at the situation and opted instead for a Whopper Combo Meal. Smart man.

The milk shake prices on their lit sign above the counter showed this: Small: $1.99, Medium: $2.49, Large: $2.99. I chose a medium and similarly instructed Julia. I chose strawberry; she opted for chocolate.

It was tiresome, but the cashier had to ring up my coupon meal separately from my shake. Sigh. I paid the $2.00+tax for the burger/fries. And then I paid $3.19 for the shake. I was flustered with all the cash and coupons flying about. Julia ordered the same, and she paid. 

And we waited. Thus, I had time to think of what I'd just paid. A shake that costs $2.49, ends up being $3.19 with tax?

So I asked the flurried, sweaty manager about the prices of her shakes. At first she looked at me as if I were just another stupid customer, taking up her time. But then she examined her cash register with its impenetrable computer software, and the lighted sign over her head. She swiveled back and forth. She furrowed her brow. I kept asking her, in a calm voice, about those prices, and why I'd just paid an extra dollar for my milkshakes. She wouldn't reply. She was stuck: she could not intervene with her cash register; it was smarter than she was. I mean that in a good way. The days are gone when a manager can simply take a dollar out of a register and hand it to you because he owes it to you. The machine is in charge.

I asked her, "What is the cost of a medium milkshake?" "$2.99" she replied, because her register had instructed her to.  "But the sign says $2.49," I added. "The sign is wrong," she said. "But the sign is what you're showing to the customers.

And then, she produced her solution. She reached up somehow, and turned that sign off. Yes, one-fourth of the Burger King price sign in Grantsboro, NC is black and vacant, so that customers will not know what they're paying for milkshakes.

What kind of solution is that? Which one is really correct? Why, the sign, of course. The register's prices were coded incorrectly. Some computer whiz is needed to fix that. But until then, everyone will be over-charged 50¢ for milkshakes. 

And she can pretend all is well, simply by turning off the sign. 

There's probably a sermon illustration, a political analogy, and an economic lesson, all rolled up in there somewhere. I sat, ate my indifferent dinner, and went home. What use is there in arguing with a woman who sees the world in such blind ways?

Next time, when there is a next time, we'll eat down the road at Hardees.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Eat Adventurously

Do you ever find that the best-tasting meals are the ones that you throw together somewhat haphazardly and creatively? It happened today. I was home alone for lunch. (I know that you mothers with children in the house will read that with a shake of the head. Your day will come.) I looked around in the kitchen and rejected the usual grilled cheese sandwich with store-bought bread and square processed cheese. I rejected the bowl of Campbell's over-salty tomato soup. And instead I made a salad.

Here, I should post a picture of my salad, but alas! It is eaten. And in my enthusiasm for it, I forgot you and your camera-dependent eyes. Let me describe it:  I began with leftover lettuce from last night's supper. I rinsed and spun it in the spinner that still sat in the dish dryer, so handy. I chose a pretty plate. I grabbed a whole tomato. Both the lettuce and tomato were reduced at the grocery, so I felt clever to be eating them so soon. Then, oh my! I would want a boiled egg on my salad, so I must begin that immediately. A farm-fresh brown egg went into water, was covered, and I turned again to my tomato. I prefer them diced, not wedged, in a salad.  Last night, Adam asked if I wanted any of the very leftover stinky cheese (some sort of soft brie/blue blend) on my salad, and I'd declined. It was a good cheese, creamy, not too strong. But now, alone in the kitchen? Feeling adventurous and creative? Sure, I said to myself. I'll have some.

I carved off about half of the cheese wedge, removed the thin rind, and crumbled it with my hands on the tomatoes. This was fun. I hoped it would be good, because if it's bad, it will be a strong bad. A decent bottle of poppyseed dressing sat on the bottom refrigerator shelf as well, also reduced and neglected. I dolloped it on the cheese and waited for my egg.  In my enthusiasm, and since waiting is tiresome, I grabbed a very old jar of sliced peaches from the deep recesses of the frig. It was hard to open because it was frozen shut! The syrupy liquid was also frozen around the four or five peach slices in the bottom of the jar. Well, if it's been frozen, they're probably not rotten, I thought, and emptied them into a bowl to accompany my salad.

