Sunday, December 31, 2023

A Doctrine of Salvation for the Turning of the Year

A post about Systematic Theology may not be traditional for the last day of 2023.  But it's what's on my mind.  My seminary professors have until January 6 to turn in grades, and while I've wanted the feedback, I haven't been as anxious as some years--perhaps because I have fewer classes for this term.  

Yesterday I was thrilled to find out I got a 58/60 on my Systematic Theology final paper; at first I had a slight panic attack because I thought I got a 58/100, which would have been quite a blow.  Happily, it only took me 16 seconds to realize that I had made an A, not an F.  The paper counts for 60% of my grade, and the midterm paper counts for 40% of my grade; unlike other classes I've taken, there was much that could go wrong with so much riding on so few papers and a topic that was less familiar to me.  I've done a lot of theology writing, but very little that is systematic.

To be honest, I'm not sure I'm doing systematic theology still.  I had to show that I understood what we'd been talking about throughout the semester, and I had to refer to theologians and to passages from the Bible.  On the morning of the day that it was due, I worried that I should have organized it differently, but I also realized that if I had, it wouldn't have been as balanced, and I risked looking like I didn't know what I was supposed to know.  So I left it alone, while at the same time worrying that there were some doctrines that I had completely missed.

When I got my grade yesterday, my first impulse was to go back to read the paper again, for the first time since I turned it in on December 14.  I'm really impressed with the ending, and since my grade is in, let me post it here.  I think it gives a hopeful note as one difficult year comes to a close and another year, likely to be even more difficult, begins:

But here is where soteriology [doctrine of salvation] gives me hope. We have seen God overcome one of history’s huge domination systems, the Roman empire. Christ was killed by the Roman empire, in a brutalizing death designed to humiliate and to keep the population terrified of resisting. In The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, Moltmann points out that under Roman law, “crucifixion was the punishment designed to deter rebels against the political order of the Roman empire, or the social order of Roman slave-owning society” (p. 163). Crucifixion was a death designed for those who were a threat to the state, which tells us how the empire saw Christ’s message, as a threat to empire. We can argue about how Jesus was raised from the dead (did God the Creator raise him? Did God the Spirit?); the Nicene Creed doesn’t tell us the particulars of the process, but all of our creeds assure us that resurrection happened to the physical body in a physical way.

Throughout human history, we’ve been at a similar crossroad, where it looks like the powers of earthly empire will prevail. But we’ve also seen that when people who believe in resurrection work together, the results can be surprising and empire disrupting.

So I will keep working for both human rights and the preservation of the planet. I believe in the Triune God who is making all things new (Revelation 21: 5). I believe in the Triune God who led people from slavery (Exodus) and who can raise the dead, both the literal dead, like Lazarus and Jesus, and the vast populations who are spiritually dead. In logical terms, it’s hard for me to imagine how God comes to our chaos and cures it all. In spiritual terms, I remember that God is the one who crafted it all from the beginning, and I trust that the Triune God has the blueprints and the plan.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Poetry Progress in 2023

A few poetry inspirations and happinesses that I want to remember, as I think back across the past year.  It's been a year where I haven't written as much as I wish I had (but that's always the case), and it's been a year when I haven't read as many poems on the pages as I have online, and I don't know how I feel about that.  Let me make some reflections:

--I have moved almost all my poetry writing to the computer.  I used to write poems out longhand in purple legal pads.  Between my broken wrist recovery, which took longer than I anticipated, and lots of moving, it's easier to write rough drafts on the laptop.

--I would like to do more to create a poetry/sketch daybook.  Let me think about that as I move into 2024.  I need a new sketchbook, so I'll also get a daybook for what I have in mind.

--For example, I was moving the small table that holds the Christmas trees, and I saw one of them on top of Martin Luther's The Book of Concord, a collection of key historic Lutheran documents.  If I was creating a sketch/poetry daybook, today's entry would be a sketch of a Christmas tree along with these lines:

An ancient symbol, perched

 atop an ancient theology

Or would I do a haiku like structure?  For my daybook, I don't want to overthink it.

--With so many journals charging $3-$5 submission fees, I've submitted less this year, particularly if the journal has a fee.  I did submit to Tampa Review, just barely before the deadline.  As I looked at my submission log, I submitted on Dec. 27 last year too.  I have gotten personalized rejection notes from them, which makes me more likely to submit in the future.

--I haven't had nearly as many publications this year as many past years:  2 essays in Gather magazine, an essay in Demystifying the Manuscript:  Essays and Interviews on Creating a Book of Poems, and a poem in Dear Human on the Edge of Time: Poems on Climate Change in the United States.  My submission log tells me I made 26 submissions in 2023, so that's a 15% success rate, if I'm doing the math correctly, and if we're only defining success in terms of publications.  

--But it's still a tiny number of submissions compared to past years.  In 2019, I made 113 submissions.  But I don't think my success rate was any higher.  Happily, my professional and personal life is not dependent on publication.

--I also like that the larger poetry world is fairly friendly.  Earlier today, I saw this tweet by A. E. Stallings:  "Why is everyone anxious about taking down Christmas decorations? 12 days of Christmas, people! It ain't over yet." I wrote: Or we could do 40 days of Christmas, until Candlemas, in February." And she replied, "There you go. 12 days is really the minimum."  I am still thrilled when a poet who is much more skilled than I am (she won a MacArthur!  She's an Oxford Professor of Poetry!) responds.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Sixth Covid Shot

I am so sore this morning.  There are many possible reasons why.  I started yesterday morning by going to Walmart when I decided I must begin eating vegetables again.  It's not like I haven't eaten any veggies, but my cookie consumption has outpaced my vegetable consumption.

I came back home and got to work in the kitchen.  I wanted to do something with the apples in the fridge that weren't aging well.  When I bought apples throughout the fall, I thought I would have a supply to last the winter.  Sadly, that was not to be.  I made the last of them into an apple chutney, which will jazz up my lentils.

I had some leftover oatmeal, so I made up a batch of bread, most of which will be used for communion at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee.  And then I went over to do some work on quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  In short, I was on my feet much of the day.

And then, when I came back from quilting, we went over to get our Covid vaccines.  It's our 6th shot, and even though we had Covid back in September, it seems wise to get a boost, particularly since this vaccine has some protection against newer variants.

So far, I haven't had much of a reaction.  My arm is sore, but I expect that.  And we both fell asleep last night at 7.  Feeling like I want to go to bed at 7 p.m. isn't that unusual for me, but it is for my spouse.  Actually going to bed at 7 p.m. and sleeping soundly through the night is unusual for us both.

This morning I woke up sore all over, but I think it's more about being on my feet much of Wednesday than because of the vaccine.  Still, I'll take it easy today--no need to push myself into anything more severe, like a pulled muscle.

