Tuesday, April 28, 2009
With all the temerity of your grandfather Zorro, there you came, walking right up to the door in bold daylight, saying, "Got any cat food?"
I certainly was glad to meet you.
Come again soon.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
A while later, the idea of civil society emerged: small groups (think Kiwanis, Rotary, or your local Small Business Association) with common goals would join forces to discuss matters of public importance. Assisting this end was the formation of public halls, like Faneuil Hall in Boston. Such places were formal outlets for public discourse, and allowed debate in a structured environment.
Fast-forward to the industrial era, and debate happened on TV and the Radio. As people retreated into their living rooms, the media were bestowed with the responsibility of bringing important matters to the attention of the public, whether through Fireside Chats, Hardball interviews, or scathing exposés on the nightly news.
Today, the Internet has changed much of that. While many of those other media for public discourse still exist today, most people connect with each other and keep up with the issues they care most about via the Internet. Whether news aggregators, RSS feeds, or online forums, people turn online now for their public discourse.
My question is this: Does the internet allow for healthy public discourse, or does it encourage segregation by allowing people to connect solely with those with whom they already agree?
Once you've answered the poll, please comment with your thoughts! Thanks!
Monday, April 20, 2009
I am a lover of horses, so I was quick to become a fan when I heard your story. Plus, my husband and I are fans of all things Hungarian since visiting Budapest last year.
I guess that in reality, you are no longer an underdog, though you started out as one. With a purchase price of under $4,000, even your owner wasn't expecting a phenome. You were a long-shot in Rome and Baden-Baden, Germany. “We didn’t expect anything from the horse when he arrived,” said Sandor Ribarszki, the horse’s trainer, who has called Overdose “short” and “kind of ugly.”
But now after winning 12 of 12, they are calling you unbeatable. And in the midst of these depressing economic times, they are also calling up comparisons with Seabiscuit. That makes sense too. At any rate congratulations on your latest win.
No, doubt, if you have an in-stall computer, you've seen the other underdog of the week, whose YouTube vids are sweeping the world. It is another "blast of wonderful" for those who just need a "shot at it." Susan Boyle may have looked unlikely too, but at least this week, she is a runaway winner in the world of music and in the hearts of the public who rejoiced at her success.
I hope you both continue to run well. You have already risen to the top and are doing more than just entertain. You are serving to bring us all hope for life and future.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Thank you for making April 15 something more than a day to pay taxes. And thank you for your love.
The gift of this heart-shaped necklace with diamond chips was so sweet. You and I were never much for pomp and circumstance, so sliding a plain white box over beside my dinner plate last night was as formal as we've ever gotten with our romance. Perhaps we are like the couple that Rogers and Hart were thinking about when they wrote, My Romance.
Gee, hearing Bernadette sing, reminds me of that time we watched her sing Send in the Clowns and as she did tears, real tears flowed down her cheeks, and we were charmed and touched.
Extraordinary moments occur ordinarily. An evening, in a go-green apartment, a rowdy puppy-dog romping, tax forms, receipts, Schedule C's, W-2's, seemed to matter intensely. The forms were so critical. And then the things that only appeared to be making April 15 extraordinary fell away, with a few words.
And then we were thinking, not backward on the economic exigencies of the last 12 months, but forward to a life, potentially, entwined and returning jointly, for as long as we both shall live. We will live, (if I said yes?) uninterruptedly together, always, with memories of the first dinner in that crazy basement apartment, you and me, oh, and Phil was there, too, and Leah the dog, and we talked and Phil walked me to the train station, and Phil scolded you for being rude, but I was, nonetheless, enthused about you and wanting to meet again soon, even though my thin shoes were wet from the walk in the rain.
And then we were thinking forward to a marriage, but Leah bounded in with that first interruption to prove that together is never without interruption even by dogs needing to be walked in the back alley of a big city where, even then, there was not privacy but the passing company of a gregarious neighbor with a doberman. And the mist of the evening glowed in a distant lamplight and our breaths took in, not just the night breeze, but the alley-air reminders of yesterday's supper-trash from apartment 12g and even the diaper refuse from 8b. But that was long ago and prescient of other interruptions to come.
And back in the apartment I said, "Yes, yes," and we fell together into loving arms. But not for long, did we embrace, because it was, after all, April 15, and we had yet to check the filing status box, "Single," and walk to the post office before the midnight deadline.
