Monthly Archives: November 2007

More about videoblogging

My videoblog is out of action until I resolve my laptop problems. But I recently received email from a Unitarian Universalist who’s thinking about making some hip new online UU video, and wanted to know how to go about doing it. So in lieu of the usual Friday video, I’ll repeat some of the advice I gave to him, in hopes of tempting more of my readers to start making online video.

Question: What’s a good resource to help a newbie start making videos fast?

Answer: A book worth getting is “Secrets of Videoblogging” — it’s a year old and so a little dated now, but the info on compression (codec) is worth the cover price alone. This book also has a good overview of everything from storyboarding, to legal permissions, to technical stuff.

Once I got that book, I just started making videos. At first, I threw most of them away. But it’s really pretty easy to make a short video. So I guess my advice is to just start making videos and see what happens.

Q: What tools do you recommend for making online video? — camcorders, editing software, hosting sites, etc.

A: I use a consumer-grade camcorder, which is more than adequate for the quality you get once you convert a video file for the Web. I have no worthwhile advice on camcorders, because the models change so fast.

For editing software, I use iMovie ’06 on a Mac platform. (iMovie ’08 is apparently a worthless piece of crap, so be warned!) On a Windows machine, Windows MovieMaker is supposed to be perfectly adequate, and essentially equivalent to iMovie ’06.

I upload videos to ( It’s free, and I think they do a better job than YouTube — but YouTube is more than adequate, and has the potential of getting you lots more traffic.

Q: How about making videos for my church’s Web site?

A: First, look around at some of the videos that other Unitarian Universalist churches put on their Web sites, and you’ll see how easy it is to make really boring videos. Too often, the videos on church Web sites look like they were created by a committee (which they probably were), and they are often insipid and dull. And sermons do not translate well to online video, in my opinion — unless you have a professional videographer doing the work.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: Remember that it takes a fair amount of time to make an online video! It could take me six hours to make a three minute video (two hours to develop a concept and shoot video, four hours to edit and upload).

War? What war?

Over on her blog, Dani has a really nice post on the Iraq War. She talks about how many Americans seem perfectly able to forget the fact that we’re at war:

Thich Naht Hahn has been an author and peace activist that I’ve been reading about a lot lately. I have been practicing mindfulness, and as of yet I have discovered one thing that I realized; I have been quite unaware that we are still in a war. Some discussions in my group of aquaintances or friends have, as of late, the question “We’re still in that war?”

The post continues with some wide-ranging thoughts on the intersection of war, religion, and the individual activist. It’s a little rambling at times, but a passionate and thoughtful post worth reading. Link.

Three pointers for success

Seth Godin offers three pointers on making a small business succeed his blog. Looking them over, I think apply equally well to small church success:

Small business success
Three things you need:
1) the ability to abandon a plan when it doesn’t work,
2) the confidence to do the right thing even when it costs you money in the short run, and
3) enough belief in other people that you don’t try to do everything yourself.

Quick thoughts on how each of these points can apply to churches:

1) Knowing when to abandon a plan: I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and I feel that part of knowing when to abandon plans that don’t work is having good data so that you can have some objectivity when judging a plan. Two examples: (a) A year and a half ago, we changed our advertising plan, cutting our ads in the big daily newspaper from weekly to every other week, and putting more resources into smaller weekly papers and shoppers, and the Web. Lots of complaints about the reduced number of ads from current members, but we noticed that the number of visitors doubled, so instead of abandoning our new plan we stayed the course — because we could prove that we were getting results. (b) We have an explicit goal of increasing worship attendance, and so we began to tweak our Sunday morning worship service to make it more celebratory and more fun. The worship service felt pretty good but attendance numbers didn’t budge, so we knew that we had to tweak some more. Then suddenly beginning last May we started to see our numbers rising by 20-30% — now maybe we’re headed in the right direction.

2) Do the right thing in spite of short-term cost: From my experience, I’d say the biggest example of this point in churches is — deferred maintenance. Any examples from your experience?

3) Believe in others so you don’t do everything:Given the rate of volunteer burnout in small churches, this last point may be a bigger problem than I had thought. Could it be that part of the reason small churches don’t grow is that we don’t put enough trust in potential new leaders? I’ll have to think about that….

Thanks to Carol for pointing out the Seth Godin post.