As I drove away yesterday, I thought about the fact that my vaccine card hadn't been updated, and that's not really a surprise.  It's been a long time since anyone asked me for proof of vaccination; we are clearly on to the next phase now, what I think of as the "God speed and good luck" phase.  Various people on social media are dismayed, and I understand.  Yet at the same time, I've known for a long, long time that we are all essentially on our own in these days of _______ (waning capitalism, ascendant capitalism, political infighting/gridlock, schisms of all sorts, catastrophe of any variation, so many ways to fill in that blank).

But I feel lucky that the health insurance that I get through the Affordable Care Act covered the vaccine at no cost to me, that the local grocery store had a dose, that I didn't have to wait, that I am fairly healthy still, in these days of all sorts of sickness being transmitted.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Rainy Holiday Movie Afternoon

I have been sad at the fact that it's so hard to choose something to watch these days--first world problems, I know.  When talking to a grad school friend the other day, I was opining about how it used to be much easier--there were just a few channels, and that's how I came to watch many a classic movie or old TV show.  Even the days when I first got cable TV, back in the 90's, seem much more manageable, with only 30-60 channels, and only about 10 of those that I cared about.

Now my Roku stick seems to stream every show ever invented, each with its own channel.  I can't choose which episode of America's Test Kitchen or The Great British Baking Show that I watch, but it's there, much of the day, on its own channel devoted to it.  There are thousands of channels, so I have no idea what my options are.

My spouse has found some shows that he loves but that bore me after awhile--shows about people who bid on abandoned storage units or bid to be the one to haul a strange object across the country in a short period of time or lumberjacks in different parts of the country.  He can watch those shows literally all day.

Yesterday, we happened to see that A Christmas Story was coming on at noon, and we haven't seen it yet.  We've got the DVD in a box somewhere, but we haven't had the energy to look for it.  So, we watched it, the old-fashioned way, on a Roku channel that had Christmas programming still.  And after that, It's a Wonderful Life.  I've seen that movie from beginning to end only a few times--it's quite a time commitment. This version was colorized, which I think I might prefer, even as I understand the reasons why people are outraged over colorization.

Yesterday was a rainy, rainy day in our part of the Southern Appalachians, so it was delightful to keep Christmas going a bit longer.  We sat and watched the rain rolling through.  I did a lot of hand sewing on my log cabin patches.  By the end, my spouse was snoozing, but I was enchanted by the story of George, who wanted to travel, but instead stayed put, making a difference in many small ways that added up over a life.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Christmas Day Retrospective

The long promised rain has arrived.  I don't mind.  We don't have outdoor plans, and our autumn has been a bit dry.  We live in a forested area, so I'm always happy when our wildfire risk, which is already low in times of normal rain, diminishes further.

I don't have a unified blog post in mind, so let me record some fragments from Christmas Day I want to preserve.

--Yesterday we joined the livestream of the Christmas Day concert at the National Cathedral in D.C.  Wow!  What a beautiful service!

--As I watched, I felt a bit nostalgic, thinking back to my seminary apartment days when I would walk to the Cathedral.  The place feels familiar to me, as do the faces of the female priests.

--We also watched the Christmas Day service that our Florida church pastor put together.  I love that it's a bunch of pieces of video--some of us are reading the Christmas Bible texts, while others of us are doing something musical.  I like that this process gets so many parishioners and former parishioners involved.  Most of us now have recording capacity with our cell phones, so all ages can be involved.  It's something I want to remember in later years, something that could get involvement in various settings.

--Yesterday afternoon, I made one more batch of Christmas cookies, my favorite recipe for sugar cookies that aren't too sweet.  I don't make them often because they require rolling out and cutting with cookie cutters.  When my spouse woke up from his nap, we decorated them.

--Sprinkles are so much like glitter, in that it gets absolutely everywhere.  Still, I'm not going to squash that joy.

--This batch of cookies puffed up and spread out more than other batches I've made.  With one tray, I let them rest in the oven, and they shrank a bit.  It was odd.

--We watched A Muppet Christmas Carol last night.  What a treat!  Later, I made this Facebook post:  

"We went from watching the Muppets version of "A Christmas Carol" to the Veggie Tales version of the Nativity, and I expect to have strange dreams tonight."

--I made several Facebook posts each day over the last two days.  I find myself trying to guess which of my Facebook friends will like which posts.  It's like trying to second guess the mysterious algorithm.  

--Some years, I have a spell of Christmas Day depression during part of the day; there are any number of ways I might feel depressed.  But yesterday, I had no depression.  A bit of irritation over the slow pace of our Christmas meal prep once it was in the oven, but no depression.

--All in all, it's been a good holiday, the whole season--and the autumn season that came before it.  I know how lucky I am, and how few people across the globe have this kind of good fortune.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Eve in Two Different Mountain Churches

Yesterday, we had a leisurely Sunday morning for the first time in a long time.  But it was different in a way; we knew we needed to be on the road by 11:30.  Faith Lutheran Church in Bristol, Tennessee, where I am a Synod Appointed Minister, had only one service yesterday at 2:00.

When we got there and plugged in some lights, the church looked like this, with sun streaming through the red glass windows in the front:

The candles couldn't really compete, but it was beautiful in its own way.  The service went well.  Everyone was in a good mood, and most things went smoothly.  I did get tangled in my words when I consecrated the bread, but I corrected.  And this congregation is fairly unflappable as far as I can see.  I get the idea that if I'm making a good effort, they won't cause a ruckus.  Part of it is because I'm temporary, and part of it just seems to be the congregational personality.

I do feel lucky.  I think about my younger self and how judgmental I was and how I wanted so much more than I was getting from church, whether it be sermons or fellowship or volunteering opportunities.  Then I got the kind of job that made it difficult to take advantage of those things, the 45-60 hour a week job in education administration, which gave me a different view.  And yesterday, when I got tongue tangled, I thought about my younger self who would have said, "You say these words week after week--why can't you say them without screwing it all up?"  Now I know.

My sermon went well, and I'll post it on this blog site at some point soon.  When I was writing it, it seemed rather radical at first, and by the time I was done revising it, I thought it was blah.  That's often a trajectory with my writing, whether it's sermon writing, poetry writing, academic writing, or something else.  The congregation stayed focused, and no one seemed outraged or bored or eye rolling.

We mingled a bit after church and then headed out.  Some of the church folks planned to come back after sunset, re-light all the candles, and then take pictures.  I thought we were heading home to veg out and go to bed early.

Instead, my spouse started thinking about going to the 7:00 service at the Lutheran church just minutes from our Lutheridge house.  We put our dinner dishes in the dishwasher (left over pot roast that had turned into beef stew), threw on our dressier clothes, and headed over.  This sanctuary is very different than the little country church in Bristol:

It was great to be back at that church where we have so many friends from so many different stages of our life:  Create in Me friends, choir friends, quilt group friends, neighborhood friends, and even friends of my nuclear family, meaning friends from the time my mom was a camp counselor in the very earliest days of Lutheridge. 