My darling Steven, I am so overwhelmed that you chose me to be the one and only one with whom you would say, "Yes, married filing jointly" for the rest of your life. Thank you for that, for the beautiful necklace reminder, and for your love.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Today is tax day, though I paid my taxes a week or so ago.
Each year, April 15 gives me pause, since I am forced to actually look at my finances and think about the money I send on to the government. Most years I get a refund for amounts I've overpaid. Getting a big pile of money is generally a happy thing, and I tend to focus more on what I'll do with that stack o' cash than the money that I've already paid.
However, this year I had the dubious privilege of writing a check. And as I wrote that check, I began to think a bit harder about the sum total of the taxes I pay. And not just the complexities of the tax code, such as the difference between marginal and effective tax rates, which we've talked about before.
I started with my Federal and State (Illinois) income tax, thinking that would be a pretty big dent in my family's finances. I was a bit surprised, as we only paid about 16.8% of our total income to income taxes. Not bad!
Then, I realized that this was not the end of my tax payments. Indeed, every time I make a purchase, I pay 10.25% in various sales taxes: Illinois takes 6.25%, Cook County takes 2.75%, and Chicago takes an additional 1.25%*. That's nearly as much as the amount I pay in income tax! Yikes! Thankfully, I'm not a homeowner, or I'd be paying property taxes too!
But then, Mr. Geithner, I started thinking about all those tax dollars and the things that are accomplished with them. Besides paying for Blagojevich to take his family to Florida for a last fling before he goes to jail, my tax dollars help build roads, provide health insurance to poor people, and make sure my peanut butter stays free of salmonella. I'm pretty sure at least three of those are good things.
You know what I realized? I realized that the taxes I'm paying this year don't come close to paying for all the things that my government does. Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, and the USA are all dealing with the fact that they've spent more than they 'earned,' and they are now looking for ways to close that "budget gap." Illinois is likely to raise the state income tax to 4.5%. The Federal government will probably just sell more T-bills to China.
And all of that money will need to be paid back someday. So eventually, I bet we'll have to raise taxes to cover that as well. Let's just call this a "Future Tax." Here's what it looks like, split out per person.
Oh, my! That's a lot of money! I'm not sure where the government is going to get all that. I sure don't want to foot that bill, though I suppose I already am in some form or fashion. Perhaps this is why there's such outcry against taxes this year, in the form of "Tea Parties" and the like.
Mr. Geithner, I really hope you can come up with a plan to help pay down some of this debt. Our country can't live on
And, as the House of Representative's own Harry Reid says, our taxes are voluntary anyway:
So, I guess my point in all this is that while you guys in government have managed to keep our income taxes pretty low, it would be nice if you kept the other, less visible taxes low as well.
And as a helpful reminder, don't forget to file your taxes today! I've heard you've had troubles with that in the past!
P.S. If anyone is interested, the research and sources for debt and such can all be found here and here. It isn't pretty, but you can at least follow it back to the source. Consider this a footnote.
*The sales tax is reduced quite a bit for buying food. But it's even higher than 10.25% when buying gas, alcohol, and cigarettes (glad I'm not a smoker!). Oh, and Chicago has an extra tax on bottled water, extra taxes on fast food in the downtown area (aka tourist tax), extra taxes on parking downtown (parking!?), and an extra amusement tax at many of the popular attractions, like Navy Pier.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
This morning our Easter service music included the beautiful Hallelujah Chorus.
Once again, we stood, listening to the beautiful music you composed in celebration of the the birth, passion, resurrection and triumph of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Thank you for this beautiful music, which fills our hearts with joy!
Saturday, April 11, 2009
In times long ago, before we tried to insulate ourselves from the night with our electric lights and sound-proof homes, the nighttime was a scary place. The night held untold dangers, isolated one person from another, and was generally thought of as the time when evil most readily abounded. In short, it was the time when men had the least control over their surroundings, and had to trust most heavily in God to keep them safe--to sustain them.