Autumn watch

We started walking back from Dunkin Donuts right at four o’clock. “Look,” said Carol, “There are two sailboats out on the harbor.” Two sloops, both carrying mainsail and jib, were tacking back and forth across the harbor. Most recreational sailors lack the courage to actually sail in the harbor, in the midst of the working fishing boats, tugs, other recreational boats, and ferries, and usually when we see sailboats, the sails are furled and they are being pushed by propellor and motor. But today, perhaps because the winds were perfect and there were no other recreational boats out, these two sloops gracefully sailed back and forth across the harbor. A large fishing boat was holding a position near the swing-span bridge, waiting for quarter after four when the bridge would swing open to let it into the inner harbor. One of the sloops sailed quite near the fishing boat, the top of the sloop’s mast about as tall as the cranes and masts on the fishing boat. “I wonder what they’re doing,” said Carol, “maybe they’re hailing the fishing boat?” I said I didn’t know, but it was pleasant to watch: the graceful white sailboat gliding by the big, tough fishing boat. By then, the sun had gone down behind the city’s skyline, and darkness was settling over the harbor.

The Marriage of Hilpa, part two

While Dan is away celebrating the holidays, I’ll type in the ending of “The Marriage of Hilpa.” Part one may be found here. The story comes from an old, old volume of astrological lore that I have in my possession. — Isaac Bickerstaff

The boy-twin ran off to the great City, and presented the letter to Mishpach. Mishpach dictated this reply to his scribe: “To the great Hilpa, Mistress of the Valleys [etc.], Greetings. I, Mishpach, shall wait upon you at the eastern edge of your realm, on the road that leads to the great City, on the fourth day of Solmanthur [for they used the old Northern names for the months], at noontime.” And Mishpach applied his seal to the sheet of parchment, and sent the boy back with his reply to Hilpa.

The girl-twin ran up the mountain path to the mountaintop aeryie of Shalum, and presented the letter to him. Shalum wrote out this reply to Hilpa: “To the great Hilpa, Mistress of the Valleys [etc.], Greetings. I, Shalum, shall wait upon you at the western edge of your realm, on the path that leads to the top of Mount Tizrah, on the fourth day of Solmanthur, at noontime.” And Shalum applied his seal to the sheet of parchment, and sent the girl back with his reply to Hilpa.

The two twins arrived at the sacred grove, where Hilpa awaited them, at exactly the same moment. As twins will sometimes do, they fell into step with one another, and with identical motions handed their respective parchment sheets to Hilpa.

Hilpa read first one, then the other of the replies. Her face grew stern, and then her anger burst out like a sudden violent thunderstorm. She uttered terrible imprecations against these fickle men who would ignore the dates and places she had assigned them to meet her; but in the end, there was nothing for it but to acknowledge the dilemma she faced.

Now it so happened that one of her retinue was a woman who looked so much like Hilpa that many could not tell them apart. This woman, named Goab, agreed to impersonate Hilpa, and when the fourth day of Solmanthur drew near, Hilpa and Goab cast lots, with the result that Hilpa went west to meet with Shalum, and Goab went east to meet with Mishpach. Hilpa took the boy-twin with her, and Goab took the girl-twin to accompany her.

When Goab and the boy arrived at the appointed meeting place, Mishpach was already there. Goab presented herself to him, and it was obvious to all present that each found the other attractive. But Mishpach whirled and pointed his finger in the girl-twin’s face, saying, Is this Hilpa? Surprised, the girl-twin shook his head, saying, No, her hame is Goab. Satisfied, Mishpach nodded, and said, This is what my astrologers told me, that she would attempt to deceive me. And he turned to Goab and said, You may either choose to be beheaded, or to accompany me to the great City and be my slave; my astrologers tell me there is no other choice for you. But the girl-twin, with great presence of mind, grabbed her hand and pulled her away, and they both ran to safety within the bounds of Hilpa’s realm.

When Hilpa and the boy arrived at the appointed meeting place for Shalum, he was already there. Shalum uttered this speech: The mountains in my realm are rich with cedar-tree and oak; the food is good and plentiful; the cool mountain air calms the soul; won’t you come with me and reign as my equal at the top of Mount Tizrah? But Hilpa spurned his offer, called him terrible names, turned on her heel, and returned to her realm.

When Hilpa got back to the sacred grove, she found Goab there. Goab told her tale, and Hilpa saw that her subterfuge was uncovered. Just then, a messenger from the east came, saying that Mishpach was massing his armies along the border. And another messenger came saying that Shalum was gathering his troops. Hilpa called her astrologers, who told her that all was lost; there was only hope if she would abdicate and leave the realm. So Hilpa left in the dark of night, never to be seen again in the Valleys. It was said that Mishpach’s armies caught her as she tried to escape, killed her and cut out her heart, and sent the heart to Shalum. Whether this be true or not, it is only certain that both Mishpach and Shalum withdrew their armies after Hilpa’s departure, and the three realms were ever after at peace with one another.

Once Hilpa was gone, the people gathered at the sacred grove. Hilpa had appointed no girl to be her heir. By common acclamation, the girl-twin was chosen to be the new ruler, for she had told the truth and had shown great presence of mind in fleeing with Goab, thus saving her life.

