Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Ready or not, here he is!

September 28th, 2005

At long last, Paul Funchess has joined us. We hadn't quite finished painting all the doors to the kitchen cabinets in his apartment, and the mattress for the bed doesn't actually arrive until tonight, but he's now here. We stayed up last night talking and putting together a puzzle (that we started when he was last here). Quite spiritually refreshing. I'm looking forward to working with him.

Shows what I know!

September 26th, 2005

Another football post easily skipped by those who don't care about football.

Well, how 'bout them Giants? I was 'bout as wrong as can be. Strahan played; not all that well, but he did play. Eli Manning didn't just play well -- he played phenominally. He's gotten better every game he's played, but I don't think he could have played all that much better than he did last night. And the Giants still lost. Tiki Barber practically got shut down (by his standards, anyhow), while Tomlinson from the Chargers ran roughshod (pretty literally) all over the Giants' defense. Seemed like he couldn't be stopped. Absolutely amazing. I've thought that Tiki is probably the single most under-rated running back (shucks, player) in the NFL. Couldn't see why all the fuss about Tomlinson, when Tiki outperformed him in yards from scrimmage (they're both a terrific threat both on the ground and receiving), and when Tomlinson did almost nothing the first two games of this season. Well, now I see why. Admittedly, Tomlinson had great blocking going for him; maybe the best blocking in the league, last night at least. But his moves were spellbinding. The Chargers have a tough schedule coming up. I don't know if they can beat the Patriots and the Steelers. I don't even know that they'd beat the Giants in a second meeting, especially if they played in the Giants' home stadium. But if they play the rest of the season like they played last night, look out NFL.

Oh, well. Shows what I know about predicting the future, especially of football games. My only consolation is that a lot of the experts are only 50-50 or so this season so far; I think I'm two and one. Anyhow, I've said for years that one of the best reasons to trust the Bible is the fulfilled prophecies -- goodness knows the rest of us can't tell the future!

How 'bout them Giants?

September 24th, 2005

How 'bout them Giants?
Okay, those with no interest in football in general can completely skip this post without any loss. But speaking of no losses, how about the Giants starting 2-0, when the consensus was that they would lose their first game to the Cardinals; and with New Orleans coming off their win over North Carolina (a general pick to go to the Super Bowl this year), even the sportscasters up here were saying New Orleans was the better team. In the win over the Cardinals, people pointed to the two special teams touchdowns; great play, but at least some of that was luck -- won't happen every game. But the Giants could have given away both those touchdowns, and still won that game by a touchdown. And in the game with New Orleans, people point to the kick return fumble that the Giants turned immediately into a touchdown. But they could have given away that touchdown, and given New Orleans a touchdown on the drive that they lost to the fumble -- and still won the game. They lead the NFL in points scored, and their defense against the run is one of the best.

Now the consensus is that they will lose to the Chargers this weekend. Hey, maybe they will. The Chargers have a solid quarterback, a really good running back, a top-notch receiver, and a defense that's allowed fewer yards than the the Giants. The Giants, and Manning in particular, haven't shown a lot of consistency over the last several games (including the ones at the end of last season). Strahan might not play because of his back. But don't count them out yet. They do lead the league in points scored. Their run defense is terrific. They have possibly the most under-rated running back in the game in Tiki Barber (the guy led the league last year in yards-from-scrimmage -- produced more yards total than any other player in the NFL, but is still listed in the third tier of running backs this year). Their special teams have gone from lousy to shaky to awesome. They finally have a solution for short-yardage situations, and they've added a wide receiver who gave the Chargers fits last time he played against them. And Manning just keeps looking better every game. I don't know as much about football in general as the guys making the predictions, and I don't even know as much about the Giants in particular (much less the Chargers!). But I've seen the Giants predicted to lose both of their last two games and they won. Convincingly. If Strahan plays at all and Manning plays well, I think they'll beat the Chargers.

The Funchess is coming! The Funchess is coming! And, Guard the Borders!

September 24th, 2005

Paul Funchess plans to arrive on Monday evening. We (and the rest of the church) are looking forward to having him back with us. He brings with him an energy level that most of us just can't match. In preparation for his arrival, Wenonah and I have spent most spare daytime hours with Deacon Ron painting and drywalling the place he'll be moving into. We've got today and tomorrow off from that duty before jumping back in again on Monday. After he gets here, we get to tackle the mound of dirt (roughly the size of an Aztec temple) that was dumped in our backyard, moving it by wheelbarrow to a hollow in the front yard. Yee-haw! I need the exercise; haven't been to the wrestling room or gymn in weeks for sheer lack of time. Running is all fine and good, but it's just not the same; ditto for biking part of the ride to work. At least the bookstore called off my overnight shift next week. The one I worked this week was a real pain.

Speaking of bookstores, I now no longer work for Waldenbooks. Oh, I work in the same store as always, but it is now a "Borders Express." This means that we now have several comfortable chairs, a new sign, and a new paint job. How exciting. Oh, I guess all those corporate rah-rah speaches and flyers and what-not didn't get me as excited as they meant to. I found it very nearly hilarious that during the transition, they gave us a survey (to be filled out anonymously) regarding how we felt about the change. Lots of multiple choice questions about whether we read the company propaganda and whether we think the change to being a Borders Express is lousy, so-so, great, wonderful, or the best thing that's happened to civilization. I don't remember many questions at all regarding why (in any sort of concrete way) we might feel the way we do. It was clear that the survey had absolutely no interest in changing the way that they transition, or in making Borders Express a better place to work, or a more efficient tool for selling books. The purpose of the survey was to figure out better ways to target their in-house propaganda so that we serfs would think it wonderful that the name on the store was changing, even though it meant no change in pay rate or benefits for us. If I sound bitter about it, I'm not. I just think the corporate mentality is funny, in a darkly ironic sort of way.