I'm no Luddite, but I sometimes get afraid of the night. Not because I'm scared of the dark, but because I like to remind myself how truly dependent I am on God to keep me and sustain me. It's like the old child's prayer--
Now I lay me down to sleep,That yearning to rely on God for preservation of my life is probably why my favorite part of the Book of Common Prayer is the Evening Prayer, or Vespers as the Roman Catholics call it. It's essentially the same thought in more developed prose. A moment in time as the sun begins to fade, and--lit only by candles if tradition has its way--we remember God's Providence and sustenance as the night falls, asking to be protected til the morning.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;
and by thy great mercy defend us
from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
As I read that prayer last night, I imagined this day some 2000 years ago:
For the disciples, scattered and afraid: The cross was empty, but there was no hope. Christ was dead and in a tomb. It was only a matter of time til they came for the rest of them. How could these men find faith in the midst of such despair? Where did they turn now that their Lord was gone? Where does their faith come from in the blackest night?
And for Christ, I cannot begin to imagine his thoughts on Friday as the black clouds blotted out the sun and the skies grew dark. Death drew nigh. Who, in all the universe, could Christ cry out to, asking for protection and sustenance as all hope fled? "Abba, Daddy! Why have you forsaken me!?" is the only prayer that could be offered.
But as I reflect on these things, I count myself lucky. I have a source to go to when things are their blackest. So today, on the Darkest Saturday of the year, I find myself offering this song as my prayer:
Let the Morning come soon!
I have started so many prayers that way. Like a letter to a friend. But when I say "dear" to you, I mean more...you are more dear to me than any property, more dear than my dogs, more dear than my friends new and old, more dear than the family I was born to, and more dear than the husband I have chosen to spend my life with.
So, my dear Jesus, I commemorated your death by watching a 2 hour depiction of your suffering. I honestly was looking at my watch wondering how much longer this could go on, marveling at the evil cruelty man wrought upon you...that men are willing to bring against each other. Total depravity.
And I watched these images with a group of young kids. I don't know if I would have been allowed to watch this violence at their age, but they all scoffed at the idea that they could not handle it. They had seen worse, they said, as we prepared to start the film. But the other movies they had seen had not been real, and I think they were all struck with the reality of what happened to you. They were silent for two hours simply watching.
Two of the kids in the room are the newest Christians I know. They sat with rapt attention and few words afterwards. I wondered what was going through their minds in seeing what you had done. Most of the kids said that it was not what they expected. They were used to seeing a clean, beautific Jesus image with a little blood on each palm, his feet and a bit on his side, not the total body gore we saw.
One boy said he imagined You being more peaceful about the whole thing, happy to be providing salvation to the world. I am sure the God-ness of you was, but the Human-ness, well, was being tortured. You met physical pain and limitations, just like all of us do. You are our sacrifice and our high priest.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
This lenten period I have been reminded of the various perspectives from which different people view the passion of Christ. This beautiful piece with it's strange lyrics remind me of your perspective of the crucifixion.
At the cry of the first bird they began to crucify Thee, O Swan!
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne by the body of Mary's Son,
But sorer still to Him was the grief which for His sake came upon His Mother.
—from the Hermit Songs, Op. 29
The birds began to cry.
Some birds have songs, I know, and those we all enjoy. But others have cries that cut the air. Hawks and eagles have piercing cries. And they are portentious. And that cry that cut the air, that cut day from night, was a sign of the grief that flooded your soul the day Christ died, for he was your Savior, too, and your baby boy.
The text for Barber's Crucifixion derives, I am told, from an ancient collection of Irish homilies known as The Speckled Book (Leabhar Breac). They were written partly in Latin and partly in Irish and constitute the most remarkable Irish ecclesiastical record of the period. An unknown Christian scribe wrote the vivid words of this passion scene sometime in the 12th century. The "cry of the first bird" is a musical motif throughout the brief composition.
And the heritage of this song reminds me again of perspectives, the Irish, the Romans, and the mutts of the world who look at this scene and who know that in their hearts, too, day is being cut from night, and we are lost, left standing at the place of the skull.
And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. —Luke 23:44,45Where I am, this morning in Tennessee, it is raining, and lightening is cutting through the sky and thunder is shaking the windows. And the sky, which otherwise would be brightening with rays of the sun, is still like night. It seems appropriate for Good Friday.
Today is our day of failure, and yet, the day we begin our turn to redemption. Today is the day we remember how we fell away, made the wrong choice, let others down, let ourselves down. Today is the day that hope goes dark, that we are overwhelmed, alone, and sad. We are doing that thing we said we would never do, we are running to the familiar comforts we said we had given up, we are betraying those we love the best.