Of this strange tale, there is little that can be said, except that it must be true. For if it were a fable, there would be a clear moral to draw, and there is none. And if it were a tale to teach us morality, again there would be a clear lesson to be drawn from it, but there is no lesson. It is only true stories from which no particular moral or morality can be drawn, except whatever the author imposes upon them. As an astrologer, I look at the stars to find connections between earthly events, and the movement of the stars; but the stars reveal no particular symmetry, offer no moral guidance; they simply exist, and we observe them. — I. B.

A mythical beast

Dan is taking a holiday break, and so Mr. Crankypants is taking over this blog today.

Mr. Crankypants has learned a new term, and he’s just dying to share it with you. Carol, who is the partner of stupid alter ego Dan, has been talking about “grant vultures.” You may well ask what a “grant vulture” is, and Mr. Crankypants will tell you.

Apparently, there are people who come to open hearings and other meetings in New Bedford, even though they’re not residents of the city. Why do they come to these meetings when they live in other towns? Could it be that they are planning to move to New Bedford, and want to know how the political process works? Well, no, when you talk to them it becomes obvious that they have no desire to live in the city. Could it be that they are political process junkies, and there just aren’t enough open hearings and political meetings in their home towns, so they feel compelled to attend political meetings in nearby municipalities? Well, no, when you talk to them it becomes obvious that they do not participate in the political process in any meaningful way in their home town.

Could it be that they are hooping to tap into the grant money that comes to New Bedford? Could it be that they’re hoping to tap into funding to help support their own non-profit organizations (which, by the way, are generally based in the suburbs, and do not directly serve city residents)? For example, it could be that they hope to tap into some of the money that comes from the Environmental Protection Agency to help New Bedford harbor’s toxic waste problems. It could be that they are grant vultures — critters that hover around a city, hoping that some grant money stays still long enough that they can flap down and grab a piece, and then fly back with it to feed their own nestlings.

But Mr. Crankypants doesn’t believe that there are actual grant vultures out there. And Mr. Crankypants knows that most of the people in the non-profit world are not grant vultures, they have pure motives, and they really do serious work at facilitating the fair flow of grant money. Mr. Crankypants hopes that the grant vulture is just a mythical beast, like unicorns and dragons. And he hopes everyone in the non-profit world truly is pure of heart, with only the highest of motives.


Praise workers laboring hard in their fields,
May sun and moon increase their yields.
May the soil be blessed with falling silver rain,
As we offer thanks to mother earth again.

A happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Good ol’ Midas

This Sunday, my sermon title is “Greedy Guts,” in honor of the biggest shopping weekend of the year here in the United States. While searching for appropriate readings, I came across this summary of the King Midas story, in Robert Graves’s Greek Myths:

Midas, son of the Great Goddess of Ida, by a satyr whose name is not remembered, was a pleasure-loving King of Macedonian Bromium, where he ruled over the Brigians and planted his celebrated rose gardens. In his infancy, a procession of ants was observed carrying grains of wheat up the side of his cradle and placing them between his lips as he slept — a prodigy which the soothsayers read as an omen of the great wealth that would accrue to him….

One day, the debauched old satyr Silenus, Dionysus’s former pedagogue, happened to straggle from the main body of the riotous Dionysian army as it marched out of Thrace into Boeotia, and was found sleeping off his drunken fit in [Midas’s] rose gardens. The gardeners bound him with garlands of flowers and led his before Midas, to whom he told wonderful tales of an immense continent lying beyond the Ocean stream — altogether separate from the conjoined mass of Europe, Asia, or Africa — where splendid cities abound, peopled by gigantic, happy, and long-lived inhabitants, and enjoying a remarkable legal system. A great expedition — at least ten million strong — once set out [from] thence across the Ocean in ships to visit the Hyperboreans; but on learning that theirs was the best land that the old world had to offer, retired in disgust…. Midas, enchanted by Silenus’s fictions, entertained him for five days and nights, and then ordered a guide to escort him [back] to Dionysus’s headquarters.

Dionysus, who had been anxious on Silenus’s account, sent to ask how Midas wished to be rewarded. He replied without hesitation: ‘Pray grant that all I touch be turned into gold.’ However, not only stones, flowers, and the furnishing of his house turned to gold but, when he sat down to table, so did the food he ate and the water he drank. Midas soon begged to be released from his wish, because he was fast dying of hunger and thirst; whereupon Dionysus, highly entertained, told him to visit the source of the river Pactolus, near Mount Tmolus, and there wash himself. He obeyed, and was at once freed from the golden touch, but the sand of the river Pactolus are bright with gold to this day…. [pp. 281-282]

That the Midas legend is herein tied to a tale told by a drunken debauched satyr of a fabulous land of plenty lying westward across the Atlantic Ocean makes a kind of mythic sense for my purposes, don’t you think?