Then the egg boiled. I let it sit, covered for five minutes, which was all the patience I possessed. It was too fresh to peel easily, in spite of adding salt (which our local egg men say solves this problem) and in spite of covering it immediately with ice water. However, sliding a silver spoon inside the shell, and pressing its bowl against the underside of the shell, is a fine way of scraping all the egg out, if you don't mind too much how it looks.

The salad was stupendous. The cheese lent a lovely flavor and texture to the other, blander items. Why don't I do this more often? I asked myself. I polished off the plate, the peaches, and a glass of grape juice, and was immensely satisfied. My mouth tasted good. I didn't brush my teeth for several hours, as the flavors of the poppyseed, tomato, and the blue cheese romanced each other on my palate.

It began with rejecting the ordinary, and grabbing the leftovers. Let's all have a more adventurous attitude toward our kitchens.

Julia's Still Life

Here's the still life that Julia painted this morning during art class. We're both very pleased with it.
During January she seemed a little 'off her game,' art-wise. I think the art competition she was in rattled her nerves.
Two of her pieces in that competition went on from the district level to the state level. I don't know when we'll hear about that.
These additional close-ups are just for those of you who like looking at watercolors. I think she did a good job with her shading and depth. The flower shapes are very nice too, especially the daffodils.

The two pieces that are at the state competition are an pencil sketch that she calls "Escher Hand." She didn't want to submit it in the first place, because it was incomplete (according to her). She's left-handed, so she could easily sketch her right hand like this.
And her zentangle, or zendoodle, or whatever it is:
It's always a mystery why judges choose as they do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Welcome Home, Willows!

Do you remember the world travelers, Mole, Ratty, and Toad? The Willows Threesome is on its way home! Hooray!
In late fall, 2011, three wanderers arrived in our home. Remember? I blogged about their visit, about cookies and tea with them, how Julia and I colored in their traveling copy of The Wind in the Willows, put our stamp in their passport, and sent them on their way 'round the world.
They did go 'round the world -- England, France, then on to Australia and New Zealand, I believe. This week they arrive back where they began, at Pom Pom's house in Colorado. Home again, how nice! Pom Pom is planning a warm welcome for the weary three. I believe Badger will be waiting for them there. Badger is a serious homebody and did not participate in their wild adventures.
I just went looking for my copy of The Wind in the Willows by Grahame, and I'm sad to say I could not find it! It looked just like this:
Well, phooey. Don't know where it is. I might have given it away. This means I need a new copy. It might be time to make a purchase of some books online, yes?
In honor of Pom Pom's tea party, I decided to share some photos of this little tea set. It's not mine; it's Julia's. Her grandma gave it to her. It's about the most adorable one I've ever seen. Not complete, oh I wish! I blogged about it two years ago.
Here's the little tea pot.
And the tiny sugar bowl
One cup and three plates are all we have.
 And that dried rose blossom? It also came to me over a year ago, from Peter, when he knelt down and gave it to me with a sweet smile, during the last football game of his senior year. Awww, sweet. I keep things like that.
 This little plate/silver set is mine. I put the quarter there so you can see how small it is. I love it!
I'm looking forward to Pom Pom's welcoming tea party. I only wish I could be there in person to see those travelers again!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on Standardized Testing

Ah, standardized tests. One of the predictable annoyances of American life. We all took them yearly in school. Remember the week of boredom? Sitting in the quiet, warm room, waiting for the other kids to finish erasing and coloring little bubbles? Watching the sun outside the window? It makes me nappy just thinking of it. None of us took it very seriously; it was an inconvenience. Nobody assumed it had much to do with real school, the things we learned everyday. There was a vague correlation, but who really cared?

Not any more. Public schools are all about EOG and EOC ("end of grade" and "end of class") tests. Everybody's teaching to the test because the tests are now important. Teachers jobs and salaries are tied to them. When I talk to public school kids, they love throwing around the testing terminology. It makes everyone feel important. We're taking tests! we say. Tests are a big deal!  That's the feeling I get. As a homeschooler, that can be intimidating. Homeschoolers might wonder, "How would my child do with all that hard testing? Would they even pass?"

