Tuesday, August 28, 2007


No new projects this week, but progress on the ones I started last week. First, there's another baby sweater sitting in the basket waiting for blocking and ties; that's #16 for the year. It's getting time for me to call the newspaper lady that wanted to do a photo shoot last year but waited until everything was off to its donation site. In another month or so I'll be done with this year's charity knitting, so time to make a nice display.

I finished the first sock in the Tofutsie, and it actually fits my foot. Today I cast on the second one and got it far enough along that I can knit while i play computer games. I also did a swatch in the Sock It To Me to check gauge. I have another pattern I want to try, but will have to adapt the pattern.

The EZ square blanket turned out to be more of a saga than I had planned. I decided on Tuesday afternoon to drive to Monroe to see what Hobby Lobby had for Wool Ease in colors that would coordinate with the white sparkle. It was a wasted trip; HL no longer carries Wool Ease in worsted weight. I got a few skeins of Red Heart worsted off the sale rack for mittens, and came home. A whole afternoon on the road for nothing.

Next I checked Ebay and found 7 skeins of the white sparkle, so bought them. But when they came, the dye lots were so far different I could tell them apart in dim light; combining them was not an option. So I finally decided, after knitting a whole quarter of the blanket, to tear it out and start over on a smaller scale. This is coming along fine. It's taking me just slightly less than a skein to make an 8th of the square, and I have 8 skeins in the same dye lot. I started on the second quarter today, so I'm making good progress on that. It's a good tv project.

I've also done a little on the silk shawl, and contemplated pi shawls. The skein of blue merino lace weight has enough yardage for a pi shawl, so I'm going to get out some of my old lace books and see what looks appealing to me. But I'm not going to do anything with that until I'm done with hats, mittens, and baby sweaters for the year. Arkansas Children's Hospital is looking for 30,000 hats this year in their Knitting for Noggins project, so I know they'll be able to use anything I can whip up.

Meanwhile the quilting studio sits idle. I can't concentrate on too many projects at one time. And knitting lets me sit like a slug indoors in front of the tv through these sweltering hot days. This week I've been enjoying The Simpsons Season 10 dvds; they are the perfect accompaniment to mindless knitting.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


RevGalBlogPals do what they call "The Friday Five," a series of questions on a topic that invite discussion. I haven't played for a while, but happened to look in on their site yesterday and decided the topic was interesting enough to play along late.

This week's topic:
Name a 1) book, 2) piece of music, 3) work of art, 4) film, 5) unusual engagement with popular culture that have helped/challenged you on your spiritual journey.

1) Book: The one that comes immediately to mind is Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. This book found me one of the first years I went to Music and Worship Conference at Montreat, and so was early in my spiritual journey. I'm still learning from this book. It's one of my favorite types of books, one that has an intensely spiritual message without being "Christian lit." The essay "An Expedition to the Pole" is one that grabbed me immediately, especially the idea that we ought to come to church in crash helmets, prepared to be lashed to our pews, because of the danger inherent in seeking an encounter with the divine.

2) Piece of Music: The first piece of sacred music I had the privilege to perform was the Faure Requiem. It was in Florida, with a community choir, very soon after I discovered that I had a singing voice and determined to use it. There's something about this particular combination of text and music that works for me. Maybe it's the sense of joy that it communicates, in contrast to some of the older settings of the Mass that are more about penitence and judgment. I particularly like hearing the Sanctus sung by a youth choir; their young voices make this light setting soar.

3) Work of Art: In Fredrick Buechner's book The Faces of Jesus there is a photograph of a wooden bust of Jesus carved by an unknown African carver. It's a Good Friday bust, with a crown of thorns, a sorrowing Jesus, contemplating the pain of the world. There's something about the way the carver has allowed the grain of the wood to carry the weight of the emotion in the face; it's as though the carver recognized that the art ultimately was God's, not his. It moves me to tears every time I look at it. I paid a very large sum for a used copy of this book so that I could look at this photograph when I need to.

4) Film: "What Dreams May Come." I love nearly everything that Robin Williams has done, but I would love this film even if Robin weren't in it. What draws me into this movie is it's rendering of heaven. First the parts that are created by the wife's paint; the idea that we participate in the creation of whatever heaven may mean as the place we go to after this life is over. Then the city, as the place populated by people with a common vision. I'm always taken aback by the Revelation texts that talk about heaven as a city; somehow we tend to think of heaven more in pastoral terms, as the kind of place where the good shepherd leads us in green pastures and beside still waters. But a place filled with people with a common vision - that sounds a lot like heaven to me.