Providence and Katrina

September 12th, 2005

We've all been hearing a lot about the devastation caused by hurricaine Katrina lately. I've gotta say that I'm surpised, pleasantly, by how few are being found dead so far. Each one is a tragedy, but we were prepared for these tragedies to be counted in the thousands, or tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds. Houses and cities can be rebuilt. People cannot.

Of those whom we knew in the area, the story is even better. My brother resided in Gulfport. At the last minute, he and several friends evacuated to Panama City. It turns out that although the building in which he was living is now condemned because of flood damage, the waters only reached the top of the first floor -- his apartment on the second floor was unharmed, and all of his possessions were fine. He has now reported for training for the National Guard. A family from our church had just moved down to Mississippi a few months ago, and both husband and wife were in the Coast Guard. But he had been sent out of town to Jacksonville, FL for training when the storm came, and she had been at a family reunion. When they returned, they found their house with only minor damage. Our evangelist friend Paul Funchess had flown out of New Orleans for meetings in Baltimore before anyone knew the storm was headed for New Orleans. His pickup was left there. We feared the worst -- how many cars are there that went through the storm in New Orleans that weren't damaged or destroyed? But his was parked on the top level of the airport parking garage, and when he went back for it a few days ago, it was still there, completely unscathed. Almost enough to make a guy believe in providence, huh?

A Day for the Dead

September 12th, 2005

I spent way too much time with dead people today.

A few days ago, Dr. Stagno contacted me at work and asked if I could do the graveside service for a group coming up from VA for a burial. Although the woman had originally been from NYC, her family apparently didn't know any pastors on Staten Island, so they contacted us. Since Pastor Stagno had an appointment this afternoon, he asked if I could do it. Naturally, I agreed. It can be very difficult to do a graveside service for someone you've never met, with a group of people in front of you whom you've never seen before. I never was able to find out if the woman was a Christian, and I'm sure that many of the family were not. To perform a service, even a very brief one, that is both honest and compassionate is very difficult under those circumstances. I did my best, giving hope where I could, and presenting the gospel, while keeping the whole thing very brief in accordance with the request of the woman's son. Afterward, people came up and told me it was exactly what they wanted. I hope it was what God wanted; I think it was.

Shortly after I got home, my friend Jay called me. The father of one of the Farrell wrestlers I've coached had passed away, and the viewing was tonight. Apparently the dad had cancer for quite some time, but many of us never knew. It's not something you ask in a wrestling room: "So, what's your dad do? He doesn't happen to be dying, does he?" So of course I threw my suit back on, and headed back out to catch the train for the funeral home. These kids have seen more death up close lately than high school kids should have to. This kid's dad this week, and less than a year ago one of the most talented wrestlers on the island committed suicide, shocking everyone who knew him. I slipped Anthony my number on the back of a tract, and told him that if he or anyone in his family needed to talk, they could call me anytime. I'd like to be able to help some of these kids before I leave this place.

Rescue Mission Work

September 3rd, 2005

We went to help with the rescue mission ministry in Newark again on Tuesday. It's a unique ministry for rescue mission work, because it appears that most of the men present are already saved. Well, when we got in the vehicle to leave, it turned out that only Pastor, our deacon, and myself were going to represent our church. We handle pretty much the whole service, aside from the preaching. So Pastor asked the deacon if he'd give a testimony after we sung a few songs, and the deacon agreed. Then he asked me to come up from the piano and say a few words after we'd sung a few songs. Then he asked me to sing. Problem being, that there's no good mic down by the piano, and last time I tried to sing while accompanying myself on that big, open grand, no one heard a word I sang over the piano. So he asked me to sing a capella. Nothing quite like standing up in front of that gang (probably upwards of a hundred) of rough looking characters, and starting in to sing a capella. I hadn't brought any music with me, since I hadn't at all expected to sing, so I was working from memory. I drew a complete blank except for one song, of which I could remember the name, chorus, and first line. Ironically, the song was "Lord, I Need You." So I went up there, and line by line, it came to me as I sang the previous one. When I finished the chorus, I couldn't for the life of me remember the first line of the second verse, so I stopped. Might have been the shortest special those guys ever got. Of course, as soon as I sat back down at the piano, I could remember the whole thing, and probably any other song I wanted to. I think it was of the Lord -- He wanted someone to receive precisely the message of the first verse of that song. The men seemed to approve, but whether it was because it was good, or because it was short, I don't know. And probably don't want to know. Whew. Who said this stage fright stuff goes away with time?

Still Stumping the Chump

August 28th, 2005

Questioning the Assistant Pastor has turned out to be a popular sport at our church. I had halfway expected to spend just one week answering a few simple and hesitant questions before moving into our study of the book of Acts. However, the questions just keep popping up, often triggered by the answers to other questions.

For the last two weeks, it's mostly been pretty tame -- with one fun exception, nothing terribly difficult. This week, however, after the usual easy one or two (e.g., "What's up with the three heavens mentioned in the Bible?" and "Why does the same guy sometimes have different names in the Old and New Testaments?"), someone hit me with a question about the role of women in the church. Since the person who asked is from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background, it made the question even more loaded. I'd forgotten my concordance this morning (and hadn't really expected to need it; the questions people gave me in advance weren't too bad, and I had prepared answers for all of them), so I had to work from the top of my head.

I think I muddled through okay, but it's a tough subject to apply today. People tend to stumble on the fact that equality of value and sameness of role aren't the same thing -- two individuals can be of equal value in the eyes of God, and even in the ministry of a church, while playing radically different roles. The Bible transcends culture, and it's never really in step with popular culture through the ages. Back when popular culture valued women below men (as some places and cultures still do), the Bible still asserted their importance in the eyes of God, and even in society, permitting women to own property, be active members of the church, and do things that popular culture would not. And today, while popular culture tries to make women and men not only equal in value, but identical in role, the Bible still stands out, proclaiming that men and women play different roles in both the family and the church. But since the Bible is an absolute and unchanging record from an absolute and unchanging God, it's no surprise that it rarely lines up with the constantly shifting values of any culture.

