Monthly Archives: August 2008


This afternoon, I drove to Providence to the monthly Sacred Harp singing. Sacred Harp is one branch of an American shape note singing tradition which dates back to the Boston composer William Billings in the late 18th C.; it is an indigenous polyphonic sacred choral music tradition that left New England in the 19th C., migrated to the Appalachians, survived into the 20th C. in the deep South, whence it migrated back to New England in the 1970s.

A dozen of us sat around singing our hearts out for three hours. In Sacred Harp singings, the people who are singing choose the songs to sing. It was time to end; what should the last song be? Someone suggested we sing number 183, “Greenwich”:

  Lord, what a thoughtless wretch was I,
  To mourn and murmur and repine,
  To see the wicked placed on high,
  In pride of honor shine.

  But oh, their end, their dreadful end,
  Thy sanctuary taught me so,
  On slipp’ry rocks I see them stand,
  And fiery billows roll below.

It’s a lovely song to sing, but one of the tenors said it should not be our last song. Smiling, I said, “You don’t want to be left with that last vivid image as you drive home?” and she replied, “Well, that’s what I believe in, but we really should sing a different song for a closing.” Still smiling, I decided that it was not a good time to reveal that theologically I am a post-Christian Universalist. Then someone suggested that we close with “Christian’s Farewell,” which is slow and easy to sing, and which has words that were altogether more appropriate for a closing song:

  Brethren, farewell, I do you tell,
  I’m sorry to leave, I love you so well.
  Now I must go, where I don’t know,
  Wherever Christ leads me,
  The trumpet to blow….

While singing this, it occurred to me that there are some Unitarian Universalists who would refuse to sing any of these Sacred Harp songs, because they would object to the theology. But that would be like refusing to go into Notre Dame in Paris, because it is a Papist abomination. I sang my heart out, and loved every minute of it, theology notwithstanding:

  Here I have worked, labored a while,
  But labor is sweet if Jesus doth smile.
  When I am done, I will go home,
  Where Jesus is smiling,
  And bids me to come.

Sometimes you do theology, and sometimes you just sing.

At its height

This week has been filled with those perfect days we sometimes get in late August, when it feels like autumn at night yet becomes pleasantly hot by mid-day; when we are drawn outdoors to let the mellow sun drive the last of the New England cold out of our bones.

Summer is at its height: the parking lot for the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is as almost as full as you’ll ever see it; and there are as many cars as you’ll ever see over on State Pier near where the Cuttyhunk ferry docks.

A few tourists are even wandering around New Bedford, far from their usual haunts. Usually, tourists in New Bedford walk one block from the National Park’s visitor center down to the Whaling Museum, and then get back in their cars and drive away. But today, Carol and I saw several tourists in other, less-touristy, areas. We saw a man pushing a stroller on Macarthur Drive near Fisherman’s Wharf, where he was accosted by one of the more insistent panhandlers (the fellow who once, when I told him I didn’t have any money for him, screamed at me: “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!”). Only a perfect summer day could draw a tourist to walk along Macarthur Drive.

If I had any doubt that summer is at its height, at it sfull glory right now, that doubt would have been eradicated by the farmer’s market on Thursday. While I stood in line at each farmer’s table, waiting my turn, I looked over the biggest diversity of produce we’ll see all year: blueberries, plums, peaches, pears, summer apples, cataloupe; broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow straightneck squash, patty-pan squash, acorn squash, lettuce, kale, collards, pole beans, bush beans, garlic; gladiolas, sunflowers, and other cut flowers. There were so many things for sale I’ve forgotten them all.

Summer is at its height, yet the sun sets three minutes earlier every day; I keep getting surprised by how soon it grows dark. Summer is at its height, but yesterday I planted some more fall flowers, white and red chrysanthemums, and tied up the asters. And today I seeded our tiny little raised-bed garden with a fall planting of Swiss chard.

Summer reading

I’m reading Paul Theroux’s The Pillars of Hercules, his book in which he spends a year travelling around the Mediterranean.

He is in France now, derogating the French for banning all foreign words. You can almost hear him thinking: silly French people, banning all those foreign words, when they could be like those of us who speak English and who have a huge number of words available to us, most of which we stole from other languages. And then a few paragraphs later, he slips in a beautifully obscure word, as if to show those French how delightful it is to use words appropriated from other languages:

The dream of the Mediterranean is not the Albanian coast or the docks of Haifa or the drilling rigs at the edge of Libya. It is the dream of this part of France, the sweep of the Riviera as a brilliant sunlit lotophagous land….

lotophagous, a., rare Lotus-eating, resembling the Lotophagi. Hence lotophagously adv.
  1855 EMERSON in Corr. w. Carlyle II. 244. I have even fancied you did me a harm by the valued gift of Anthony Wood; which and the like of which I take a lotophagous pleasure in eating. 1882 PIDGEON Engineer’s Holiday I. 83. Thus lotophagously sailing, we landed one morning on a beautifully wooded point. [from the OED]

Glass Door

I’m fascinated by Glassdoor, a new Web site that aggregates salary information and anonymous reviews of what it’s like to work for a company. Obvious limitations: only works for big companies (you can’t post anonymously from a company with only 2 employees!), and there’s still not enough reviews. Even so — man, I wish I had this site back when I was in sales….


I thought the Olympics were over, but they go on and on like a dreary Charlton Heston film: lots of bombast, not much substance. However, there is relief from the dreariness:– the BBC has recreated three discontinued Olympic sports in this video. Hey, i’d watch underwater swimming on TV….

Well, maybe I do like Google Docs after all…

In spite of my initial skepticism, I’ve decided Google Docs can be very useful to a small church like ours.

