dual personalities

One more postcard

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

I promise I am just about done with posting about my pilgrimage, but one more thing…

You might remember a few years ago that a dear friend of mine went to the holy land and also attended a service at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. She snapped a picture of a needlepoint kneeler there with my name on it:

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When I was at the cathedral the Sunday before last, I looked high and low for this cushion, but could not find it!

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So frustrating…

However, I did take a few pictures of some of the other wonderful kneelers that are used there. They are from Anglican and Episcopal churches all over the world.

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Aren’t they wonderful? Some are a little worse for wear, but that’s okay. I like to think of all those women (and maybe a few men) who stitched them over the years.

Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their own hearts than while so occupied.  –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

Postcards from the holy land

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Our pilgrimage tour was made up of 39 members of two Episcopal churches, my own in flyover country and one from Westchester County, New York. We were a fairly diverse group, ranging in age from Millennial to Over-the-Hill. We had five priests with us, two padres and three madres (from the Caribbean, Colombia and Australia), and a Lutheran pastor. The rest of the group included a retired detective from the NYPD (gangland division), two recently graduated Georgetown lacrosse players,

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In the Jordan River where we renewed our baptismal vows

an elderly WASP named “Bif,” a handful of former Catholics, a mother-daughter team from Jupiter, FL, and your run-of-the-mill Episcopalians like me.

We all got along remarkably well. Sure, the cool kids sat in the back of the tour bus and laughed it up, but I am old enough now that I could care less about such things. The good-humored lacrosse players served as sheepdogs and brought up the rear, making sure that no one wandered too far afield. We didn’t lose anyone and nobody fell (except our rector, twice).

We were up and at ’em at 6 a.m. every morning and saw more than I can ever fully digest.

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The street where our Christian hotel was located in the Old City near the Jaffa Gate.

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Two thousand year old olive trees in what “tradition tells us” is the Garden of Gethsemane

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The greatest model/visual aid ever (ancient Jerusalem)

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Our tour guide with his disciples

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Sun goddess in Jaffa on the Mediterranean

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Well, I don’t want to be accused, like Christian by Apollyon, that “when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say,” so I will stop.

It was a great trip; I’m glad I went.

“Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding. ‘Christ is nigh,’ it seems to say…”*

Well, we are well into Advent and it was good to be back at my home church yesterday. Last Sunday we pilgrims were celebrating the first Sunday in Advent at St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. Established in 1899, it is the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. The Bishop gave the sermon (in English and in Arabic) and we sang good old hymns. It was a lovely service.

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Meanwhile back at the ranch, daughter #1 was home and she helped me a lot getting out more Christmas stuff…

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putting up the outside lights and buying and setting up our small tree in the dining room.

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We also went to the church bazaar and to a couple of estate sales where we picked up some books, including the hard-to-find St. Louis Then and Now. She spotted it, grabbed my arm and stage-whispered, “Pick it up! Pick it up!” I knew then and there that daughter #1 has become a true estate sale-er with an eagle eye for the rare find!

We watched the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim (the best version) and The Bishop’s Wife (1947).

Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 5.29.53 PM.pngThe wee babes and their parents came over for tacos on Saturday night. In 2 1/2 weeks the babes have apparently made huge leaps and bounds in the talking department.

IMG_2768.JPEGThe switch really flipped in the little guy and he is so verbal now! When you pick him up, he says, “Down!” Amazing.IMG_2766.jpegAfter daughter #1 left on Sunday, the OM and I girded our loins, donned our mittens and went to the Optimist lot to buy a big tree. We were successful and carted it home to the garage. Setting it up and decorating it will be a task for next weekend.

It’s good to be home.

*Hymns Ancient and Modern

Christmas challenge

While my dear DP was having a meaningful experience in the Holy Land, I’ve been breathing dust and eating glutinous microwave dinners. The kitchen remodel has been going on for almost a month. Progress has been glacially slow, and there have been a few hiccups, but we’re getting there. We have a new window, a new range hood (new stove yet to arrive), painted walls, most of the floor, and the bare bones of the cupboards. What is taking so long, you ask? I wish I knew. It’s a tiny kitchen, after all.

While they were waiting for the paint to dry in the kitchen, they got working on the mudroom, which now looks like this:

The walls are actually cream and not yellow. It’s just the lighting at night that makes it look that way. Note the temporary 2 x 4 railing as well.

At least we can still use the back entry. My chief worry at this point — aside from the ever-rising cost — is whether the work will be done before son #3 arrives with his cat. Every room in my house is full of pots and pans, small appliances, and fragile antiques that I’m attempting to keep out of harm’s way — a situation that is hardly conducive to welcoming visitors, especially feline ones.