The sticky subject that came up last week was the matter of judgment. Is it okay for Christians to judge other people? If so, when and how? That one is culturally loaded too -- we're supposed to be all accepting, never condemning the behavior or beliefs of others. "Judge not, that ye be not judged," is the watchword in contemporary Christianity, as in contemporary culture.

Ironically, that passage is not a commandment not to judge -- it is a warning about how we go about passing judgment. The Bible actually tells Christians to judge ("He that is spiritual judgeth all things," and "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.") It also places boundaries upon our judgment, rather like the Lord's warning not to judge others until we have first judged ourselves -- we'll be judged in the same manner that we judge others. One boundary is Paul's warning not to judge the convictions of others ("Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth.") or the motives, faithfulness, and probably effectiveness of another's ministry ("Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you....Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts.") We are, however, encouraged to rigorously judge ourselves ("For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.")

In short, it seems that the Scriptures command us to evaluate whether what others proclaim is the truth, determining carefullly whom we will follow, and from whom we must separate (and separation is something a little different from judgment, a distinction that few are careful enough to make). We are responsible for judging issues ("judgeth all things" -- not people, but things: not individuals, but issues and ideas. While separation is from people and organizations, judgment is made upon things.) We must constantly judge our own actions, striving to walk in purity of heart and life. But we ought not to judge another person's motivations, convictions, approach to ministry (aside from the determinations of whether they are truly a spirit from God and to what degree we can fellowship with them), or in any area until we have first examined our own lives. Other people will stand before the Lord for judgment for these things. And finally, I would always recommend giving the benefit of the doubt whenever possible -- we'll be judged in the same way we judge others, and it's what I'd want others to do for me, anyhow.

Whew. I've already been handed a couple for next week, but I don't know that there will be any as touchy in our church as those two. Can't we get back to easy ones, like "Where'd Cain get his wife, anyhow?" Ya'll pray for me. And you'd probably better pray for my students that they don't leave any more confused than they come in.

Hopefully I'm just kidding about that. But there's been a lot of interest in this series of question and answer weeks. The mother of the autistic boy from the picnic came this morning to the service and says she's going to try to come to my session next week, and my regulars have been as nearly fanatical about making these sessions as I've seen them about anything. Apparently there aren't a lot of preachers willing to put themselves in front of anyone who shows up and try to field any question they might ask about the Bible (although I reserve the right to tell people "I don't know today" and get back to them the next week!). Most of us gave that up right after our ordination council -- and we got to help pick the people that were asking the questions then!

The Issue Is Out in the Open!

August 27th, 2005

BackHome Magazine's website is now updated to include the new issue. My article ("Afraid to Homeschool") appears in the issue on the homepage of the magazine, the September/October issue. The article isn't available to read online, but the magazine's website, should anyone want to swing by, is

Having seen the issue, I'm generally impressed by the content, layout, and photos. It's a pretty good quality publication for a first article to appear in. They don't pay top rates, but they do pay reasonably (especially since a lot of new writers have to break in by writing for free to get their first several clips!), and the editor was pretty good to work with. All in all, a good experience, and I'll probably be pitching another article to them within the next several weeks.

Church Picnic

August 27th, 2005

Well, the Lord was good in regard to the weather that He gave us for the picnic today. Pleasant, in the eighties, with a breeze, and no rain. Can't ask for much better in NYC in August. The picnic was a pleasant success to match. We didn't have a huge crowd, but we had a very comfortable number. Tottenville Evangelical Free church joined us for the picnic, as they have for innumerable years past, and brought a small but (I'm going to say it again) pleasant group. The speaker, a deacon in their church, gave his fascinating testimony of a life devoted to demonic, occultic music groups, reading, lifestyle, etc. redeemed and changed radically by the grace of God. He wasn't dynamic, but he was sincere -- and I think that's more important.

Some of those who attended are people we've been praying for: teens who have been to past youth activities and made professions of faith, but whose families have not yet been receptive; a husband and wife recently reunited, with his son and their child; a neighbor whose child is mildly autistic, and whom we've been trying to reach out to (they used to attend the church before we came); a recently saved man whose wife is still Catholic (both she and their three children came today and had a great time, although I don't think she stayed for the service). It was really a blessing to be able to throw a football around with him and his oldest son; the son has had developmental challenges (for several reasons, I think, including a brain tumor as an infant), and just a few months ago underwent emergency surgery for a brain tumor. At first there wasn't much certainty that he would even survive, then there was a strong chance that he'd be paralyzed on one side of his body (he actually was paralyzed for a while, I believe), and there was great concern throughout for his mental condition. But God answered prayer, and he seems to have made a complete recovery, and perhaps is even better off now than before the operation.

We were also very pleased by the number of children and youth present. We rented a moonwalk (one of those big inflatable bouncy thingies) for the kids, and there was concern about whether we'd even have enough kids to justify having spent the money on it. Not a problem. We were missing a number of the older members of the church, who are simply reaching the point where their health makes it very difficult for them to get out, even on a beautiful day like today. But I think we're seeing a changing of the guard, with as many new believers and their children present today as there were older saints absent. This changing of the guard means that we don't see great numerical growth. But we're praising the Lord, just the same. He's still working on us.