Today is likely to be a rainy Christmas, which is fine with me. We are not traveling, and any cooking that we're doing can be done either indoors or out.  We have no one coming over.  We will make at least one phone call, but mostly, yesterday was our big holiday celebration.  Some years I might feel sad about that, but this year, a low key Christmas day sounds good.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve and the Ghosts of Christmas Past

Today is a day unlike our regular Sundays.  Instead of getting ready to leave for Bristol, Tennessee by 7:30, we don't need to leave until 11:30.  Faith Lutheran, the church where I am a Synod Appointed Minister, celebrates Christmas Eve at 2, with no morning or evening worship.  I have never gone to an afternoon Christmas Eve service, but it makes sense for this congregation.  I have noticed that many churches no longer do the late night service, the one that begins at 10 p.m. or later.

I have my sermon written, which I'll post tomorrow.  I had thought I might bake a small braid of Santa Lucia bread for every household at the small church, but I didn't have time for that.  It's fine.

We might be home in time to go to a local church's evening service, but we probably won't.  A regular Sunday leaves me a bit worn out, what with traveling and leading worship.

Last year, by this time, we'd be on our way to Hawaii.  Or would we still be sitting in the airport?  In the gate area of the airport, waiting to board the plane, we were near a crew member who was sick; we knew he was sick because he collapsed and vomited.  I thought the flight might be delayed because of the lack of a crew member, but we were told it was because of some airport issue.  Still, soon we were on our way--but we would spend that week in Hawaii with various family members getting sick.  It was not our best family vacation, but we tried to make the best of it.

So today we will travel, but it will be by car, over the mountain.  I am fast approaching the point where I will avoid air travel as much as I can.  Last year we flew to Hawaii and got sick; in September, we flew to Maine and got sick.

A year ago, I had no idea where I would be in a year, but I was coming to think I wasn't likely to be in seminary housing, since it seemed certain to be torn down.  A year ago, I didn't know what I was about to set into motion, by thinking about the possibilities of not living in seminary housing.  And now, here I am with a Synod Appointed Minister position, an internship with the Southeast Synod of the ELCA, and a teaching job at Spartanburg Methodist College.   I am thrilled with these changes.

I thought it would be nice to have a more leisurely Sunday morning, but I really prefer our regular schedule.  It will be nice to have time to go for a walk, to think about this sermon one last time.  I need a sentence or two that explains why any of it matters.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Writing, Ephemeral and Other

Yesterday, I tracked back through my deposits into my checking account.  I finally figured out that my payment for writing for Gather magazine was made electronically, not made by way of a check mailed to me the way it had been in past years.

This morning, I thought about all the writing I've done for pay and all the writing, so much more writing, that I've done as part of a job:  newsletter writing, website writing, social media posts.  And that's not counting e-mails and documents that won't really matter much outside of the place of employment, like accreditation documents.

I never kept track of the social media posts that I created for the social media coordinator of the last school where I had a full-time job.  They seemed ephemeral to me and not really essential to my job or to my life goals as a writer.  This morning, I wondered if I could find them if someone in the future asked me to document that I had done writing for social media.

The ones that were published on Facebook still seem to be there.  I had a brief moment this morning of getting lost in past work, being amazed at all that my tiny school had managed to do with very little in the way of real resources.  And then there was the sense of sadness, that it wasn't fully appreciated and that it's all gone now.

Don't misunderstand--I'm very happy right now, much happier than I was as a school administrator, working 45-60 hours a week, often trying to make competing higher ups happy.  Still, it's a sobering reminder of how fleeting everything really is.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Tasks on the Shortest Day: Grocery Stores, Sermon Writing, and Wonder

It's another day where my morning has gotten a bit ahead of me--but for good reasons!  I'm in the middle of rethinking my Christmas Eve sermon.  Let me capture a few details here.

--Yesterday, I went for a walk with a pastor friend and mentor who lives in the neighborhood.  She told me about some ideas that her pastor son presented to the University of South Carolina students, where he is campus pastor.  The Greek word for inn is actually much closer to guest room.  If we say there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the guest room, does it change our understanding of the Nativity story in the second chapter of Luke?  I'm going to write a sermon suggesting that it does, and I'll post it next week.

--It's the Winter Solstice.  From here, we have more light each day:  small dribbles at first, but then more and more.  By the end of January, I expect to be surprised by the amount of light each day contains.

--Today is also the feast day of Saint Thomas.  I wrote a blog post about the juxtaposition of this feast day with the Winter Solstice.

--I read this article in The Washington Post about trees and what their rings tell us about the changing climate. I love the term "latewood," a term I hadn't known before today. I started thinking about my own bones, and what they might tell a researcher. I created some lines that might become a poem. Later today, on my neighborhood walk through the church camp Lutheridge, I will look at trees differently, with a new sense of wonder.

--I made this recipe for salmon rillettes in the way that Dorie Greenspan showed us how to do.  Yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the herbs looked fresh, and they had scallions and shallots.  Smoked salmon was on sale, so I took it as a sign.  It is so good.  Why do I only make it around the holidays?  It's probably healthier than the cheese and crackers I often eat for supper/evening snack.  I am hereby resolving to make it more often.

--Sadly, my dumplings yesterday did not turn out as delicious as the last time they made them.  Not horrible, just not as good as in November.  Hmm.  I did look up the online recipe to make sure that I had the measurements correct.  Hmmm.

--I strung colored lights across the window of the bedroom where my writing desk currently resides.  They delight me.  After Epiphany, perhaps I'll string the white lights up, if I can find them.

--Let me get to the grocery store one more time--and maybe plan ahead for Christmas Day.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas Kindness at the Grocery Store

In later years, will I wonder why I didn't write about the decision of the Colorado state Supreme Court yesterday?  In this article, The Washington Post says, "Tuesday will go down as a momentous date in American political history, with the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that a former president engaged in insurrection and is therefore disqualified from the presidency."

If I live long enough, I'm sure I'll be shaking my head over the idea that U.S. politics ever came to this.  In truth, I've been shaking my head that way for almost a decade now.  Wow, it really has been that long.  I remember in 2015 saying that people would never elect Donald Trump, and each revelation of an unwholesome past made me more convinced that he was doomed.  I feel spooked by my error then, and so it's hard for me to make the kind of statement that many were making yesterday.

But here's what I want to remember about yesterday.  I went to the grocery store early.  We needed to restock some essentials, like toilet paper, eggs, and old-fashioned oats.  I have always liked getting to stores before the crowds get there; even before the pandemic, I had a deep uneasiness in crowds for a variety of reasons.  I got everything I needed and decided not to do the self check out.  I unloaded my cart onto the conveyor belt.