Alas, the house is in such disarray that I cannot put up any Christmas decorations. How does one get into the Christmas spirit under such conditions? Consider what Sigrid Undset wrote:

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

Here’s another good passage — this one from Henry Van Dyke — to remind us about what Christmas really means:

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

There. Now I feel better. I may not be able to decorate inside the house but I can still celebrate Christmas in my heart and in my actions. And who knows? Maybe the workers will have a burst of energy and be done with the kitchen by the end of next week. Stranger things have happened…

Finally, did you know that  Mark Knopfler and Gregory Alan Isakov  have new CDs, that you can follow Amor Towles on Instagram (he’s got some interesting photos), and that you can keep up with son #2’s reporting at the Idaho Mountain Express? Now that’s some Christmas cheer!

Be that as it may*

“There does not exist any more a holy mountain or a holy city or holy land which can be marked on a map. The reason is not that God’s holiness in space has suddenly become unworthy of Him or has changed into a heathen ubiquity. The reason is that all prophecy is now fulfilled in Jesus, and God’s holiness in space, like all God’s holiness, is now called and is Jesus of Nazareth.”
― Karl Barth

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Karl Barth is correct, of course. You can go to Israel and walk where Jesus walked and see the landscape that he saw, but he is risen and no longer there. And what is left, other than the landscape, is pretty crass.

I loved the Sea of Galilee,

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IMGP1358.JPGI liked Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus centered his public ministry in Galilee. I  liked sitting under the olive trees

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Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 1.10.33 PM.pngBut once we were off to Cana, the site of Jesus’s first public miracle, changing water to wine at a wedding reception, where the Franciscans have built a church,

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they lost me.

I mean, I thought I was in Italy.

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I did not expect to have a big mountain-top experience or anything like that on this trip and I was not surprised to find the heavily Roman Catholic presence at the Christian sites there. I can even say I am grateful to the Crusaders and the Franciscans for preserving the Christian presence in a land that is, of course, 99% Jewish and Muslim now. Without them the sites would have been obliterated long ago.

On the other hand, most of the sites are fanciful at best. The Church of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes,

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the Church of the Annunciation, built over multiple “sacred spaces” that venerated the family home of Mary, Jesus’ mother,

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Jacob’s Well in Nablus, where Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to give him a drink,

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 2.14.02 PM.pngthe Church of Peter in Gallicantu (where the rooster crowed), the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Shepherds’ Fields, the Church of the Visitation (honoring Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, who was told by an angel that Elizabeth was pregnant), the Church of St. John in the Mountains (said to be the birthplace of John the Baptist), the Church of Pater Noster (located on the Mount of Olives), the Church of All Nations (built on “the rock of the agony,” where Jesus prayed before his betrayal), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (on the site where Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead), and so on and so on.

Good grief.

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I couldn’t help wondering what Jesus would make of all this.

We had a good guide, who rated the sites on a scale of 1-3 according to their historical veracity. Even so, let’s say that Jacob’s well may well be the actual well where Jesus drank water from the Samaritan woman, but the monstrosity built above it was quite distracting to me.

And all those places we visited having to do with the fabricated life of Mary? Sola scriptura was my mantra. I tried not to roll my eyes too much. I focused on the fantastic flora of Israel.

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Having said that, I had a wonderful time in Israel and I saw a lot of wonderful things and met a lot of wonderful people. I will focus on those wonderful things in my next posts.

So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—  for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”  it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

*Our guide was always saying this after explaining what something was. And then he would say, “It doesn’t matter, Jesus is not here. He is RISEN.”

“Well done, good and faithful servant”*

Yes, I am back from the Holy Land in one piece! The OM did not burn the house down and he was actually waiting for me inside the airport when I arrived.

I do want to thank wonderful daughters # 1 and 2 and DN (!) for writing fabulous blogposts while I was gone. They were great to read from the other side of the world.

I have much to tell, but today I wanted to acknowledge the passing of old 41, President George Herbert Walker Bush.

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He was my kind of guy, a good and decent man who served others as a child of God. He was a devoted family man and churchman (Episcopalian.) There aren’t many like him around any more I’m afraid. I enjoyed watching his memorial service at the Washington Cathedral when I came home from the airport on Wednesday morning after a grueling trip home.

I love the story that his good friend James Baker told about the day he died. When Baker arrived in his room, President Bush said, “Hey, Bake, where’re we going today?” And Baker said, “We’re going to heaven.” and George said, “Good, that’s where I want to go.”