Speaking of working on something, I'm still plunging into the mess of HTML that is our church website. The upcoming events page is mostly updated, though I don't have a date or two nailed down. I'm very proud of myself. I created a problem and fixed it all by myself. And there's still some stuff in the code I just don't understand, so I'm carefully circling around it and poking at it gently with a virtual stick until I figure out if it's poisonous or not. At least I finally got a book on HTML and XHTML. (See, that sentence is much more impressive if I don't admit that I don't even know the difference between HTML, XHTML, and I think there's another one out there too (SHTML?) -- not to mention the whole Java thing. Oh well, at least I know they exist. But I still say telling a coral snake from a milk snake is a lot easier. Give me life-threatening snakes to identify any day over website and sanity threatening computer languages any day.)

Church Website and Crispy Crabs

August 22nd, 2005

After chasing wild geese on the web, playing phone tag, and swapping emails, I finally have the username and password to work on the church website. The girl who originally built it hasn't been to church in months, and hasn't updated the site in many more months, so I knew that I'd be taking over once I figured out how to get in. Sadly, she'd misplaced the access codes during all that time, so I had to go chase them down.

Knowing that this moment would come, I received an HTML tutorial from a man in the church who is going to school for computers (the same individual who helped me build this whizbanger of a system). I've always been pretty good with languages, and figured programming languages shouldn't be any harder than Greek, so I dove into the tutorial. I swam the crawl stroke through it, fast but tiring, and took a deep breath at the end. Not too bad. Nothing in there that I couldn't handle with a little careful reference and thought.

Then I went back to the website and looked at the code that makes it up. Uh-oh. There was a lot of stuff in there that wasn't in that tutorial. Must have been a beginner's level tutorial to try to figure out an intermediate website. The girl who built it did so from scratch, not using any of the easy programs out there -- cheaper, and with more potential variety, but it means that I can't just buy the program she used to work on it. And the control panel! It looks simple. Sure, it looks simple. But figuring out how to use it, that's not so simple. And I'm really hesitant to change anything until I know how to experiment without potentially messing things up on the actual site.

So, if anyone wants to reach me, you know where to find me. I'll be spending a lot of time right here, hunched over the keyboard, staring in confusion at lines of apparently random keystrokes. Feel free to call, instant message, or whatever. I'm sure I could use the break.

Speaking of breaks, I'm hoping (in a non-expectant, knowing-it's-a-ridiculous-longshot sort of way) for a lucky break in the publishing world. I just mailed out my short story "A Half-Baked Plan" to Gordon Van Gelder's Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It's one of the top markets in the speculative fiction field today, and without prior publishing credits and/or an astounding story I don't have much of a chance of being published there. But Van Gelder says that his magazine never gets as much science fiction or humorous work as they would like to see, and my story is both. So why not start with the market at the top of the heap? The story is about how a toddler foiled an invasion by crabs from outer space by playing in the kitchen. Hey, our toddler playing in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster for anyone who happens by, be they human or crustacean. (Not that I'm much better, really.)

Speaking of kitchens, it sounds like dinner is ready in ours. And since I had nothing to do with cooking it, and I think we kept the toddler clear too, I think I'll go eat it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Review: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

August 14th, 2005

This review will be pretty simple. If you are starting to write scifi or fantasy, you really should read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card.

It's not a general writing book, and it won't help you much with plot, characters, viewpoint, grammar, or other general aspects of writing. But its information and advice about writing speculative fiction is succinct and superb. Much of what is in this book, I'd already picked up from a scattering of places, including Card's website. But I'm sure glad that I've got it in one codified place now. There are many people who are capable of writing great material, but not of explaining how to do it. Card is not one of them. This book is well organized, simple, and straightforward. Incredibly useful. I'll keep this short, and just say that if you're ever inclined to write speculative fiction, this book should probably be the first one you pick up.

Wrestling Camp and Intelligent Design on Nightline

*Note: the photos referenced in this and other back entries are still posted on my msn space, also called Minister's Study.*

August 14th, 2005

The Lehigh wrestling camp ran this past week at the local high school whose wrestling program I assist. It was a terrific clinic with some top-notch wrestlers and coaches. On the last day, world silver medalist and several time national champion Kerry McCoy ran the clinic. Kerry is a really impressive young man. He single-handedly demolishes the steriotype of the heavy-weight wrestler as a mindless heap of muscle and flab. He was a top-notch student, an accomplished cellist, and is a lean, quick 225 pounds of destruction. He's retired from wrestling competitively and is going to Stanford to be head coach there this season. I've posted a couple of pics from the clinic, and he's a super guy. I especially like the one where he's autographing the shirt of the most difficult kid in the clinic.

The other night I was up late enough to see the start of Nightline with Ted Koppel. Since they were talking about the Intelligent Design controversy (stirred lately by President Bush's remarks), and since I've done a lot of interested reading on the subject, I stayed up to watch. I was terribly disappointed. Koppel and co. permitted the opponents of I.D. to make their strongest case, while limiting the I.D. proponents to disjointed and largely irrelevant clips of interviews that didn't answer the arguments of their opponents (and it's not that the I.D. proponents don't have excellent answers; they've published them and spoken them all over the place -- the show simply didn't present them). The entire program seemed bent on forcing the issue into the old "religion vs. science" mold. It made constant mention of the scientific credentials and positions of I.D.'s opponents, while never mentioning the superb scientific credentials of its supporters. In fact, the show never made mention of any of the scientific or mathematical challenges that I.D. is making to purely naturalistic evolution. It entirely permitted the Darwinist establishment to dictate the terms of the debate, ruling out as unscientific any evidence suggesting any mechanism not entirely naturalistic. The Darwinists said, in essence (and the show never challenged them on it), "It doesn't matter if there is evidence that the earth and everything on it did not reach its current form through purely natural processes -- that evidence is not permissible, even if it is true. Truth about origins is less important than doing science according to the philosophy of naturalism that we dictate." Ironically, I.D.'s opponents then went on to claim that it is the theory of Intelligent Design that is not falsifiable (in spite of the fact that some of I.D.'s proponents have published criteria by which their theories may be falsified). Yet evolution, even purely naturalistic, Darwinist evolution may not even be questioned in a classroom. I know of no widely regarded criteria of falsifiability. Kids must be taught to think critically -- but not about the dictates of the scientific establishment. Those must never be questioned in a classroom. But Koppel and co. never challenged the scientific establishment about these apparent contradictions. Even if he and his show come to a different conclusion than I do, I'd sure like to see fair and honest journalism that takes the best arguments from both sides, and asks the hard questions of both sides. And he and his show did not do that with this issue. There may well have been design in that show, but I didn't see much intelligence.