5) Unusual engagement with popular culture: I'm not sure what counts as "unusual" here. Since I've discovered podcasts, I'm able to listen to Krista Tippet's NPR program "Speaking of Faith"; it's radio, but I depend on a new medium to be able to hear it. There's the audio book by a Buddhist teacher I listened to recently - Getting Unstuck by Pema Chodron; this turned out to be one of the best books on dealing with addictions I've encountered lately. There are the good friends I've met while playing computer games online. Any or all of those might qualify.

Tomorrow is Sabbath for me. Tonight I will light the candles and begin the Sabbath with a simple ritual. I plan to spend the bulk of the day in my quilt studio, a place that I've neglected lately, but that usually releases my inner child. I found a turkey breast in the back of the freezer, so I'll cook that for supper, and see if I can round up some friends to help me eat it. I've dealt with the kitty litter and the dirty dishes, so I can start the Sabbath with a clean slate. The rest is in God's hands.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Our "hero" this week is Gideon. He's like so many of us; he starts strong and with a lot of promise, and by the end of the story he's a mess. His story takes three chapters in Judges to tell, so he's clearly an important character. But what I see as I look at other sermons about him is that they tend to tell the first part of the story, the good and strong part, but they ignore the last part, the part about him making a golden ephod and worshipping it.

Gideon's consistent problem seems to be that he doesn't trust God to be God. He's constantly asking for signs, even after God's Spirit takes possession of him. First he wants dew on the fleece and not on the ground, then he wants dew on the ground and not on the fleece. When it's time for him to attack the Midianites, God tells him "if you have any doubts, take Purah your armor bearer with you." He can't quite get it together.

And then, when he has the opportunity to bring his career to a glorious finish, he blows it. After telling the people that he refuses to be king, saying "God will reign over you," he says, "but if you don't mind, each of you could give me an earring out of the plunder you took." And with the 43 pounds of gold he makes an ephod - a sacred garment - and puts it on display. The text says "All Israel prostituted itself there. Gideon and his family, too, were seduced by it."

The analogy with Aaron is unmistakable. The ephod was to be worn only by the priests, priests who followed in the footsteps of Aaron. And like Aaron he makes a golden image - an ephod instead of a calf - but an image nonetheless, and it takes the place of God. The man who had been clothed in the Holy Spirit is seduced by a golden garment that he doesn't have the right to wear.

What happened between Gideon's call and his retirement is not clear. But it seems that from the beginning God was not enough for him. He always needed more. Apparently, what he needed was 43 pounds of gold, because the only thing he accomplished after making the ephod was to sire 71 sons.

Yes, he led Israel in defeating the Midianites. Yes, the land had rest for 40 years, the last time it will have rest in the book of Judges. But it's hard not to think about what he could have been if he had trusted God from the beginning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Since I came back from Canada I've been knitting up a storm. It's been too hot to do much else, frankly. So long as the projects are small, knitting is a good thing to work on indoors when it's too hot to breathe outdoors.

I have to show you the yarns I brought back from Canada. I knew I would find yummy stuff, and I was not disappointed. The first shop we went to in Edmonton was Ewe Asked for it.

I was completely overwhelmed when I walked in the shop and I realized that I hadn't the foggiest idea what I wanted to buy and that if I wasn't careful I would just grab one of everything and come home with nothing useful. So I settled on yarn to make a pair of socks. I hadn't made socks in a long time, but all the bloggers and podcasts talk about making socks, so I decided that would make a good small project. Also I love wool socks in the winter, and they're impossible to find here except the kind that
will fit into hunting boots. That's where I bought the Tofutsies, which, as you can see, is making a lovely sock. It's only part wool; the rest is acrylic made from soybeans, a little bit of cotton, and chitin from shrimp and crab shells to give it antibacterial qualities. It's the fiber combination that intrigued me, as well as the fun and funky colors it comes in. And I've successfully navigated my way past one heel turn, so now it's just straight on to the toe.
Yarn shops were a new experience for Mary Jane. She just walked around in a kind of daze patting things and saying "Oooh." Even Randy got into the act, I think just taking in this environment where things exist that he had no knowledge of.