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.

*Matthew 25:23

On rescuing antiques

Greetings from Daughter #2, with one more guest post before we hand the blogging reins back to the dual personalities!

I had an exciting weekend that revolved around chancing upon, hauling, cleaning, reassembling, and arranging an old secretary that I rescued from a friend who moved to Washington state. I had agreed to drive my friend (and her husband, baby, cat, and luggage!) to the airport for the final step in their cross-country move, and when I arrived, I saw her secretary lying sadly at the curb. I was so surprised, because I knew it was a family “heirloom” and I had honestly been coveting it for years. So when she said they simply didn’t have a place for it, the wheels started turning. Could I rescue it?!

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Apparently it is very normal to leave things outside in this neighborhood like so

Unfortunately, it was drizzly and DN was not in the mood for an impromptu furniture adventure following a long work day. Fortunately, I was borrowing my MIL’s Honda Pilot and, armed with a pep talk from my sister, decided to tackle the task on my own. After the airport trip, I returned to the curb and figured out how to disassemble the secretary so I could load it in to the car–with the help of a kind passerby!

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Everyone needs a friend with a truck

It took two full days of rearranging (with ample & necessary help from DN!) to fit this large piece into our cozy apartment, but I am thoroughly happy with the results. It is honestly amazing what Swiffers and Pledge can accomplish. I have always wanted a secretary desk, and now I have one — and a piece of my friend’s old home, to boot!

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The glass pieces in the doors need replacing, but that will be easy enough to accomplish at some point

IMG_2435The lesson is this: when a piece needs rescuing, go for it, even if it seems inconvenient or like things won’t quite fit. You’ll find a way! My friend had said that none of the consignment or antique stores in the area would take the secretary because it isn’t mid-century modern, the only style that sells these days. Oh dear. Sometimes the best deal is the one that’s out of fashion, I suppose!

The days are surely coming.

Daughter #1 here for another post before my dear mother returns from her sojourn to the Holy Land. The pics on the Grace Church Facebook page and the few minutes a day she can text have truly tided me over. Continue to keep the pilgrims in your prayers as their journey comes to an end on Wednesday.

It’s Advent! My favorite of the Church Seasons. It is mysterious and full of dark imagery and anticipation. And reminders like this:

“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” [Luke 21: 36]

I put my tree up this weekend. It’s a big one this year! Somehow, the Optimists and I managed to wedge into my little car. And I got on the stand all by myself. I am my own she-ro.

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My brother and I went to see John Crist on Friday night. Mom was very jealous. We told John Crist that our mom wanted to be there but she was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was like “Oh really?!” I was too excited and smiled too big for the photo and have serious John Candy face.

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I planned those shirts for the Dry T-Shirt Contest before I knew my brother had gotten the fancy VIP tickets for us. St. Louis did not have a high rate of participation and I felt a little silly. Oh well. The show was lots of fun and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

And for you heathens who don’t know John Crist, my favorite video can be viewed here.

Happy Monday!

*Jeremiah 33:14

 

 

“We are all lonely and all seek a hand to hold in the darkness. It is not the harp, but the hand that plays it.” *

Despite my mid-week movie choice failure, I kept looking for something good to watch. Persistence paid off and last night I discovered The Last Kingdom, the BBC production based on a Bernard Cornwell series about Alfred the Great and the Danes. It has been around for a while, but I had avoided watching it because I thought it looked like just another Vikings sword fest. You know what I mean — axes, tattoos and man-buns.

But it turns out that it has a good script and interesting characters; King Alfred is very smart

and Ian Hart (Johnny Shell-shock in The Englishman Who Went up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain) plays his priest, which is recommendation enough to watch.

The hero of the saga is both likeable and believable, even if his clothes are hairy and his hair in a semi-bun.

In any case, it has made me want to read up on Alfred, a thoughtful Christian king in a tight spot during a very brutal period of history, who somehow found the time to make astute observations:

“For in prosperity a man is often puffed up with pride, whereas tribulations chasten and humble him through suffering and sorrow. In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling. In prosperity a man often destroys the good he has done; amidst difficulties he often repairs what he long since did in the way of wickedness.”

I make no claims as to The Last Kingdom’s accuracy, but it is certainly easy to watch. Why not give it a try this weekend?