Water Games Day (and blowing a fuse)

August 14th, 2005

Splash! Our water games day for the teens yesterday went over pretty well. With the ones who like violent, strenuous activity, anyhow. In other words, the guys loved it and the girls mostly just tolerated it. Fortunately, it was certainly hot enough. Record setting hot -- 99 degrees in Manhattan, and 102 in Newark (we tend to be somewhere in between the temp of those two places). We had a solid turnout (10 kids, several of whom are returnees from our South Baptist Challenge, and one of whom made a profession of faith at that event). We played games like water balloon war (based on dodgeball), water balloon soccer (okay, so you didn't have to kick the balloon -- but at least there was a goalie), and human bowling. After the event itself, I played basketball with some of the guys who came. I took on a varsity player for a large local high school, and proved that I'm not too old yet -- I could still take him to the hoop or shoot on him outside. Like I said, all the guys had a lot of fun, and most of the girls had a good time too.

This morning, we were only five or ten minutes into the morning service when the fuse at the church blew. It set off the fire alarm, and meant that we finished the morning service old style -- no light but what the stained glass let in. Losing the A/C was worse than losing the lights. My outdoor thermometer read 101 degrees when we left the service. Pastor was nice and cut his sermon a little short, and aside from losing the electricity, all went pretty well. Looks like we'll be looking for an electrician, though.

The question and answer time went pretty well, really. No big surprises, and it was nice to have a couple of questions that I already had answers prepared for. So far, my theory that most of us wonder about pretty much the same things is holding up; nobody asked anything I haven't wondered about myself until I settled it, or asked someone else myself. Can't say I'm surprised that we didn't get it done today. Round two of "Stump the Chump," next week, right here! Don't change the channel.

It's a crab eats crab world up here!

August 14th, 2005

Okay, so the check from BackHome Magazine would have more than covered dinner last night if I weren't a good tipper. Still, it was worth more than the extra bit that meal cost to see Anna dealing with her first crab and lobster still in their shells. The food at Dock's, although pricier than we would normally eat, is consistently good, and they didn't disappoint us this time either.

We got crabs to start with, but crabby Anna didn't want anything to do with them. I guess it didn't help much that I terrorized her briefly with one of the claws. What are dads for, right? But once I got her to taste some, she went nuts over them. She tore into those crabs like she was a natural predator for them. She probably ate as much crab as I did. Makes me wonder if someone's been feeding them to her for a while secretly. It would explain some things; you are what you eat, you know.... By the time she was done with the crabs, the lobster barely fazed her.

We got the contributor copies of the magazine in the mail, and I'm pretty pleased. They didn't change much about the article (just my subtitle, I think). Looking at the article and at the check, it looks like they paid me $10 more than the minimum we agreed upon. It's not pro rates, but I'm pretty pleased by the look and content of the magazine, the editor has been pleasant and generally prompt to deal with, and it seems like a good place to get a few clips. I've asked them if they do work on assignment; if so, I wouldn't mind doing a few more articles for them to get the experience under my belt.

Looking at the time here, I think I'll have to tell ya'll about the youth activity, the wrestling clinic with the world silver medalist, my thoughts on Nightline's program the other night, and my latest book review later. I'd say tomorrow, but it's really later today.

The check actually was in the mail!

August 11th, 2005

Most days I'm not too enthused about checking the mail. You know, there's usually just junk mail, bills, account statements, etc. Occassionally things are spiced up by the arrival of one of my writing magazines, but I'm behind on reading those lately. So most days, the arrival of a mailman isn't all that exciting. But today -- today was a great day for getting things in the mail. Not just the ordinary snail mail, either. My wife called me at work, the mail today was so good.

My new monitor and speakers arrived via Fed-Ex, a day before I expected them (the monitor and speakers that saw me through seminary and most of my first three years here gave up the ghost a few days ago). And they are terrific. So far, this Hyundai monitor is everything I could have hoped for. But I was more excited by what came in the email.

The editor of BackHome Magazine replied to my email, and told me that I should have received my complimentary copies of the September/October issue by now; my article is in it, and it's gone to press! My first paying writing gig! I haven't got the contributor copies yet, but I expect them anytime.

But you may have noticed that I said "paying." That's right, the actual check came in the paper mail today. It's not a lot; they're not a huge magazine with a million subscribers or anything, but I'm still excited about it. We're going out to dinner to celebrate (and yes, the check is more than enough to pay for dinner for us.) I'll post the link somewhere around here when the magazine's website is updated to the new issue. But link or no link, I'm celebrating tonight. And I might even look forward to getting the mail for a little while. Well, maybe not. But today was nice.

Review: Magic Street (minimal spoilers)

August 9th, 2005

I just finished Orson Scott Card's latest book, Magic Street, today. I'd give it a solid 4 stars out of 5. I defnitely liked the ending more than the beginning. The book didn't draw me in right away, and there were some confusing elements. But as the book progressed, things that seemed incidental in the opening took on new significance, and the book took a firmer and firmer grip on my interest. Definitely worth a read, even if you have to work a little to get past the first five or six chapters.