The other store in Edmonton we went to was River City Yarns. They had more of the lace weight yarns that I was hoping to bring home for shawls. The green in the center is the silk yarn that Bart and I played with yesterday; as you can see I've already wound it (twice) and started knitting a simple shawl from it. The yarn is nubbly, and the shawl/scarf drapes beautifully. It was hand painted in Nova Scotia, so it's truly a Canadian souvenir.

In the back is some Sock It To Me, another wool yarn that will make my feet happy come January. And on the left is some merino wool lace weight that will make a shawl for somebody special.
My big knitting accomplishment for the week was to block and put ties on 6 baby sweaters This brings to 15 the total for the year so far, with plenty of year left to make my goal of 20. In fact there is one in the finishing basket right now waiting for blocking and ties, so I only need to make 4 more to have those done. They are a great travel project because the directions are very simple, and there's not a lot of counting and thinking that has to go on. Plus, I really like the n0-seams part. I'm anxious to try the Elizabeth Zimmermann baby sweater, but that does have sewing, so I think this will still be my favorite for charity sweaters.

So right now I have 3 projects on the needles: the socks made from the Tofutsies, the shawl from the hand-painted silk, and the EZ square blanket. I finished the first skein on that this morning and now realize I don't have enough to make the whole blanket in the white Wool-Ease, so will have to decide how I want to introduce the second color. That will be the challenge for this coming week.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Monday is my Sabbath, and I try to make it a day of renewal and not just a day off. I didn't do anything special today, but it was still a good day.

Yesterday I wound the silk yarn I bought in Alberta and started knitting a shawl from it. During the night my #1 yarn thief, pictured left, got hold of the ball and completely unwound it all around the living room. I was strongly tempted to commit mayhem upon him, but instead I just quietly rewound the yarn while he did his best to be invisible sitting on a white dining room chair. There's one section that will have to be discarded, but most of it came through unscathed except for dust and cat hair. I'm not sure which Bart enjoyed more, the unwinding of the ball or watching me crawling around under all the chair legs to rewind it. And the little snot had the audacity to snuggle up in the bed with me after doing his dastardly deed.

As much as I try not to do housework (or any other kind of work) on my Sabbath, some things are just necessary. I started the morning by dumping grits all over the kitched floor when the box slipped out of my hands while I was reaching for the measuring cup. Then the grits boiled out of their bowl in the microwave, so there was another mess to clean up. Since I was already in cleaning mode, I did a few things toward getting my bedroom back to the tidy space I like it to be. And there were dishes to wash and litterboxes to tend. I also moved some side tables around to move one that has closed storage into the den from the music room. It seems hiding balls of yarn in my knitting basket is no longer adequate protection from the Yarn Thief. The silk was pretty sturdy and took his abuse pretty well. I'd hate to think what he would have accomplished if it had been the merino wool he'd stolen.

In the early afternoon the mailman brought a delivery from Amazon.com which included two of the Elizabeth Zimmermann knitting books I ordered last week, and the 10th season DVD's of The Simpsons. I was waiting for the EZ books because one of the groups I belong to has been talking a lot lately about both pi shawls and her square baby blanket. I browsed through both books for a while, then got out some white Wool-Ease I'd been saving for something special and started a blanket. I had to learn how to do provisional casting on, which was another thing I've been hearing about but had never actually done.

Part of Sabbath for me is to cook meals that are special in some way, so for supper I cooked some fish I found in the freezer and put it with some Tater Tots and green beans. The fish was some seasoned tilapia, and was actually quite good. I felt good that I had put a balanced plate together. After supper I sat with the Simpsons and knitted on the blanket for a while. And I ended the day by starting the new Diane Mott Davidson novel I had bought for my trip to Canada then decided not to pack.

It was a good Sabbath. There were new treats to enjoy, and good food. Except for rewinding Bart's mess, I did nothing that was stressful or that could be in any way construed as work. It wasn't a particularly spiritual day, but it was still a good Sabbath.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I'm preaching on Deborah and Jael this Sunday, the second installment in my series from Judges. There are so many ways to go with these chapters; both Deborah and Jael are rich characters, and even the minor characters offer preaching possibilities. Choosing a focus was the first hard decision to make.

