Monthly Archives: August 2005

Storm water

We had pouring rain here in New Bedford last night. I could hear it pounding on the skylights of our apartment. When I got to the church this morning, I knew there would be water in the basement. An underground stream flows under the Parish Hall, and the whole foundation is less-than-waterproof. And I was right — there was water in some of the rooms in the lower basement.

Six hours later, most of the lower basement had up to a couple of inches of water. Towards the end of the afternoon, as the water kept rising, I decided to rescue some nice child-sized oak furniture that had been stored down there. I saved a few other nice things as well. By the end of the afternoon, I was hot and sticky and dirty, and feeling pretty cranky.

But I got to go home to a nice clean, dry apartment, with electricity and running water. I got to have a nice dinner in my own apartment. Unlike people in New Orleans, who are dealing with up to twenty feet of storm water — not just a couple of inches in the church basement.

From all accounts, it’s a disaster down there. I don’t pray, but I’ll be sending good thoughts. You can, too — send prayers, good thoughts, positive energy, whatever you got, they can use it. It wouldn’t hurt to send money, either. I’ll be sending my donation to the American Red Cross because I’ve seen first hand the work they can do in responding to emergency situations. Pick your own organization, but do send what you can.

Read BBC News coverage.

Read American Red Cross response. Includes a link to donate online.

Motorcycles and architecture

My partner is a freelance writer, and while she specializes in writing about ecological pollution prevention issues, she also writes about other topics. Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle has an article of hers that manages to tie together religion, architecture, and Italian racing motorcycles….

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, August 28, 2005

“Divining Architecture: Designing churches and collecting motorcycles is a spiritual practice for a San Francisco architect,” by Carol Steinfeld

In his SOMA live-work loft, architect John Goldman weaves through his collection of historic and vintage Italian racing motorcycles. He kneels next to an unrestored 1951 Bianchi — still covered with half a century of soot — and points to its parts.

“See, there’s symmetry, harmony, proportion,” he says reverently. “Everything is out there: You can see the springs, the flywheel, the tank and transmission. It’s a combination of curves and streamlines, ovals and parallel lines. Its exposed functions are its primary ornament. It’s the same language I use in architecture.”

Around him, more than 30 racing motorcycles — many of them veterans of long-ago races in Italy — spill out of alcoves, even his bedroom.

It’s an unexpected sight in the office of an architect with nearly 20 Bay Area churches and synagogues to his credit.

But “dissolving artificial distinctions” is the mark of the work of this designer, whose home was designed after a Texaco station, who likens buildings to living organisms, who transformed a mortuary into a synagogue and modeled a church after a castle in a Japanese film. To Goldman, it’s just a continuum of good design, beauty and connection.

That’s really all I can put here and comply with copyright restrictions. But you can go to and check out the rest of the article.( And if your congregation is thinking about hiring an architect, wouldn’t you prefer someone who arrived at meetings riding his 1970 Ducati?)

Changing times

We had a pretty good turnout for the worship service this morning — close to thirty people, which is good for us in the summer! — including three newcomers and a visitor. I’d like to think we had higher attendance because I was preaching, but I doubt it. For the past few years in the various congregations I’ve served, I’ve been watching as late summer worship attendance has been rising.

Why is late summer worship attendance rising in liberal congregations? I think there’s a couple of things at work. First of all, school is starting earlier, and worship attendance is often linked to the school schedule.

Secondly, I also believe that these days it’s more likely that people who attend worship services are there because worship is an important part of their lives. Whereas in the past, especially in liberal New England churches, lots of people went to church only because that’s what you were supposed to do — no wonder they didn’t go to worship in the summer, since they weren’t all that excited about being there to begin with.

The old pattern seems to be changing, and nowadays the people who do go to worship services seem to want to keep going year round. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re seeing the end of summer slow-downs in liberal religion.


Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I was hanging out last night with some people from a music conference who were doing a little impromptu singing. One of them wanted to sing “Ode to Billie Joe,” originally recorded by Bobby Gentry, but no one could quite remember the lyrics. So they turned to the laptop that one of them had brought and did a quick search of the Web to find the lyrics….