The story takes its cues from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, though Card elaborates upon and twists the ideas and individuals freely. It is not a retelling of the bard's tale, but takes several of its characters and concepts from it. One of the twists is that the protagonists in Magic Street are black. The story is set in a black neighborhood in L.A., and the good guys are black, and the bad guys are black. Naturally, the good guys aren't always so clearly good, and the bad guys supply their share of surprises as well. Though I'm not black, and so cannot speak from personal experience, the depiction of middle class black culture seemed pretty spot on. The story was powerful, especially as you reach the end. I was pleased by the general avoidance of cliche, and the fresh thinking throughout. The biggest reason that I don't give this five stars is that the opening chapters simply didn't grab and compel me along as the rest of the story did. It's not quite up to the level of Ender's Game, but then, few books are. This one is worth the time to read.

Review: Ice Princess (spoiler alert!)

August 7th, 2005

We checked out Ice Princess last night and watched it together. Actually, we've watched it twice. That should say something about the quality of the movie. We'll almost certainly purchase it one of these days. Not perfect, but it was clean and enjoyable. You could tell it was a Disney production, with the sloppy tossing around of physics lingo, what sure looked like the dramatic overstatement of the cutthroat realm of competitive figure skating, and the DisneyPop soundtrack. But for all that, there were a lot of positive elements to the story. Cheaters face repercussions, and not necessarily the ones they expected. Your relationship with your parents is important. Don't put unreasonable pressure on your kids to succeed for your vicarious pleasure. It's possible to have a balance between academics and athletics in a kid's life, and both can be important, to different degrees for different kids. Hey, I can live with those messages.

The gist of the story is that a bright girl who skates for fun decides to study figure skating from the standpoint of physics with the intent of using the project for a scholarship application (she wants to get into Harvard). While doing the work, she tries to apply it to herself, and finds that she is a remarkably talented skater. Eventually (rather to the initial chagrin of her mother), she turns down admittance to Harvard to pursue skating competitively (she does take college courses elsewhere). Meanwhile, her coach's daughter (rather to the initial chagrin of her mother) decides to give up skating competitively and go to college. Nothing earthshaking here, but good, clean entertainment that a Christian family can enjoy together.

Stump the Chump

August 7th, 2005

Church this morning went very well. We had some return visitors (actually far more encouraging than first time visitors), and considering how many people are absent during the summer, the attendance was very good. One couple with two children said that they plan to return Wednesday and bring with them the five children of a neighboring family.

I finished my series on the disciples of Christ in our Bible Study this morning. I found it interesting, and I don't think any of the attendees fell asleep throughout the series, so I guess they thought so too. Next week, and if necessary, the week after, we'll do what I'm calling "Stump the Chump." I've issued an open invitation for questions, any Biblically based questions. I've asked that people give them to me ahead of time, but said that they don't actually have to. This has me a little nervous. Never know what you'll be hit with in an open question and answer time, and it's not like I actually have all the answers. I have told them, though, that if I don't know the answer, I'll tell them I don't know, then go home during the week and try to find out. Fact is, though, most Christians in the States have the same set of questions that they're too nervous to ask for fear that either they'll look stupid for asking something everyone ought to already know, or worse, that there won't be a good answer. Since I already asked all the usual questions, and a lot of the unusual ones, now I've just got to remember the answers. This being me, though, that's going to be harder than it sounds. I mean, this is the same preacher who, just this morning, printed out a dozen copies of my lesson, and only one of the handout, instead of the other way around. Oh, boy. Ya'll pray for me.

Following our session of Stump the Chump, I've decided to continue into the book of Acts. Some thorny issues in there, like speaking in tongues, miracles, the relation of baptism to salvation, apostolic succession, etc. I'm looking forward to it. Since practically my entire class comes out of either a Roman Catholic or charismatic background, it should be helpful for them too.

My flash story this week can't really be called that. I have this terrible habit of coming up with an idea that sounds like it can be reasonably told in 800 words or less. Then I check my wordcount one third of the way into the story (and two-thirds of the way through the time), and realize that I've already crossed 600 words or so. I generally spend the last ten minutes typing frantically to get to the ending I knew I was going to from the very beginning. This naturally leaves almost (okay, forget the "almost") no time for going back and editing to trim the flab. Oh, well. I'd apologize in advance to all the people who have to crit my group, but that might give away which story is mine; mine may well be the longest in its group. (Might not be, though. There was one week when someone hammered out almost 1,000 words more than I've ever put out for one of these.) Oh, well. I think the longest story I've written yet was also the only one I've ever written to win its group. And it only fell one vote short of winner of the whole thing, I think. Can't wait for the voting/critiquing to begin. I never can.

Summer heat

*Note: the pics referenced in this and other past blog entries are still up on my msn space, also called Minister's Study.*

August 6th, 2005

So, we're thinking about moving back down to Florida, just because it's gotta be cooler there. Okay, probably not. But it sure feels like it on days like today and the last few we've had.

I'm taking a break from church work to post some pics from our vacation in Virginia. I'm carefully refraining from posting some really nice ones of scenery and wildlife from Asateague and Chincoteague. I hope to use at least some of those for a travel article on camping at Asateague, and I suspect editors would get grouchy about them having been posted for public access online. If anyone wants some, I can email them; I got some pretty good pics of the wild ponies, deer, the beach, and some sunset/scenery pics. After I finish the sorting and prewriting process, I may come back through and post some of the good ones from those that aren't as likely to be needed for an article.

I'd love to send the article in to the AAA travel mag; it would be a feather so big my cap would fall off if it were published there (I think the pics and my observations are good enough to cut it, if they'd even consider a story by a writer they've never seen before). But they don't take E-queries, and their turnaround time on queries is slower than I'd like. The RCI mag is another really good pro market, but it doesn't seem like as good a fit for them. So I'll likely wind up shopping it somewhere about a step down from those top pro markets.