Recently, some friends of mine got to find out. They live rather far away in a different state, and they've always homeschooled their many children. Their pack of school-aged children had never been tested. That's right -- never taken a standardized test. Not the CAT, the Stanford, Iowa Basic Skills, nor any of the other favorites. One year, one of the children was really fighting and struggling with math, so they decided (after much deliberation), to give him the year off math. I know for a fact that the mom, who does most of the teaching, has given thorough and organized thought to the course of education for the children. Both parents are very bright and well-educated. And although they aren't wealthy at all, the home is free from any drug or alcohol abuse or any of that stuff. All that to say, it's a safe, loving family, with a simple life style. Education isn't administered like medication. There's no teaching to a test. There is only teaching because learning is a wonder, is fun, and important. That's the mentality.

But ... will that mentality wash, when the kids are faced with standardized testing? Can kids who've never tested nor been prepped for testing, pass? Can a child who's skipped a year of math even hope to pass?

Well, we found out. They all took standardized tests, administered from the county schools by a kind lady. And after much fingernail biting on my part, I was thrilled to learn that all the children did fine. Just fine.

Which makes me wonder about those standardized tests that all the public school world seems to revolve around like a sun. It seems like a hoax, somehow. If homeschool kids who spend hours each day playing in the backyard, reading in their beds, and making apple pies can pass handily, why are the school kids laboring in boredom, day after day, "getting ready for the test"?  Why?

Last week I emailed my North Carolina testing company I've been using for five years. I buy an old CAT test for Julia for $40. I administer it at home each April. (I know! Horrors! A parent administering a test!) I time her, and I never cheat. Why would I cheat? What possible good would a false test result do me? But frankly, I'm weary of testing Julia. She doesn't need it.

Last year, in 7th grade, she scored 12.9 in "grade equivalency" for the entire opening battery (including reading, language skills and math), and 12.9 for spelling, science, and social studies as well. Of course, that does not mean I would place her in the 12th grade in some school (and in the 9th month, to boot!). It only means that the test indicates that she is performing in all those subjects as students in the 9th month of their senior year, would be performing. I do not say all this to brag on my child. I want to show the uselessness of such tests. I know well all the things that Julia still needs to learn. In 7th grade, she'd never started algebra, never had high school science at all. What in the world are they testing for, on these tests? I'm baffled.

Yet, the state of North Carolina declares that I must test her each year. Don't you think we all could agree at this point that she is one student who doesn't need any more testing? If I never did another scholastic thing with her (which would go against both our natures), she could enter college in a few years and do fine.

But thousands of homeschoolers agonize over whether they're doing enough. And thousands of public school kids think they're brilliant for taking such useless tests.  There's a growing movement for "opting out" of test taking.  How much time and money is being wasted on this test-inflation mentality? We've thrown so much money at a broken system. Now there's a call for universal pre-K from the White House. Really? Another program that will do more harm than good?

I wonder: If I opted out of testing, who in the state administration could successfully argue that Julia needs more testing? That it would do her one iota of good? Phooey. If I were more of a rebel, I'd consider it.

In Which I Pulled a Dirty Trick

When Adam was last unemployed for a few months, he spent each Saturday sitting with an elderly man in a nursing home. One week, I did this for him, when Adam had something else to do. We'll call the old man Mr. D. We liked Mr. D. He was 91 but in pretty good shape. He'd  licked cancer, survived the Navy, buried a wife, and been an artist for many years. He was also a flaming pagan, even in his dotage. He'd lived a debauched life and enjoyed recalling it all. To be painfully honest, he had a filthy mouth and an equally filthy mind, but we loved him. I do not tell this to disparage him; I also found remnants of God's image in him, a man who saw beauty and loved art, who treasured friendship and clung to life. We never gave up trying to show Jesus to him.

I remind myself not to be amazed at the pagans I meet. They feel perfectly normal to them, and I imagine they see me as an oddity, a fringe wacko maybe? I am the one who believes in a God who creates a universe, a virgin who has a baby, a man who comes alive again after dying, and a happily-ever-after life. I don't think that's nutty, but lots of people do.

It must be freeing, in a way, to be a pagan. To put God aside thoroughly and live one's life as one's own master. If your luck holds out, you might have several decades of really good living. If Satan decides not to mess with you, and God ignores you (because He has a bunch of children to raise), you might go sailing on to many successes. It must feel eminently normal to be a pagan in the modern world.

But there it ends. I feel sorry for my pagan friends because I know that their belief system is only good for their 70 or 80 years. It really doesn't work for afterward. And many of them are satisfied with assuring themselves that there is no afterward. You die, and that's it. No consciousness of existence. I think many believe that. If you deny God and all His eventualities in this life, you might as well continue that thinking into the next.