The woman ahead of me had 15 boxes of candy canes, the ones with special colors.  She was having the cashier undo her purchase.  She thought they were $1.25 a box, but they had been shelved in the wrong space.  The manager had to come over to undo the purchase, so that she could buy only 5 boxes.

The manager came over and said, "I'd be happy to let you have them for $1.25 a box if you still want them."

The woman did--she had a class full of middle-schoolers who needed a treat.  I said, "Merry Christmas!"  We all smiled at this small Christmas graciousness.

I know that the manager was probably thinking about the fact that in just a few days, he was going make huge discounts on these candy canes.  Or maybe he was thinking about a way to keep one customer happy.  He was probably not thinking of making middle schoolers so happy with a simple candy cane.  I was not part of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

But this interaction made me feel good much of the day.  It seemed kind, in ways that I don't see kindness these days, even in these days leading up to Christmas, where I used to see all sorts of kindness.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Twenty Online Years

I was struck by Dave Bonta's blog post this week, noting the 20 year anniversary of his blog.  I was struck by many aspects of this blog post, particularly the idea that we might not any of us be here to be blogging in 5 more years when the blog will turn 25:  "I won’t say I’ve lost all hope, but I do think it’s an open question whether any of us will be around for Via Negativa’s 25th. Authoritarianism, runaway militarism, and severe inequality make for a volatile mix even before you factor in the multiple environmental crises we face. Things have never been more grim."

Those of you who know me know that I have an imagination that runs to apocalypse.  Still, I give us more than 5 years, barring something like a nuclear blast on the level of those depicted in The Day After or Threads.  We could survive a Hiroshima or Nagasaki level blast because there would be unaffected populations that could help.

I was surprised, however, at how much everything broke down during COVID.  If that disease had killed more quickly and/or had killed more people at midlife than older people, it would have been much more of a challenge.  I was also surprised by how quickly supply chains came to a halt.  A different kind of pandemic emerged, one with a mortality rate like the Black Death of the 14th century (or if MERS became more easily transmissible), it's not hard for me to imagine the end of humanity.

I fear I've given the wrong idea about Dave's blog post celebrating 25 years.  It was less doom and gloom than it was some nostalgia for the past, along with determination to keep going.  I love the way the blog post ends (I started to type "wins," which also works as a verb here):   "Thanks to all who read here or share links with friends, and thanks to my friends and colleagues in what we used to call the blogosphere, especially other members of the Class of ’03, who were such grand company in those dark times. We started online magazines and played with free online tech to make poems in new ways and shared strange thoughts and hand-made things, and from time to time compared notes on the enormous lights and mysteries that still fill the earth."

I was not blogging as early as 2003; I didn't start blogging until 2008, but I was reading blogs in 2003 and it wouldn't be too long before I started thinking about creating my own.  That was back in the days before social media influencers, days when regular people thought, what on earth do I have to say that is worthy of being recorded online?

I was intrigued by all the online opportunities that were developing, new places to publish poems.  And to this day, I still get more feedback from online publications than from publications in journals.  When I first started submitting to online journals, they seemed much more ephemeral than print journals.  No longer.

I'm also still intrigued by all the ways we can use technology to do things that once would have been impossible if we didn't have very expensive equipment, from taking high quality pictures to doing lay out, to having wide distribution.  Those who want to do so have many ways to stay in touch with fans/readers.  And we can create such new kinds of hybrid work that wouldn't have been possible for many of us, like collaging of word and image, or collaging of word, image, music, and/or video.  Some of us are creating things that might be less like poetry and more like something else that has yet to be named.

I think about my undergraduate days, twenty years before the birth of Via Negativa, when a desktop computer for a regular user seemed very far away.  What a long way we've come.  I wonder what the next 20-40 years will bring? 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Dryers and Estate Dealers

I spent part of my first day of winter break catching up on tasks that I've put off.  I finally scheduled an appointment to get the dryer working, and that happened yesterday.  Since it was still under warranty, we didn't have to pay to be told that the plug wasn't in the socket exactly correctly.  I might be more annoyed with us if we had paid $60.00 to $150.00 for a service call to be told that.  We've made the best of the space we have, but the new laundry room is very tiny.  As long as everything is working, it's great--why waste space on that room?  But getting to panels, plugs, hoses, drains, connections--it's barely workable.

Hopefully, because the machines are new, we won't have to think about them again any time soon.  But I am fretful.

Since I got back here in May, I've known that I needed a dresser.  I've needed a dresser for decades, but we've often had closets that I could make work, with drawers in our bedside table holding things like socks and undergarments.  But I knew our closet size would be reduced in this small mountain house.

I've gone to thrift stores and resale places and the kinds of antique stores where not everything is ghastly expensive.  I knew I wanted a tall dresser, since space is at a premium.  One piece caught my eye, less a dresser and more like a tall cabinet with lots of shelves behind the two doors.  I worried that it wasn't quite right, so I didn't buy it in November.  Plus, I knew that the estate sale dealers would be having a sale this week-end.  I risked losing the piece by leaving it.

I looked at other dressers in the intervening month, but my mind kept coming back to the tall cabinet.  And yesterday, I went back, and it was there.  I knew it would be 50% off today; yesterday it was 25% off.  I asked the dealer if she'd give me a 35% reduction yesterday, and she said yes.

After we finished with the kind dryer repair person, we went back to get the cabinet.  Much of the rest of the day was getting it on casters so it would roll, and getting it inside, which meant moving lots of stuff.  

It works perfectly for me.  I had hoped that there might be extra shelves, and once we get the bathrooms done, there might be.

I was glad to get the 35% off, glad to be able to get the task done yesterday--I knew it would consume a lot of time, and I'm pretty sure the pace at the store will be more hectic today.

And now, to get my sermon for tomorrow done.  One more John the Baptist Sunday to go!

Friday, December 15, 2023

Fall 2023 Semester Comes to an End

Today is my first day of winter break.  Yesterday I turned in my final paper, the big one for Systematic Theology class.  I had hoped to have a complete rough draft by the end of the day on Wednesday.  I didn't make that deadline, but I was close enough to sleep well.  I knew that the second and last section, the soteriology section would be easy for me to write, with its task to answer the question, "What is salvation for?" and tie it in to a current issue we're passionate about.  I chose climate change, because I thought there was a chance that fewer people would write about that issue than others we could have chosen, and I knew I could make it work.

Yesterday I got up and wrote the last section, while also circling back to proofread and to look through my notes from class lectures and the PowerPoints to try to determine what I still needed to add to the first section.  Around 10 or so, I thought, maybe I should have organized this paper a different way.  For a brief second, I thought about trying it, but then I told myself to stop being ridiculous.  I had about 12 hours before the deadline, and that's not enough time to rewrite the whole paper.  Plus, I was almost done.  