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door “y’all remember to wipe your feet”
And then she said “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge”
“Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

One of the musicians later said how pleased he was to be able to sit around and play music that was not electronic. And none of the instruments, none of the voices, was electronically altered in any way. But I’m in a postmodern, deconstructionist mood today, and very interested in how finding song lyrics on the Web alters the reality of folksinging.

Which makes me think about something else. In the next room over from where I’m sitting, there’s a workshop going on. Although I can’t hear much, I can tell from the rhythms and tones of the voices, by how many people get to speak at once, by the occasional bursts of polite laughter, that this workshop is using techniques of group process that grew out of the ferment of 1970’s pedagogy and group work — the human potential movement, second wave feminist group process, and so on. They are using, in fact, the same techniques I typically use when I lead small groups.

But in my present deconstructionist mood, I’m questioning whether those techniques still match the reality of our lives (almost definitely not). And wondering whether we can reconstruct new ways of teaching and learning that move beyond the tight limitations that I have begun to see in those old group process techniques. And thinking that teaching and learning are even more limited than I had ever thought.

Hey, just call me a postmodern kind of guy.


Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I’m spending a couple of days at Ferry Beach Conference Center. I was supposed to attend a small church conference, but it was canceled at the last minute. I decided to come up here anyway and spend a couple of days doing a sort of study-retreat.

I left Concord at about 4 p.m., after having lunch and a long talk with a good friend. Traffic was heavy and slow on Interstate 495 headed north, and I didn’t arrive at Ferry Beach until 6:30 p.m. First stop was Huot’s, a seafood restaurant in the village of Camp Ellis. At their takeout window, I got fried clams, French fries, and cole slaw, and started the ten-minute walk back to the conference center. But I couldn’t wait to start in on the clams, and began eating them out of the bag as I walked.

“Is there going to be any left the time you get home?” said a man sitting on the wide front porch of one of the summer rentals. He had a good-natured grin on his face.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. He just laughed.

Today, I’ve been working my way through Faith without Certainty: Liberal Theology for the 21st Century by Paul Rasor. I skimmed some of it back in June when I bought it, but now I’m sitting down and reading it straight through. I sat at the picnic table at my campsite on this perfect summer day, the sun glinting down through the trees, a chipmunk running back and forth between some trees, a few late summer birds calling idly every now and again.

And Paul writes clear prose that’s almost entirely free of the obfuscatory, precious academic jargon that’s endemic in theological circles. I have been particularly enjoying the way Paul clarifies the postmodern challenges to liberal theology.

It’s too bad the small church conference was canceled, but I have to say this is the perfect setting to catch up on my theology reading.


Met dad at the Monsen Road unit of Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We brought binoculars and spent some time looking for birds, but we spent far more time talking.

The Refuge staff continue to tweak their management practices in Great Meadows. This year again, both the upper and the lower impoundments have almost no water in them.

The lower impoundment (northerly, or downstream relative to the Concord River) is substantially drier right now, with the only water visible being in the ditch that leads north from the central dike. Many of the familiar plants remain despite the lack of water. The surface of the water in the ditch is covered with duckweed; cattails continue to flourish along the central dike and the east and west sides of the lower impoundment; and some purple loosestrife continues to flourish even though the water levels have been managed at least in part to try to do away with this invasive exotic. More remarkable to me was what appeared to be quite a fair amount of wild rice plants. I am not secure enough in my identification abilities to be sure it is wild rice without actually tasting the grains when they are mature. Nevertheless, I don’t remember seeing this plant before at all in the lower impoundment, and it covers a good proportion of what used to be open water in the lower impoundment. Presumably when the impoundment is flooded again, the seeds of this plant will provide another food source for migratory waterfowl. In the mean time, the growth of the wild rice (or whatever it is) makes the area look far more like a meadow than a drained pool.