Note the picture of Anna with the small bass. I'd been holding that rod with bait in the water for quite some time, and nothing was biting. So I handed the rod to Anna to hold while I rigged my spare rod to try something else. And naturally, the bass latched on while she was holding it. I had to reel it in for her, but she was the one holding the rod when the fish was hooked. This wouldn't bother me if the same thing hadn't happened when I handed my mother-in-law a rod to hold while I worked on something else too. Something fishy is going on here. I'd be terribly depressed if I hadn't caught the only big catfish of the day.

Incidentally, the Animal Receiving Facility finally sent someone out to pick up that dog yesterday. I hope either his owner or someone a little more responsible picks him up. Poor old guy.

Well, my lesson on the Disciples of Christ awaits me. We're up to Pentecost now, and it's been really exciting to watch the Lord take some fairly ordinary guys and turn them into the men who would change the world. Enjoy the pics, and if anyone wants these or others emailed, feel free to comment here or email me.

Taking in strays

From February 4th, 2005

My wife can really be a softy. She's the sort who's willing to take in and help out some poor, hapless stray. This is a good thing. Otherwise, I might not be married.

This tendency came into play last night, when some poor old part hound dog wandered up to our fence. He was clearly lost, thirsty, and friendly, so she let him in the yard to keep him from wandering onto the street, gave him a drink and some food, and let him spend the evening on our open porch. Naturally, we hoped that his owners would swiftly be along looking for him. Since this didn't happen, we called the local Animal Receiving Facility (about a mile and a half from us). But this is NYC. You can no longer actually call the facility just down the road from you. You have to call the city's 3-1-1 number, where someone transfers you to some central location to take down your information.

Once I got to the central information taker, he told me (I'd say "assured," but he didn't leave me feeling all that assured) that they'd get someone out to pick up the dog as soon as possible. When I asked him what "soon" might mean, he tried to be vague, but ended up saying this afternoon. Midway through the afternoon, when no one had shown up for the dog, we called again. "Oh, they close at 6PM, and they're out doing their pickups now. They should definitely be there before 6." At about 6:02, we call again, because, strangely enough, the dog was still out there. "Oh, we just didn't get to you today. Too busy. Too many calls." Keep in mind that we only live a mile and a half from the facility, and we've told them that the dog is both friendly and enclosed. Then they tell us that they can't even promise to get anybody to come tomorrow. With every call, they kept trying to get us to bring the dog in ourselves. That would be nice, if we actually had a car. But like many New Yorkers, we rely on mass transit and our feet to get around (research shows, by the way, that urban dwellers tend to be in better shape than rural dwellers because they walk more and drive less.) Now, I would walk the dog down there. But the dog is old. And the dog is part Basset hound or some such. This means that the old guy's legs are about an inch and a half long. He doesn't walk. He waddles. He moves rather like a four-legged centipede with arthritis. No way he's going a mile and a half.

Gotta love this situation. We can either keep the dog in our yard indefinitely, waiting upon the industry and good graces of a NYC beauracracy (sorry, let me take a moment as I wipe away the tears of bitter laughter), or turn the poor thing back out onto the street again, where he is at the mercy of NYC drivers (I can't even laugh about that, it's so sad.) So much for an "animal protection" agency.

On an ever-so-much more cheerful note, I finished Patrick O'Brian's novel The Letter of Marque today. This is the twelfth book in the series of Aubrey/Maturin historical sea novels (for those of you who don't read enough, this is the series that the movie Master and Commander was based on.) Absolutely terrific series, and it's taught me an awful lot about historical fiction in general, and naval matters in particular. Not to mention giving a completely different perspective on such historical events as the American Revolution and the War of 1812 (the books are written from the perspective of a British naval captain and his ship's doctor/intelligence agent). I might have to stop reading the series for a while, though (I think there are 19 or 20 books in all) just to get some other reading done. If so, this book seems like a good stopping point. For once, all the threads seem to be tied up. It seems as though O'Brian might have thought that this would be the last book in the series when he wrote it.

Speaking of New York beauracracies, I tried to get in touch with that friend in drug detox at the hospital. But privacy laws require that they not admit whether he is there or not. Or even if he was there and checked out. In essence, I can't speak to him or see him or find anything out about his condition unless he contacts me, even though I'm the closest thing to a pastor he has (but they promise to give him my name and number and tell him I called. Really. They do.) I hope he's in good enough shape to be able to contact me. He didn't sound too good the other night.

I started work on an article for an as-yet-indetermined travel magazine on our camping experience on Asateague Island. Fortunately, some of the photos from the trip came out pretty well, and good photos can get you a lot of mileage when selling magazine articles. I don't really have any text written yet; first I want to make sure what I've got for pics, and then I want to select my target mag and probably query them before I get far into the article. This way I can make the article specific to that mag. I'm trying to figure out if it's okay to query several mags with the same article concept, and if more than one accept it, write similar but slightly different articles for them. I'm thinking the pics might be a bigger problem, since each would probably want exclusive use of any pics they use. I'm still kinda new at this freelance magazine writing. But it seems like a much quicker way to make a living from writing than writing fiction. Not necessarily more fun or more fulfilliing, or even more long-run profitable, but definitely quicker.

It felt good to get out and run today, even with a heat index in the triple digits. First serious exercise I've taken since putting myself through that tournament last week (four matches the first day -- pretty tough). My shoulder hasn't really recovered, so I've been staying off the mat and out of the weight room, but the running sure felt good. Not that I like running. In fact, I hate running. But I love being in shape, and I'll put up with running to stay that way. Kinda like some people eat peas and brocolli to stay healthy. Of course, I have my limits. No peas and brocolli. But I will run.

Well, I'm going to try to post a few more pics up here from our family's vacation in Williamsburg and Chincoteague/Asateague sometime in the next few days. Won't be tonight, because it's getting rather late for my poor wife, and because my daughter (who serves as our alarm clock these days) has no snooze button or off switch.