I went for a walk, and then we had our simple lunch of leftover hambone bean soup.  After lunch, I added some more Bible references to the paper and fixed some spacing.  I proofread and proofread again.  Finally, about 2 p.m., I went ahead and turned it in.  By then, my spouse was asleep, and I waited for him to wake up so we could celebrate.

I had thought of ways to celebrate.  I've been craving pizza for days, but a heavy meal like that is not something I wanted later in the day.  I thought about going to a brewery, but I didn't want to be out in rush hour traffic, which meant my spouse would need to wake up from his nap soon.

In the end, I went to the public library to get the books I had on hold.  In a way, it's fitting.  I've always spent my school breaks reading whatever I wanted.  I've always taken great pleasure in going to the library and getting whatever I wanted to read without having to pay.

But it was early enough in the day that I knew I would want something to eat before bedtime--but what?  I knew that I didn't want anything that was in the fridge, and I didn't want to cook or bake.  So I headed over to the nearby specialty bakery, hoping it was late enough in the day to get some discounted baked goods.

It was late enough in the day, half an hour before closing time, that there was not much left at all in the bakery at all.  I couldn't decide between the focaccia and the 3 cheese garlic bread, so I got them both.  Part of me thought that I overpaid, and part of me thought that I got 2 loaves of bread for what I would have paid for a pretzel and beer cheese dip at the brewery, so I got the better deal.

I got home and heated up the bread, which I enjoyed with a glass of wine and a stack of books as I glanced up periodically to watch the progress of the sun setting behind the mountains.  It was a low-key, but satisfying, celebration of the end of a semester, 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Advent Treats of the Reading Variety

I am trying to convince myself that I have enough time to write a blog post.  My Systematic Theology paper is due today, at 11:59 p.m.  I have been hard at work, and I am in the writing stage where I don't know if any of it makes any sense.  I have one more section to write, about what salvation means, and that's the part that will be easiest.  The part on Trinitarian theology requires me to weave together many ideas that show I've done the readings and understand the history.  Part of me worries that I'm relying too much on notes and the theology of others.  But that's what the assignment requires; I'm not asked to create my own theology of the Trinity.

I've been enjoying an Advent reading, Gail Godwin's Evensong.  I read it when it first came out, back in 1999, and then I reread it again a few years later.  So, it's been about 20 years since I've read it, and I don't remember much about it.  

It's about a woman who is an Episcopal priest; it's the sequel to Father Melancholy's Daughter, a book I loved deeply.  Twenty years ago, I loved Evensong because it told me what happened to the main character of Father Melancholy's Daughter.  This year, I'm loving it because it's set during Advent and because it's about church life in a mountain town similar to the one where I live and the one where I serve as Synod Appointed Minister.

This morning, I'm enjoying the Fresh Air interview with poet Christian Wiman--lots of great thoughts on faith, pain, and creativity.  Here's a quote to give a taste:  "I think you can believe in God and not have faith. I think faith means living toward God in some way, and it's what you do in your life and how you live it. I don't feel the sense of mystery or terror alleviated by faith. I don't feel that at all. I don't understand when people present God as an answer to the predicament of existence. That's not the way I experience it at all. I have this hunger in me that is endless, and I think everyone probably has it. Maybe they find different ways of dealing with it, whether it's booze or excessive exercise or excessive art or whatever. I tried to answer it with poetry for years and hit a wall with that. And finally ... I discovered ... the only solution to me was to live toward God without an answer."

Well, speaking of quotes, let me get back to that paper for Systematics.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia

Today is the feast day of Santa Lucia, a woman in 4th century Rome during a time of horrible persecution of Christians and much of the rest of the population, and she was martyred.  The reasons for her martyrdom vary:   Did she really gouge out her eyes because a suitor commented on their beauty? Did she die because she had promised her virginity to Christ? Was she killed because the evil emperor had ordered her to be taken to a brothel because she was giving away the family wealth? Was she killed because a rejected suitor outed her for being a Christian?  We don’t really know.  

She is most often pictured with a crown of candles on her head, and tradition says that she wore a candle crown into the catacombs when she took provisions to the Christians hiding there.  With a candle crown, she freed up a hand to carry more supplies.  I love this idea, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out that it isn't true.

Truth often doesn't matter with these popular saints like Lucia, Nicholas, and Valentine.  We love the traditions, and that means we often know more about the traditions than we do about the saints behind them, if we know anything at all about the saints behind these popular days.

This feast day still seems relevant for two reasons.  First, Lucia shows us the struggle that women face in daily existence in a patriarchal culture, the culture that most of us still must endure.  It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries today don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture: highly stratified, with power concentrated at the top, power in the hands of white men, which made life exceeding different for everyone who wasn't a powerful, wealthy, white man. It's a society that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

On this feast day of Santa Lucia, we can spend some time thinking about women, about repression, about what it means to control our destiny.  We can think about how to spread freedom.

It's also an important feast day because of the time of year when we celebrate.  Even though we're still in the season of late autumn, in terms of how much sunlight we get, those of us in the northern hemisphere are in the darkest time of the year.  It's great to have a festival that celebrates the comforts of this time of year:  candles and baked goods and hot beverages.

I love our various festivals to get us through the dark of winter. In these colder, darker days, I wish that the early church fathers had put Christmas further into winter, so that we can have more weeks of twinkly lights and candles to enjoy. Christmas in February makes more sense to me, even though I understand how Christmas ended up near the Winter Solstice.

I always thought that if I had a more flexible schedule, I'd spend December 13 making special breads, but that will have to wait.  My schedule is flexible, but much of today and tomorrow will be spent working on my final paper for Systematic Theology class.  But on Friday, once the paper is turned in, I have a vision of creating small Santa Lucia braids of bread, one for each family at Faith Lutheran, which I'll distribute on Sunday.

You could do baking too! If you’d like to try, this blog post will guide you through it. If you’re the type who needs pictures, it’s got a link to a blog post with pictures.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Triune God as Quilt, Human Condition as Molasses Cookie, Hambone Soup as Metaphor for All

Once again, I am feeling too fragmented to write a coherent blog post.  Let me capture some of the scraps and see if they make a quilt.

--I want to record one idea, but not write about it in detail, in case I use it in my Systematic Theology paper.  Using quilts to understand the idea of a Triune God.  But which part is which?  Is the patchwork top more like God the Creator, God the Redeemer/Son, or God the Holy Spirit?  The batting which most people never see and the back which some prefer?

--Yesterday I made a batch of gingersnaps to use up the bit of molasses that I had left.  I was trying for molasses crinkle cookies, which I had at first, but these cookies have cooled to a level of hardness that boggles my imagination, considering where they were when I took them out of the oven.  Could that cookie be a metaphor for the Triune God?  Perhaps they work better as a metaphor for the human condition.  We begin warm and bendy and sometimes barely able to hold our shape, and then we age into brittleness, but with a soft bit here and there.

--By the time this week ends, I will have consumed as much butter (by way of baked goods) in a week as I usually do in a month or two.