I'm following one of the leads suggested by Joseph Jeter in his book Preaching Judges. He looks at Jael and the treatment her character has gotten over the years. There are some who think that she acted treacherously toward Sisera, offering him hospitality and then driving a tent peg into his head. There are others, including the biblical text itself, that consider her a hero for destroying Israel's enemy. I think it's that very ambiguity that is worth exploring.

Put it into contemporary terms. Suppose Osama Bin-Laden had reason to believe he could find sanctuary at my house, and showed up on my doorstep. Sisera was a Canaanite general and Jael was a Kenite; there was an understanding between the two peoples because the Canaanites wanted iron chariots and the Kenites were metalsmiths. So imagine that Osama's family and my family had connections, and he showed up. I give him a good meal, and he falls asleep in my bed. Partly I'm honoring the family code of honor, and partly I'm afraid of what he might do if I try to call authorities. But then the opportunity presents itself, and I take advantage of it. When I call the police to come, he's dead, with a bullet hole in his temple.

That's one way the story is told. The older version of the story, chapter 5, is much richer in sexual innuendo than that. In that version Sisera falls between Jael's feet; it's not clear whether he was trying to rape her or whether she was taking hospitality to a new level to let him think he was completely out of danger. So in this version of the story Osama's in bed with me, and when he is sufficiently "distracted" I pull out the gun and take care of a national enemy.

And that ambiguity seems to be the issue when it comes to deciding whether Jael is a harlot or a hero. Did she lure him to bed, or did she kill him in his sleep? And was she justified in killing him if he was merely sleeping, but not if she used her sexuality to trap him? These are the kinds of issues that we are still confronted with. A cop uses brutality to force a confession from a murder suspect; is his action justified by the fact that he removes a killer from the streets? Is a man who steals food for his hungry children justified? Is continued U.S. involvement in Iraq justified because of the fear that the situation will only get worse if we leave?
Dana Nolan Fewell suggests an even more intriguing possibility in her commentary on Judges in The Women's Bible Commentary. She believes Jael simply did what had to be done in order to save herself and her family. She says "Perhaps Yahweh too does what must be done in order to save the family of Israel." That's certainly one way to understand God's insistence that the Canaanites had to be exterminated in the first place; God was simply doing what had to be done for the survival of the family. Or does that let God off the hook too easily. It seems like an excuse that could be abused; Hitler had 6 million Jews killed because it was what had to be done. But she opens up the intriguing possibility that even for God the choices are not always between "good" and "bad"; perhaps the only available choices are between "bad" and "even worse."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I just figured out how to get the pictures out of my new camera, so I can finally show you the pictures from my latest trip to Alberta. Can you imagine having something this beautiful to look at every day? I had planned to take more pictures of this amazing place, but there was a storm the last night I was there and the light was too flat to get good pictures. I guess I'll just have to go back again.

One of the things we did was go to the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, where there is an amazing collection of dinosaur bones and fossils. I've been to museums that had a dinosaur and fossil room, but never one that was all relics like these.

(For those who are interested, I'm the short relic on the left; my friend Mary Jane, who lets me come play at her house in Alberta, is on the right). This place even has a dinosaur named for it - Albertosaurus. That's the one racing to get out of the picture in the background.

I can't imagine how people ever looked at this place and thought "This looks like home." I guess the availability of water had something to do with it, but it's still a formidable place. And I can't imagine people living through a Canadian winter in a soddy, much less deciding to stay and do it again another year. I can't imagine living in a place where you can't even see your nearest neighbors in the days before electricity or telephone. I can't imagine having to make everything by hand - socks, soap, bread, butter - and having to have enough food in the cellar to last until spring. I love the idea of doing all those things, so long as I can run to the store and buy it when I get tired of making it myself.

But here I've been home a week and the temperature has been over 100 every day, and I'm sure most Albertans think I'm nuts to live in a place like this. They don't care if it's 50 degrees outside on a summer evening; they just pull up closer to the fire pit and go on with their picnic. I guess it's what lets them live through winter. Meanwhile I'm trying to stay indoors through the heat of the day and only venture out early in the morning and in the evening. Good weather for knitting small projects and making quilt blocks.