Finally a shout out to my nieces and DN who have done a magnificent job pitching in while my sister, the chief poster and driving force behind this blog, is in the Holy Land. I can’t thank them enough. They were also very tactful not to mention it when I posted a short rant about a stupid movie instead of wishing their brother happy birthday or letting one of them do it. Since I rarely know the date, let alone the day of the week, I did not realize my mistake until late it was too late. Einstein said that time is an illusion, so let’s pretend that it’s still Wednesday. Happy Birthday, dear nephew! You’re the best!

 

Sunday, December 2nd is my other nephew’s birthday! We’re all wishing Foster well as he celebrates halfway around the world in Turkey, where he is teaching history at the Bogazici University. Enjoy your day, Foster!!

*Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom

 

What are you reading? (DN edition!)

At some point during our courtship, Daughter #2 and I dropped into one of Dupont Circle’s famous bookstores. We had just toured the Phillips Collection, and after strolling past Daughter #1’s former D.C. apartment—reminiscing about that great old apartment is mandatory for any trip to Dupont Circle—we decided to pop in at one of my favorites.

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No, not Kramerbooks. Kramerbooks is a great independent bookstore. And they have a good café, where you can sit with your purchase in public. But are you reading? While I approve of book buying, of course, I am more a fan of book reading. At Kramerbooks, all the books are new, and they are perfect if you want to be seen reading. You get the feeling that the life of the books at Kramerbooks entails nothing more than a move from store shelf to home shelf. Indeed, there is an apocryphal story about former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s cynicism of D.C. book culture: he slipped his business card into the top dozen copies of a stack of the latest political tell-all—around page 200 or so—with his home phone number written on the back. He scrawled the following note: “Call me upon seeing this—$100.” No one did. An acquaintance of mine even recently held her wedding at Kramerbooks, and this fact couldn’t be more Kramerbooks if it tried.

This looks like a lovely time, but notice those stacks of crisp hardbacks behind the groom. Will they ever be read? Daughter #2 and I are all in favor of book-themed weddings, as you know, but the books should be there to be read.

No, the bookstore that we stopped at was Second Story Books. Second Story Books is where Kramerbooks go after the grandchildren liberate them from the home shelf. It is an excellent used bookstore. Every morning Second Story Books trundles out a series of library reshelving carts that lure readers inside to their squirrely stacks.

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On this occasion, I found a copy of an out-of-print paperback by one of my favorite authors, Henry Green. This Penguin edition features three of Green’s best novels: Loving, Living, and Party Going. (Yes, nearly all of Green’s titles are participles.) It’s a difficult copy to find affordably, so I snatched it up. I gave it to Daughter #2, who has not read a word of it to this day.

This lack is entirely my fault; I gave the gift incorrectly. I should have annotated that copy of Henry Green. One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received was a copy of Moby-Dick with Daughter #2’s personal annotations.  You might argue that Moby-Dick recommends itself, but really, even the best reader wants occasional motivation. Slipped into the text at regular intervals, the personalized notes kept me reading into the wee hours. Only a handful of pages before uncovering another treasure!

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I may annotate that Green this Christmas. Party Going (1939), my favorite novel of Green’s, would be an apt choice, since the coming December weeks are often themselves a season of party going. Yet Green’s novel is more specifically appropriate for its lack of a party: the novel takes place primarily in the hotel adjacent to a London railway station as a group of wealthy Bright Young People await a train to the continent for a summer holiday. They wait; tension grows; they wait some more. For Green, this is a metaphor for the political tension of the ineffectual 1930s. If we want to stretch it, perhaps the novel could also be a little metaphor for Advent. But then you would have to ignore Green’s contempt for his peer group as he directs his sinuous sentences against them:

Amabel’s flat had been decorated by the same people Max had his flat done by, her furniture was like his, his walls like hers, their chair coverings were alike and even their ash trays were the same. There were in London at this time more than one hundred rooms identical with these. Even what few books there were bore the same titles and these were dummies. But if one said here are two rooms alike in every way so their two owners must have similar tastes like twins, one stood no greater chance of being right than if one were to argue their two minds, their hearts even must beat as one when their books, even if they were only bindings, bore identical titles. … These people avoided any sort of trouble over what might bother them, such as doing up their rooms themselves, and by so doing they proclaimed their service to the kind of way they lived or rather to the kind of way they passed their time.

Ouch. Tell us what you really think, Henry. I guess the only thing worse than a book as status symbol is a binding symbolic of one’s vacuous inattention to even the trappings of culture. The thirties really were, in the words of W. H. Auden, a low dishonest decade.

All of this is to say: when you give a book, give also of yourself—consider annotating it, even if only a little. Your recipient is far more likely to read it.