--We got the hambone that was left after Thanksgiving.  My sister planned to take it, but then she forgot.  On Sunday, we made a batch of soup with the hambone and 2 pounds of dried beans, along with a few carrots and celery stalks.  It was amazingly delicious.  I usually like legumes well enough, but I rarely call them amazingly delicious.

--This experience is my second experience with a hambone,  which produced the same results two years ago, when I first cooked with the leftover bone.  It was so good that I called the Honeybaked Ham store to see if they sold leftover bones.  I figured that they must have some, since they sell the meat separately and they prepare sandwiches.  They do sell just the bone, for $8 or $9 a bone.  Hurrah!

--My spouse wonders if bones from the Honeybaked Ham store will have as much meat left on it as our family hambone did.  For me, it's not about the ham to put in the soup, but the way the hambone flavors the soup.

--My inner 19 year old Kristin is appalled.  She was a strict vegetarian who inwardly scoffed at the people who told her how much flavor she was missing when she ate vegetables that hadn't been cooked with meat.  Younger Kristin had never had a hambone soup like the one I have in the fridge.

--I feel like I should try to make some sort of metaphor out of hambone soup, just to provide structure to this blog post.  Hambone soup as community?  Hambone soup as metaphor for Triune God?  God the Creator is the hambone, God the Holy Spirit as the bean mix, and God the Son/Redeemer as the carrots, celery and spices?  By the end of our soup making process, only the hambone had maintained its distinct characteristic.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Advent Stories and Midwinter Poems

It has been a week-end of tough health news, not mine or my family members, but close friends and their family members.  I've been thinking about the holidays, about getting tough health news, or any tough news, during the holidays.

I've been thinking about Advent, and how our Advent texts give us a story for any mood we're feeling.  There's the Mary story, perfect for the "Oh dear, what have I done?" moments in life.  There's John the Baptist, perfect for when you're ready to burn it all down, but at the same time, you're not quite ready to walk away.  There's the Elizabeth story for all of us who feel old and past our prime.  And who could forget Elizabeth's husband, whose big mouth and questioning gets him a time out.  For those of us who had dreams that seem to be crumbling, there's Joseph and the dreams that do not die.

All the stories revolve around waiting.  And since all of the stories revolve around waiting, I project changing emotions onto them.  Of course there's nothing in the text that tells us that Mary has any qualms, but it's hard for me to imagine that she never had that moment in the middle of the night where she second guessed herself.  Similarly, it's hard for me to imagine that Elizabeth never said, "I am much too old for this pregnancy gig."  We know that Joseph wrestled with the death of his hopes for a family and thought about his options before the angel appeared in the dream to tell him what to do.

Our Advent texts can be quite a startling juxtaposition with the messages that popular culture and the American consumer economy sends us.  The holiday cheer in commercial places is such a contrast with our Advent texts.  The juxtaposition can be jarring, but most years, I like having options.  I can have a contemplative Advent one day, followed by festive cheer the next, followed by a sorrowing December the next.

These ponderings made me wonder if I have the perfect poem for this mood of mine.  I do not, but I did find one that spoke to me, with this week of strange weather and gloomy political news.  I wrote it long ago, and it has remained unpublished, perhaps because it is such an odd mix of images.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In another climate in a different age,
these clouds would portend snow.
Instead it’s a strange winter thunderstorm
that swoops from the south to pelt
us with weather more suitable for spring.

In this year when winter came early,
two trucks collide to litter
the side street with stuffed
toys. The children complain
that the toys don’t speak.

Someone arranges child-sized
shoes in pairs, ghost feet
heading off into the wilderness
in search of honey or a home.
Installation art or portent?

The full moon keeps its counsel.
Through the centuries, it has watched
over many developments
and led many a slave to freedom,
but it will not interfere directly.

The angels sing their news of good tidings
of great joy, but we cannot hear
them. We can’t see the stars,
much less the rarer sight
of celestial beings who call us blessed.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Adventures in Gingerbread

My Florida church has their annual gingerbread decorating today.  My pastor has been baking all week, and today people will bring tubs and tubes of icing and other decorations for the festive, post-worship event.  

Note for future project:  why do we make these things post-worship?  Could we create a liturgy that uses gingerbread people?  I bet that we could.  Hmmm.

I knew the event was coming, and I wanted a gingerbread person of my own, not to decorate, but to eat.  I prefer my gingerbread unadorned.  I saw a decorating kit in The Fresh Market:  $12 for 6 gingerbread people and decorations.  I thought that was a bit pricy, and I know how those cookies would taste.  I kept walking.

I was at an upscale bakery later, and they had gingerbread people, mostly unadorned except for some white icing piped around the edges.  I was prepared to buy several, until I asked the price.  "Five dollars," the nice lady said.

Before I could stop myself, I said, "Never mind.  I have molasses at home."  I smiled, so that it might have come across as less rude.

I did not point out that the larger cookies with chocolate chips were half that price.  Maybe molasses is just that expensive.  It was last year, when I decided not to pay $10 for a jar of molasses--not artisanal molasses, just the kind of jar that once cost two or three dollars.  This year, I found that jar for $3.98 and bought it.

Friday afternoon, I made gingerbread people, and I have since been eating gingerbread people.  One of the reasons I thought about paying at the bakery is so that I wouldn't eat 4 dozen gingerbread people mostly by myself.

This year's batch is harder than I would like--you could build a house out of this gingerbread.  It's so hard to get gingerbread right:  hard enough to decorate, but with a soft interior.  I didn't use my family recipe which is in a box somewhere.  That recipe calls for cooking the molasses and the butter together and letting it cool before proceeding.

Let me stop eating gingerbread people and take one last look at my sermon.  Soon it will be time to head across the mountain to Bristol, Tennessee to Faith Lutheran.  There were thunderstorms last night, but at least no snow or ice yet.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Ping Pong Brain

Today's post will be shorter.  My attention is all over the place:  I've got two sets of research papers graded, and so I could turn in final grades.  I've been writing my Ethics paper, and I want to keep going there, while I've got my ideas fully in my head. I want to do the research (which is reading Bible commentaries) for my sermon today.  My Systematic Theology paper is due on Thursday, and I have some course materials to view/read/review before I can even start to think about writing that paper.

Still, it all feels more manageable than in past terms, when I've taken more classes which had more final papers/projects/exams.  I did errand running yesterday, so I don't have to leave the house.  But it will be a nice day, the last for awhile, so maybe I should leave the house.

The above two paragraphs give you a sense of my brain.  Still, I know what a luxury it is to have these days of unstructured time, when I have so many projects I need to work on.  I am so grateful that I'm not trying to do all of this and work 40-60 hours a week in a full-time job.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Thursday Snippets in Remembering Fleetingness

My brain is ping-ponging back and forth between all the tasks I need to do, but before I actually buckle down and do any of them, let me record some reflections before I lose them.  As always, we'll see if there's a thread that holds them all together.