But even as we do, even as we turn, ignore, fall away, and betray, we are witnessing the act of redemption and forgiveness. Even as we are at our very foulest we are in the presence of utter purity reaching out to our sullied bodies to wrap us in His love and provide the way of our cleansing. It is our day of shame, yet His day of glory. The day we turn away is the day he says to us "I will NEVER turn away." Wow.
So here is my lousy attempt to express how I feel about this day,
The days that end the season of lent are dark ones. Dark indeed.
There is a service that is designed to express our reaction to that darkness. It is called Tenebrae, the Latin word for darkness or shadow. The experience is moving. The church hall is lighted only by candles.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?As scripture is read, one by one, the candles are extinguished until only one white candle is lighted, the Christ candle. Then, that one also is damped.
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent. --Psalm 22
At the end of this service, all file out quietly, with our thoughts and hearts crying for mercy.
Pie Jesus Domine
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem,
Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them rest,
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem,
Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them rest,
Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem, sempiternam.
Blessed Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi:
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem.
grant them rest.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi:
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem.
grant them rest.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
dona eis requiem sempiternam.
grant them eternal rest.
Monday, April 06, 2009
My husband has spoken of you many times throughout the years of our marriage. You gave him his first job, picking peaches in a New Jersey orchard.
During the years when we lived in N.J. We passed your homeplace many times, and when we did, my husband Steve would tell H.V. stories. I've heard about your truck and your temper, your employees and your obsessions. He has quoted verses of your wisdom from what he called, The Gospel According to H.V. such as, "Don't eat the peaches when they are hot," and "I remember when you could hire a good worker for 35 cents an hour."
Today, Steve told me of the time you watched a beautiful box of grade A peaches spill across the packing yard. Now, anyone who has ever watched peaches being packed, knows it is an interesting and automated process. Peaches arrive from the fields in sun-hot crates. The peaches are hard, not quite ripe. Now, there is nothing like a tree-ripened peach. You do not get those in a grocery store. Ripened on a tree, a peach glows with sweetness. The first bite of such fruit explodes with a holy flavor that blesses each tastebud with glory. Business is business, though, and tree-ripened fruit doesn't sell. Too fragile.
From crates, the peaches are dumped into pools of cool water to be cleaned, chilled, sorted and checked. Each box is precious especially to a man like you, Shellmeier, who has framed your years around the seasons of clingstone and free stone.
But a clumsy set of hands dropped one of the solid waxed cardboard boxes with peachy forms on the lids and Shellmeier Farms on the sides. In response, you stopped, bowed, stooped and knelt, turning from all else to the task of the salvation of many of the the Flaming Fury variety peaches that had not been marred by the gravel of the driveway, minding not at all the cracked stone boring the epidermis of your own knees. You brushed off the surface and eyed them for bruising, tossing the loss in the little bin that held rejects, and carefully replacing the still perfect peaches in the box.
Yesterday, as our family read together the story of Palm Sunday, we were once again reminded of the words and times of H.V. We read that Jesus had retraced the two miles from Jerusalem to Bethany after the parade of palms and the action at the temple. He relaxed there with his friends Lazarus and Mary and Martha. But in the morning,
Matthew 21:18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry.
19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.
20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?"
21 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.
22 "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
At those words we were back again in the Gospel of H.V., in an orchard looking at trees, not yet bearing fruit, but with a man who loved fruit; loved it enough to kneel and bow for it.
"Boys," he was saying to my husband and his brother, "Boys, we've got to take out these trees, now, while they are still in blossom and we can tell which ones are which." The boys, who knew the painstakingly slow growth of trees were stunned at this new task, so unlike the tender instructions they had been given in the past, such as, "And if you break one of the limbs of those trees, I'll break your leg." But you were serious, and by the end of the day, seven trees were hacked, stripped of limbs and blossoms, and down.
Why would a man who loved his trees and loved his fruit take such action? In this case, my husband explained, it was because those trees bore lesser fruit than the trees in the rest of that orchard. And that fruit tainted the pickings of the whole. The only solution was to remove the trees while they were in blossom and it was clear which fruit was which.
I suppose that Jesus was doing something like that, in this passage from Matthew. And he was teaching his disciples how to do it too. "Boys," he said, "This is how you tend fruit. Really good fig trees bear fruit all year round. That is the kind of fruit we want to grow."