The upper impoundment still looks like a drained pool. The cattails fringing the central dike and the east and west borders, and the mass of cattails in the southern half (or upstream half relative to the Concord River) retain their familiar boundaries. A few scraggly loosestrife have sprung up in the middle of the open area, the now-dry pool. We could see the leaves of pond lilies far out in the middle of the open area, where there was still a sheen of water on the mudflats — along with scores of shorebirds and a flock of Cedar Waxwings just visible in the binoculars. I saw some water chestnut floating in the central ditch — an invasive pest on which the current water management practices seem to have made substantial impact. A Great Blue Heron stalked the margins of the central ditch, thus provingsome small fish still haunted its waters.

We walked up the dike between the river and the upper impoundment, towards Borden’s Ponds, and saw pond lilies in beautiful butter-yellow bloom in the mud flats of the impoundment. Along the river, we saw lots of cardinal flowers, now in their glory. Dad took a number of photographs of cardinal flowers, and of the Great Blue Heron when we were returning. To be honest, though, we didn’t spend much time looking at either plants or birds; mostly we had a good long talk.

On August 22, 1854, Henry Thoreau took a walk in Great Meadows. This was 3 days after Ticknor and Fields published his book Walden. He wrote in his journal:

Pm. to Great Meadows on foot along bank….

This was a prairial walk. I went along the river & meadows from the first–crossing the red bridge road to the Battle Ground…. There are 3 or 4 haymakers still at work in the great meadows–though but very few acres are left uncut. Was suprised to hear a phoebe’s pewet-pewee & see it. I perceive a dead mole in the path halfway down the meadow. At the lower end of these meadows–between the river & the firm land are a number of shallow muddy pools or pond holes where the yellow lily and pontederia–Lysimachia stricta–Ludwigia spaerocarpa &c. &c. grow where apparently the surface of the meadow was floated off some srping–& so a permanent pond hole was formed in which even in this dry season [there was a serious drought in the summer of 1854] there is considerable water left…. In one little muddy basin where there was hardly a quart of water caught hald a dozen little breams and pickerel only an inch long as perfectly distinct as full grown….

Saw a blue heron–(apparently a young bird–of a brownish blue) fly up from one of these pools–and a stake driver [bittern?] from another–& also saw their great tracks on the mud & the feathers they had shed. Some of the long narrow white neck feathers of the heron. The tracks of the heron were about six inches long.

Here was a rare chance for the herons to transfix the imprisoned fish. It is a wonder that any have escaped. I was surprised that any dead were left on the mud but I judge from what the book says that they do not touch dead fish. To these remote shallow & muddy pools–usually surrounded by reeds & sedge–far amid the wet meadows–to these then the blue heron resorts for its food.

This is a description of the results of landscape management in 1854, a century and a half ago. There were no dikes in Great Meadows then, and no attempt to provide open water as resting places for migratory waterfowl in spring and fall; instead the land was managed to produce hay for livestock. In 1854, there was no need to manage the landscape in order to minimize the incursions of invasive exotic plants such as purple loosestrife and water chestnut — those plants have only come to the Great Meadows in destructive numbers within the past thirty or forty years. The Great Blue Heron and the yellow pond lilies and the shallow pools filled with small fish remain constant.

And human beings continue to spend time in the Great Meadows. Dad and I didn’t see any hay makers, of course, but we passed four young people, summer employees of the Refuge, and their pickup truck on the central dike. One of them scanned the upper impoundment with binoculars while the other three talked, and today I found myself more in sympathy with the conversation than the observation.


We’ve moved everything into the new apartment. Cardboard boxes everywhere. I hate moving.

Reader of this blog (and former housemate) Michelle sent along a link to just the kind of blog I need to read while the rest of my life is in chaos — a blog devoted entirely to recipes using bacon. Ah, comfort food… I can feel my arteries hardening just from reading these recipes… mmm….

Downtown summer evening

As I walk across the street towards the art museum, three people, two men and a woman, walk across the street in the opposite direction. I can’t quite make out what they are saying, but their voices have slurred rhythm of people who are finishing up a day of drinking.