Only ... only, I don't find it very logical. The whole idea that this immense, mind-blowingly complex universe could exist by total accident, is ludicrous to me. And as Sherlock Holmes (or somebody?) said, if you have eliminated all other options, the one remaining, no matter how bizarre it seems, must be true. I can come to no other conclusion than that some entity more grand than the universe, made it. From that, all else follows. He would have an interest in his creation. He would probably want to communicate with it, and involve himself with it. If he's a spirit, it makes sense that he would make us spiritual, so our relationship with him wouldn't end with death.

But God is such a chore. If he does exist, the whole thing becomes so complicated, and requires so much of us. So my pagan friends shrug their shoulders and choose a truly lighter, easier path. For now.

I sat one Saturday afternoon with Mr. D. in the patio area of the nursing home. The chairs were comfortable, the sun was warm overhead after a long, cold winter. We were thrilled to be outside. He was dozy, as was I. As we sat with faces upturned and warmed, and breathed deeply of the sun and color and beauty, I knew he was groggy. I knew also that his artist's heart was tugging at him. Who, even a pagan, can sit in such a place with face up and warmed against blue sky, and not feel a spiritual yearning for beauty? So I played a dirty little trick on Mr. D. I did. I said something like this:

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to go stay in a place just like this all the time -- warm, sunny, beautiful, relaxing, safe -- there is a place like that."  I phrased it somehow so that it did not arouse his suspicion.

"Really?"  he replied, jostled lightly out of his reverie. He sat up a bit and looked at me. "Where?"

Then I told him simply that it was the beautiful place God was preparing for us, and wouldn't he like to go there? As soon as those words were out of my mouth, Mr. D.'s soul switched back off. He'd detected a whiff of religion, and that put him off.

But for a moment, a few seconds, I had him. He knew inside himself that the New Earth is really simply the place that we all long for. He longs for it. Every pagan longs for it. They just want it without God attached.

I bet this is too preachy to read, and I'm sorry. I wish every pagan I know would suddenly have a light bulb event, and say, "Yes! Of course! It's all so logical, and so very beautiful. Who wouldn't want that?" I hope Mr. D. still wants it. I hope he wants it enough to ask God to take him there.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Choppy Sailing

On Friday, Adam's desperate desire to go sailing finally got the better of him. And I gave in, of course. The sun was bright and the sky was clear. We headed out about 2:00. There was good wind, and thus the river was choppy.
We struggled a bit with the sails. Adam put up the little foresail, so we wouldn't get too much wind (or speed). But he had a twist in the top of the sail. It took him several attempts, going up to the front of the boat while we were clipping along, bouncing from wave to wave, before he untwisted it.
The mainsail also would not go all the way up, and the boom was rotated onto its side. Clearly, we are novices, learning from our mistakes on each outing.
Honestly, after our last sailing adventure, I was a bit skittish. A gust of big wind filled the sails, we heeled over sharply, and I was scared. So this time, I was still nervous of handling the tiller. Adam took it for a while, so I could get myself calmed down.
I took some pictures of the water and sky and reminded myself of how beautiful it all is.
As novice sailors, it's always nice to see other sailboats out when you're sailing. It means you weren't the only total idiot, out on the water on such a day. Actually, there were five other sailboats, plus some power boats, on the river. The afternoon was fine for catching the wind across the river and back again.
Yes, we wore our life vests, plus our sailing jackets. That's a mighty big vest. At the tiller, I'm learning how to keep the boat turned in just the right position to catch the wind as I want. I can tell by looking at the river (its waves) what direction the wind is coming from, and adjust the boat accordingly to catch as much wind (and thus speed) as I feel comfortable with.
Feeling in control is reassuring.  Feeling out of control is rather terrifying to me, on a sailboat over water that cold, from shoreline that far away.
 The sail master: His hair is getting fluffy and long, but the older ladies at church like his curls, so I can't convince him to chop them off. I think they would be sad if I did. I know he looks grumpy; he's not really grumpy at all.
When we came about, the wind going home was even finer, and we had a nice ride back to the marina. It was about 4:00 or so.
The sun shone through the Spanish moss as it dipped toward the water.
Our home marina -- it's a lovely, comfortable place.
Cold weather has set in now, so we won't be sailing for a bit. Not me, at least!