So, thanks for the illustration of what it means to tend fruit and do it painfully right.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
I ran across your series of biblical art this week, and to be honest it captured my imagination far more than anything of yours I have seen. You took familiar stories that I have heard from birth and removed them from their typical construction and presentation, giving them movement, metaphor and still allowing the shape of them to remain recognizable (well for the most part).
And when I found out that these works were commissioned in an attempt by your patron to bring you to salvation (specifically to the Catholic Church--oh will we ever hold Christ above denomination?) I became even more interested. I wonder what you thought of your works when they were done? What did your wife (beyond hope, according to your patron) think of the works? Did the hope of Christ shine in?
I was searching particularly for a depiction of the cleansing of the temple, and this piece stood out on a web page full of artistic depictions of this scene. Now, how much lee way do you give us to read into your work? Everyone is a critic, they say, and the nature of your free form style lets us fill in the gaps as we stand and look. So if you disagree with anything I say here, please write back.
I was struck by the movement of the piece...people are clearly filing out. And Jesus does have a whip, and in the background there is what appears to be an evil presence. It could be the pharisees, who are really the other main characters of the story and the evil look is a representation of their intentions. Or it could be Satan depicted here as losing this battle, but hoping to win the bigger war. I don't know. Does the circle around the figure depict the whip, which seems to hang at Jesus' side but is really beginning to tighten around the devil as Victory for Jesus comes closer?
One thing that is clear and sets this picture apart from others I found. Jesus does not seem very angry. He is ushering them out, as if he is indicating to the people that "my fight is not with you, but those who stand on high, those who should be leading the flock, those in power who should know what is right and do not do it." And we know that even as he cleared away those who would use the temple for wrong purposes, he opened his arms to the weak and sick and brought healing to that place, literally and figuratively. Jesus showed us that there is no room in His dominion for the money changers and salesmen, but it is open to the weak and sick and lame and blind. (Matthew 21:14)But back to your work, Sal. I do want to say, that I think the beauty of your work is that it gets us thinking about the familiar stories and about Jesus in a different way. And whether you intended it or not, this is exactly what Jesus was prescribing in this story. We cannot just continue life as it is, accepting the hard lines of reality and not choosing to question them. No, Jesus calls us to a complete phase shift--a new perspective. One where those who would act in greed are expelled and those who wield God as a tool for power are thrown down. And then the weak receive mercy, the broken and ill receive healing. Jesus cleanses both the building of the temple and the bodies of His Temple, the temple of our hearts where he desires to dwell eternally. The physical walls were thrown down, but that opened the new covenant written in Christ's blood providing for a salvation through the temple of His body.
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days ." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it up in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2:19
Jesus opens our eyes to a reality where a Lion comes in power to become a Lamb, slain, and then again becomes a Lion in Victory. Thank God for this new vision, this new reality. And I pray that this week will be a time for the cleansing of each of our temples in order to usher in God's glory and righteousness in our lives.
So Sal, thank you for helping me to think differently about Christ, and I hope that as you painted this series about Him that you, and your wife, found this revolutionary truth as well.
To turning over the tables of our lives,
And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. . . Matthew 21:9
You decided to place Jesus on mama donkey rather than the colt, but you didn't leave the colt back at the village. He is there too, attending the king endowed with salvation.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you:
He is just and endowed with salvation.
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
My horses would not find the situation that Jesus has ridden into a pleasant one. Their noses would flare and their feet would be nervous. The ears would be twitching this way and that, sensing the man to the rear left with an upraised switch and the one to the right front who had just collapsed in a heap. "Watch out, fast motion to the far left. Oh, what about the guy with the stick ahead and to the near right."
No, my horses would not have liked this at all, and eventually their ears would tense and lie back and they would decide they had had enough.
But Jesus does seem to have this animal under control and exhibiting a rider's posture, he is pretty relaxed in his seat, quickly flashing the "One Way" sign to the little child ahead of him on its mother's knee.
Zechariah says some other things in the passage that Jesus had in mind the day of his ride to Jerusalem.
The Lord their God will save them in that day as the flock of His people.Another animal metaphor. Later he says,
The Lord of hosts has visited His flock, the house of Judah and will make them like His majestic horse. . .So Jesus does have a horse!
But the part I like is this.
I will whistle for them to gather them together, for I have redeemed them.There are plenty of images that scripture uses to elicit the devotion of the people of God. This one, I think, is for me.