There’s a cicada singing loudly somewhere near the old Standard Times building.

A woman inside Cafe Arpeggio walks from behind the counter carrying a bucket and a rag. There is no one else inside.

Outside “Solstice Skateboards” on William Street, four people stand around a Piaggio motor scooter. They all look to be in their early twenties. One man and one woman stand smoking and watching the other two, who are bent over the scooter pumping at the kick starter.

“It should be starting by now,” says the one pumping at the kick starter.

As I walk past, I smell gas, and I bet to myself the engine’s flooded. All the way down William Street, I never hear the scooter’s engine actually start.

Three teenagers stand by the fountain behind the Customs House, doing nothing. Talking. They look at me furtively, and lower their voices a little.

Three people stand outside the back door to Dunkin Donuts. “Look, I can’t talk right now,” says one woman. “I’m at work, so call me back, OK?” I think I see a mop in a mop bucket inside the door, and I guess they’re getting ready to clean up. One of them, a man, is sitting on the step, smoking, relaxed.

As I walk back towards the church, across Union Street outside The Main Event there’s a man sitting on some steps. He’s talking loudly, but he’s the only one there. It’s dark, so I can’t tell if he’s talking into a cell phone, or if he’s just crazy.

Up on Maple Street, a woman walks her dog, a sedate-looking Golden Retriever. I hear crickets.

Robert Pirsig says, “The Buddha resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha — which is to demean oneself.” That’s a little too pat, and it makes me want to respond, “Yeah, but if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Don’t waste time on either explanation. Take a walk downtown on a weeknight at ten p.m.


Our belongings arrive in New Bedford on Sunday in a “PODS” moving container. On Wednesday, I checked to make sure everything was set up so the container could be dropped off. Everything most definitely was not set.

We don’t have a driveway at our new place, so the container will have to be placed on the street. The PODS company had said there were no restrictions on placing the container in New Bedford. As it turns out, the city of New Bedford requires a “Permit for Street Obstruction” to legally place the container on the street. The City Council office told me that I need to have the PODS company fax a letter to City Hall saying I was authorized to sign such a permit. Well, it took the PODS people three days to do that, but finally they faxed that letter over just before noon today. And forgot to tell me they had done so. The local PODS franchise is not what you’d call organized.

So I walked over to City Hall to get the permit. City Hall is a big brick building with Corinthian columns right in the downtown historic district. I walked in and tried to figure out where the City Council office was.

“Can I help you?” said the woman in a blue uniform standing in the elevator. I told her I was looking for the City Council office. “Get in, and I’ll give you a ride up.”

I got into the elevator. It was a big elevator, a half circle with a radius of a good eight feet, with open iron grates for walls and an upholstered bench along the circular wall — a grand elevator from a different era. The woman pulled the door shut, and took me up one floor saying, “They’re in room 215, to the left and over there –” pointing in the correct direction. She sounded efficient, pleasant, and helpful all at the same time.

Marble floors and oak doors, all very business-like but grand. The building belied its age only by the lack of air conditioning in the hallways, though gentle breezes blew through keeping it cool. I turned the ornate dull brass handle on the door of room 215, and stepped into a fairly ordinary air-conditioned office.

A pleasant and efficient woman took down the information, collected the fee of thirty dollars, and filled out the form. I could have been back in the Town Hall of Concord, Massachusetts, where I grew up. But as soon as I left their office (to head up to get signatures from Engineering and Building), I was back in those broad, grand, business-like hallways, built no doubt during the hey-day of the textilemills, whem money was still pouring into the city, and when no doubt City Hall was dominated by the Yankee elite who were, I’m sure, grand and very business-like.

I skipped the elevator on the way out of the building. I need the exercise of climbing the stairs. And it would be too easy to be seduced by that big old elevator. Once out of the building, I crossed the street past the huge SUV parked in the Mayor’s special parking place with “City of New Bedford” painted on the doors.

It’s going to be a little busy the next four or five days as we move into our apartment, during which this blog may not see many (or any) entries. Back soon, though!