--My spouse went back with me yesterday to do the set up work for the Return to Bethlehem living Nativity village.  He said, "Aren't you also getting a certificate in Theology and the Arts?  Shouldn't you be getting class credit for this?"  Sadly, no.  But I did want to record this idea--perhaps next year I could get an independent study kind of credit for working on this project.  But regardless, I will do it next year if invited.  I really enjoyed it, although at times I felt like I was spending more time hunting for working staplers for various groups transforming theatre flats into 1st century huts and houses.

--On Tuesday, I got an e-mail from a department chair to the whole online department to tell us that some of our Spring 2024 syllabi were not in compliance.  The school has adopted a Simple Syllabus that has elements that legislation requires--or maybe it's an attempt to avoid lawsuits.  It's not onerous, but it requires me to think much earlier than I'm used to.  Those classes that need syllabi in compliance don't start until late January.  So I spent part of Tuesday morning getting those syllabi ready.

--Yesterday I went to the grocery store early.  We wanted to create a pot of chili before we left to do Return to Bethlehem work, and we needed an onion.  On the way home, the sunrise was fiery.  I thought of the red skies at morning, sailors take warning rhyme.  I thought that maybe we would get more snow than was forecast.  But no, we only got a fleeting shower of mostly rain with some flakes.  I wasn't disappointed, since we were out on the roads, and I didn't want them to be treacherous.

--I got student evaluations back from Spartanburg Methodist College.  In the past 10 years, I've taught in a variety of places, and I haven't gotten evaluations back in a very long time, if ever.    My SMC evaluations were favorable--not even one student complaining bitterly.  I know that if a student felt I had done a terrible job, they'd have weighed in.  I also know that just because everyone is pleased, that doesn't mean I did a fabulous job.  But I'm glad that students were satisfied.

--On Monday night we added a Howard University professor of New Testament to our prayer list; something dreadful had happened, and she was in a critical state in the hospital.  By last night, I found out that she had died.  I did some researching this morning, and I feel this profound sadness.  What an amazing woman and scholar, what a loss.

Lots of reminders here, about the fleetingness of it all, about how we may not have as much time as we think, of savoring what is here and now because it's all very fleeting.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Drama Kid Powers, Activate! The Return to Bethlehem

I spent some time yesterday working on getting the space ready for the Return to Bethlehem experience.  Two months ago, a friend of mine asked if I would help, and I said yes, even though I wasn't exactly sure what would be involved.  I thought it might be something like a living Nativity scene, maybe with a few extra scenes.

I was wrong.  It's a whole living Nativity village.  One of the supervisors walked me through the space, telling me about how the visitors would stop at each station to hear actors tell about the space.  For example, there's a weaver's house, and the Temple, and a place where a person dyes cloth.  Eventually the tour ends up at the inn and the stable outside of the inn.

I do wonder a bit about the content.  I hope it's not anti-Jewish, and with the subject being Christ's birth, maybe it's not.  But the man who was working with me did say that the stop at the Temple has the priest talking and children asking about the star and the priest talking about the backwards shepherds.  Hmm.  And there's a spot on the tour where a Pharisee is holding forth.  I know that the potential for antisemitism is there.

But it's a script that has been paid for, written by a national group.  It might have a more conservative skew than I would like, but at least with the Nativity story, it's not likely to go as wrong as the Crucifixion end can go, with substitutionary atonement theory and antisemitic messages right and left.

I thought it was a church that puts this on, and I marveled that Groce United Methodist Church in Asheville was big enough (in terms of people, money, and space) to do this.  Come to find out, it's a different group that puts it all together, and different churches can host.  Of course, very few people have a big enough space.  There needs to be a fellowship hall that's the size of a gym.  Here's a picture of people getting the space ready for us to finish--you can see the theatre flats that we're using:

Each space had a picture of what the space looked like in a past year, along with tubs of supplies.  We assembled as best we could.  Here's a picture of what the Temple looked like before:

And here's the after: 

It took over an hour to assemble the Temple.  I did start counting all the spaces and thinking about the fact that the show opens Thursday night.  Happily, not every space will take that long.  I was part of the two person team that did the dye shop, and it only took about half an hour to get this space ready:

I will go back this morning, and I'm prepared to stay much of the day.  I'm enjoying the work.  It takes me back to my undergrad days, when I had a student worker job in the theatre department, creating sets.  It brings me the joy that fashioning worship spaces for my Florida church gave me.  And I'm needed--yesterday we didn't have many volunteers to do the work.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

End of Semester Balancing

My blogging has fallen off a bit.  I realize that some people might look at my frequency of posting, 4-7 times a week, as extreme.  But once, I blogged each and every day, two new posts, one for my theology blog and one for this blog.

My poetry writing has also fallen off a bit.  I looked through my files and was astonished to see that I haven't done anything with poetry since the earliest days of November.  It makes sense.  November was a time of schedule upsets, with Quilt Camp and Thanksgiving.  I have no regrets.  Well, that's not strictly true.  I wish that I had a schedule upset and then went right back to regular poetry writing, and everything else that is good for me, like exercise and eating enough vegetables.

Ah well.  By the time I figure out how to do that, perhaps I'll be retired.  Or maybe it will be a lifelong balancing act.

My balancing act is off balance these days because the end of the semester is upon me.  Yesterday I turned in grades, after spending a week-end deep in grading.  Turning in grades sounds so easy, like sliding a slip of paper into a mailbox.  But these days, it involves having several windows open on my computer, going back and forth, checking and doublechecking, waiting for the grade submission report, and saving it.

So, I've got grades turned in for my Spartanburg Methodist College classes.  But I still have grading to do along with final grade submissions for 3 online classes.  My seminary classes aren't done, but the end is coming soon; I'm trying not to feel panicky about the two papers I need to write.

So, today's blog post will not be substantive.  In fact, I just got an e-mail that said that I'm late in meeting the requirement to have the syllabus for next semester's class uploaded, the class that doesn't start until Jan. 22.  So I'll plug in those dates this morning.

But I do want to note one last thing.  We may get snow tonight!  Yesterday morning, the forecast was for nothing to a light dusting.  Then at some point in the afternoon, the forecast changed to a light dusting to an inch.  Now the forecast is for an inch or two.  Or maybe just a trace.

We live in the southern part of the county, at a lower elevation, so we may get rain instead of snow.  I have lived in southern places with winter weather to know that we will rarely get snow.  Still, I've been surprised by how thrilled I feel.  Part of it is the kind of snow that we'll get, the kind that will be gone by noon.  Part of it is that I don't have to leave the house tomorrow if the situation gets really bad.  And part of it is that snow fits a Christmas vibe.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Snapshots from a Week: Gloomy Weather, Vevo Christmas Channel, and Writing Samples

Today needs to be a day of grading and sermon writing, perhaps with a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, where they are having a sale on handmade items, an end of the year sale.  Let me capture a few events from the past week while I am still remembering them.