This week, I’m doing lots of planning for the coming church year. And I decided to put our worship calendar on a Google Docs spreadsheet. I made this spreadsheet public, and made sure that all changes to the document are immediately published. Then I made our music director a “collaborator.” He went to the spreadsheet and entered the Sundays he will be off. Once we hire a new Director of Religious Education, I’ll make him/her a collaborator as well. Communication and collaboration among staff members is already easier.

Now that this our worship schedule is online, our church secretary will be no longer have to ask me each month for a paper copy of the most recent version of the schedule. The same is true for our worship associates (i.e., laypeople who do readings, etc., during the worship service) and other lay leaders. Everybody is now working from the same document, and all changes are immediately published.

Pretty cool, huh? (If you want to see what our worship schedule looks like, go here.)

Time to argue (again)

The tireless Shelby Meyerhoff of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has just posted “Best Practices for UU Blogging.” Shelby contacted a dozen Unitarian Universalist bloggers, and asked them what they considered to be best blogging practices. She summarized the responses, put them in a PDF file, and now they’re online.

There’s lots to argue about in this report. Since the UUA Web site isn’t set up for discussion, you won’t be able to argue there. So argue here. And to start things off, here’s something from the report:

By 2012, it is projected that 80% of Internet bandwidth usage will be for online video. Unitarian Universalists are way behind the curve when it comes to online video…. I suspect that the audience for text-based blogs is mostly middle-aged and older folks these days.

Feel free to argue about this statement, or anything else from the report, in the comments section….


We finally have DSL service again. Which means I will be posting regularly to this blog again. The next three paragraphs give the long saga of our problems with Verizon;– and the final paragraph offers some advice should you have to call Verizon’s support center.

Here’s what happened:– Our DSL service went out on July 31. We called Verizon the next day, and they sent a tech out on August 2 — he found that our service had been improperly grounded when originally installed by Verizon, and he fixed that problem. Still no DSL. We called Verizon again, talked to help desk people (with such poor English skills that they were obviously based in some call center overseas) who supposedly “tested the line.” At one point, the person I was talking to got offended when I told him he was going to have to repeat himself yet again because I simply couldn’t understand his accent. He claimed the problem would “be resolved.” Still no DSL by Wednesday, August 6, so we had to call Verizon yet again.

They sent a tech out, and then Verizon called back at 4:10 p.m. on the 6th saying the problem would be resolved within 24 hours. When we still didn’t have DSL by about 3 p.m. on Thursday, I called Verizon, who said that now the problem was in their office, and it would take five days for things to settle down (I think that’s what he said, again his English skills weren’t great). Still no DSL by Friday, August 15, so we had to call Verizon yet again.

They said they’d send someone out on Monday, August 18. Tom, the same tech we had the first time, showed up (Tom is great, by the way, one of the few Verizon employees I spoke with who seemed competent, intelligent, and courteous). Tom did some tests, and told me that our DSL modem had burned out, probably due to the problems and due to all the tests they had run on our line from the central office. So I called Verizon yet again, and after an hour got them to send us a free modem. Which arrived today, August 19. I tried to set it up, ran into problems, called Verizon yet again, yet again got someone who didn’t speak English well, and who couldn’t answer my question — she transferred my call to someone else, who promptly cut me off. During the 15 minutes I had to wait for him to call me back, I solved the problem on my own, and so didn’t bother to answer when the phone rang. By this time, the last thing I wanted to do was to explain to someone with poor English skills that I had solved the problem on my own — that’s not something that is on the scripts they read from, and I knew his response would be something like this: “[pause] OK, I understand. Now, please power down the modem and restart your computer….”

The following may be helpful to you if you have to deal with Verizon support:– (a) When you call Verizon’s 800 help number, press “0” (that’s a zero) at any time to be connected directly to an agent. (b) Be aware that their voice recognition software often cannot understand what you say, so whenever they give you the option of punching in information using your phone’s number pad, do so. (c) The menus on their phone system change from call to call, and making the same choice on one menu on two different calls will get you two completely different results — so be prepared to have your call forwarded to the wrong place. (d) Verizon help desk staff do not respond if you are polite or courteous, but they do respond if you speak loudly and use your authoritative voice of command. (e) If Verizon tells you something is going to cost you money, argue with them, tell them it is their fault, tell them you should not have to pay — worked every time for me. (f) Supposedly if you call their help line at night, you may get connected to their call center in Canada, which means you will probably talk with a native English speaker. (g) Remember:– Verizon is not in the business of providing good customer service. They’re the phone company, they don’t have to care. Your blood pressure may be lower if you can just keep that in mind.

Annual end-of-vacation post

My summer vacation ended this morning at 9:00 a.m. Actually, it ended before that, because I got to work twenty minutes early. I hate the fact that vacation is over for another year.

Not that I dislike my job. Working as a minister is about the best job in the world. I don’t have to punch a time clock. I have very little worry about getting seriously hurt on the job. Like most ministers, my benefits include a certain amount of flex-time and flexiplace. And, best of all, I’m helping to make the world a better place (at least, that sometimes happens, on the good days).

Nor do I have any regrets about how I spent my vacation. Visiting my sister and my cousin and my aunt and uncle; cat-sitting in Cambridge; even cleaning the house — these were perfect ways to spend my vacation time.

Nor am I one of those people who wants to retire as soon as possible. I hope to keep working until I drop dead. I like working, I am not good with too much leisure time, I like the purpose and meaning that a job brings to life.

In spite of all this, the day that vacation is over is always an unpleasant shock. In a few days, I’ll be back in the swing of things, and all will be well again. But right now, it’s the worst day of the year.