When the cat's away...

From August 3rd, 2005

With the good Pastor, Dr. Ray Stagno, absent this evening, I led the midweek service. The lesson's title was "What You Need to Know about Praying." A little ostentatious, perhaps, but I tried to hit all the key fundamentals. With literally all of the oldtimers absent tonight, everyone present was a young believer, so the message really fit. I'm excited by this group of guys -- the Lord could really use them as the core of something spectacular here in NYC.

When the phone rang at 4:30 something AM a few days ago, I figured it was probably my mom with some terrible news for us. Turned out it was an old chess club acquaintance (a brilliant player, by the way) who was totally stoned on some kind of drugs. I never did really find out what. He said, in effect, that he was ready to turn to Jesus for help. He's been to the church at my invitation once or twice, and I've tried to witness to him before. But he's really into the whole Eastern religion thing; spends a lot of time in compounds and communes. The poor guy was so out of it that he couldn't really follow the plan of salvation, though I put it as simply and clearly as I can put anything at 4:30 AM. Come to think of it, that might not be saying much. Fortunately, he had a friend there with him who is also a Christian, though not entirely of the same persuasion as I am. This friend called the church later, and when I got back with him today, he let me know that our mutual friend is in the hospital, and will be going to drug rehab when he gets out. I'm going to try to get up to the hospital he's at to visit him sometime in the next few days. Could be interesting.

My short story, "The Monster Smiled Again" wound up one vote short of the two-way tie for best story in its group, but it did tie for first with another story for "best characterization." Only one critiquer even noticed the absence of really gritty language, and one or two have actually picked up on those character motivation clues I thought were so plain. Not bad, but I've still got a lot of work to do to make character motivation clear to the average reader.

Getting Started: youth work, writing, and Greco-Roman wrestling from NYC

From August 2nd, 2005

Getting started: youth work, writing, and Greco-Roman wrestling from NYC

Well, with this entry, I have entered the world of blogging. Welcome to the internet age, Dan. (Sorry, I have this tendency to address myself. I tell myself it's not that unusual, so it doesn't bother me much.)

To bring up to speed anyone who happens by, the last month has been a crazy one. So crazy I actually had to lay off the timed writing challenges I'd been consistently doing to work on my writing. At the beginning of the month, we had an ensamble from Pensacola Christian College visit the church, and a few of the guys stayed at our place overnight. One I knew from seminary, and another I had known as a little kid from the church I grew up in. After a solid performance, and an icecream and Dutch Blitz filled night, we took the ensamble and some of the church girls on a whirlwind tour of lower Manhattan. I think Chinatown impressed them all the most.

Shortly after the PCC ensamble departed, Paul Funchess, evangelist extraordinaire, arrived. He helped me to promote and put on a program for both the children and the teens. Kids cram New York City, especially this part of Staten Island. But we've had a terrible time reaching them. During the week of programs, though, we had two children make professions of faith in Christ, and at least five teens do the same. This was really a terrific week for us, and although numbers aren't even close to everything in ministry, the numbers were encouraging. We hope to be able to continue to help these young people, and to reach out to their friends and families as well.

Last week, I took two days off to wrestle in the Empire State Games. These are a sort of olympics for New York State. I have to really give the state credit for the way they put them on. It really is a first-class production. I represented the New York City region in Greco-Roman wrestling in the open division. Since this was my first Greco tournament ever, and my first tourney of any kind in the last five years or so, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Turns out the competition there was pretty tough. I was fairly pleased to escape with a sixth place finish (out of the twelve qualifiers -- a full weight class; each of six regions can send its two best) and no serious injuries. The new rules for Greco played a big role in two of my losses -- nobody I practice with really uses the reverse lift, but literally half of the match is now spent in that position. I got thrown for five points in both of those matches. Ouch. Hurts my pride more than it hurt my body. My wrestling partner, Jason Bross, wound up taking silver in his weight division, one of the toughest weight classes there. After the medal match, he left his shoes on the mat, signifying his retirement. We'll miss him on the mat, but he promises to keep coaching. As one of the other wrestlers told him, Jay is the classiest wrestler he'd ever met. Another legend retired at the games -- Melvin Cooper. Melvin is sixty-one, but still had one of the most chiseled and impressive physiques at the games. His son, who placed second at nationals this year, was there to raise his arm in victory after Melvin left his shoes on the mat. Both Melvin and Jay walked off to standing ovations.

And that brings us almost to the present. This weekend, I finally got to participate in the Liberty Hall flash challenge again. I wrote about a character in a girl gang who ends up getting beaten to death. Talk about a challenge -- not my usual genre, setting, mood, outcome, or POV character. The comments are generally good, but with an almost universal complaint that character motivations aren't clear at all. Typical of my short stories and flash fiction. Got to work on that. I'm pleased, though, that no one has even thought to comment on the fact that the entire story never uses profanity. Not easy to write a story in that setting with the amount of dialogue I used in which people don't even notice the absence of profanity. So even if I don't win "best flash" for my group (I've got a couple of votes, but am not in the lead), I've satisfied my personal goals for this flash -- write from a different POV than a 15-45 year old male, and then write this grim urban story without any profanity, but do it in such a way that no one even notices its absence.

Well, I've got more church work to do yet, and I should spend some time with my family (for those of you who don't already know, that would be my wonderful wife of six years, anniversary two days ago, and our daughter of three years; the collie doesn't quite count to me as part of the family, although she certainly thinks she is). I'll add to this as I have time and opportunity.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Test drive

Well, I've become so frustrated by the problems with msn spaces that I've decided to try this service out for blogging. If things are to my liking, I'll try to move my posts and contents from my space (also called Minister's Study) over to here. Hope this works out!

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