--On Thursday, we went to the Highland Brewing Company.  This beer, in all of its varieties, is one of our favorites, so I'm surprised we didn't go to the brewery before.  My spouse wanted us to choose a flight of beers and then have the bartender choose a flight that he thought we wouldn't like, based on what we had ordered.  I thought it was odd, but I was game.  The bartender also thought it was strange but quickly came around to relishing the challenge.

I liked the flight we ordered best--no surprise there.  My all-time favorite of the day was the Black Watch, a double milk stout that's only available seasonally.  But the other flight had surprises.  My spouse really liked the Cowboy Chords, a sour wheat ale.  I really liked the Highland Lounge Juice, a double IPA with lots of tropical fruit notes.

It was a fun expedition, a break in the day, a treat.  Hurrah for that.

--Yesterday was gloomy and drizzly, the kind of weather I love, but it makes my spouse depressed.  We had moved some firewood inside, since the forecast for the week-end was for gloomy weather.  So, without ado, yesterday we built a fire in the early afternoon and kept it going all day long.  It was lovely.

--I was sad to hear of the death of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, another of that generation that opened doors for the rest of us.  As I read the retrospectives, I was impressed with her determination and insistence, while at the same time remembering the humanity of those who had said no to her.  We seem to have lost that ability in this current moment.  Or maybe it always seems that the most vocal of us have lost that ability.  I am grateful for all the rulings that she made that remembered that real people will be impacted by these laws and these judgments.

--I made this Facebook post:  My TV is playing a Vevo Christmas channel, which is all Christmas music videos, from the classic to the contemporary, and these videos are fascinating! They're part time capsule, part message from a land I scarcely recognize. The commercials are also mostly Christmas themed. It's like some strange Hallmark adjacent universe my Roku stick has found, mostly good cheer and dreams come true and winter wonderlands, along with strange commercials for strange medications, where the possible side effects seem worse than a cure.

I also made this follow up post:  This Katy Perry Christmas video ("Cozy Little Christmas") that features naked Santa and naked Katy getting massages by reindeer hooves is rather trippy.

--My uncle still puts oat bran on his Cheerios.  Seeing his Ziplock bag of oat bran took me back to grad school, where the benefits of oat bran first came to public consciousness, where a group of us experimented with all sorts of recipes that featured it.  Was an apple oat bran muffin better than an apple oatmeal muffin?  

--I applied for a full-time teaching job at Spartanburg Methodist College, and I needed to decide which writing sample to include with the electronic application.  I decided on an essay that was just published in Gather Magazine.  I included the Word document and a picture of the Table of Contents.

If they want someone who does traditional academic publishing, that's not me, and I don't have anything that would convince them otherwise.  The posting didn't mention academic writing but included this wide variety of possible specialties:   "We are especially interested in candidates with areas of specialization in professional writing; technical communication; digital and social media studies; visual rhetorics; business, grant, and non-profit writing; or editing and publishing. Additional experience with creative writing and/or journalism is welcome."

I thought the article, which talks about ways to stay spiritually connected, even when one can't go to spiritual places, was a good fit.  As a way of showing that I'm conversant in visual rhetorics, I thought about including a link to my YouTube channel in the cover letter, but I just wasn't sure.  I did consider poetry publications, but I thought an article in a magazine with national distribution was a much better choice.  I am aware of all the ways I might have miscalculated.

Last year, when I first started to think about alternate housing in the face of the meeting that announced that our seminary housing would be torn down in August of 2023, I applied for some full-time community college jobs.  They did not require writing samples.  

The rain will begin again soon, so let me go for a walk while the weather is decent.  The temperature is in the mid 50's, which seems like a gift for December.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Ghosts of December Past

Yesterday had some strange reminders of the past, specifically of my last full-time job at City College, where I was Director of Education and then Campus Director.  It's not the more famous City College in New York, but a career college that offers degrees in health fields, and once had 5 physical campuses across Florida, plus an online campus.  

Just after lunch yesterday, my cell phone rang, which is odd.  It was from the City of Hollywood, even stranger.

I answered the call, expecting it to be some sort of alert attached to a former house.  Instead, it was the fire marshal who was trying to update records and asking me which floors of the building that the campus used.

It took my brain some time to catch up, and for a brief moment, I couldn't remember what used to be true.  It doesn't really matter.  I haven't been part of the campus since early 2022--I know what was planned, but many things were planned during the time that the new owners took over, and many of those plans changed radically.  I looked up the campus phone number on the website, explained the situation to the fire marshal, and gave her the phone number.  I refrained from any of the editorializing I might have done.

I wanted to give the fire marshal the phone number of the current owners, but I could not for the life of me remember the name of the Brooklyn school that bought City College.  I still can't.  I know how I could look it up, but it's strange not to be able to pull it up from my memory.

Later in the day, my spouse and I went to Highlands Brewery.  It was a pleasant afternoon in terms of temperature and clear skies, and it might be awhile before it's warmish like that again.  The place was decorated for winter holidays.  I looked up and recognized the stars/snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.  Back in 2021, there were two people working full time on the campus of City College, and the new owners sent decorations for the campus.  

That was back when there were still 5 campuses, and Corporate wanted them all decorated the same, all for winter, with no religion-specific holidays.  We were promised magnificent decorations, but what arrived was a craft project--flattened stars/snowflakes, with places that needed to be punched out, and some way that they slotted together.  The first one we did took over half an hour of trying to punch out the perforated parts.  I declared that we wouldn't be doing this for all the stars/snowflakes, as the finished product wasn't that much more beautiful than the non-punched out versions.

We were supposed to hang them from the ceiling, but we didn't have ladders, and even if we did, we were a team of two women in midlife.  I nixed the idea of standing on chairs.  We taped the flat stars to the walls and the strange banner that came.  Where were we supposed to hang this outdoor banner?  We ended up stretching it along an entry wall, the only one big enough to hold its expanse.

I'm glad that yesterday I recognized those decorations as we were about to leave the brewery.  It plunged me into a bit of sadness about how the new owners treated us all.  When I feel this sadness about the past, I feel sad about feeling sad:  after all, I am much happier now, with a more relaxed life that's more affordable, so why am I sad?  Why don't I just focus on feeling fortunate at being set free?  It's complicated.

I have spent some time this morning looking back on my December 2021 blog entries--that job was even more bizarre than I remembered, and I remembered some bizarre incidents.  I had forgotten about the landlord deciding that the elevator was broken and couldn't be repaired, and we were expected to cope with that.  That building made me question everything I thought I knew about the ADA and compliance and codes and such.  I'm glad that I'm no longer in charge of that campus, overseeing issues where I had no ability to make changes or control the situation.