Friday, February 29, 2008

It's coming...

The Internet, that is. Yes, I received word that the church office will upgrade to high-speed Internet early next week. You cannot imagine my joy -- Oh, rapture! -- at the thought of being able to get on the Internet and accomplish something (say posting to a blog) in less than 30 minutes. (No really, trust me -- you don't remember how slow dial-up Internet is. No, really, even slower than that).

This is already the highlight of my week (pick a week, either this week or next). I am looking forward to resuming my Internet reading schedule more fully (it's been quite abridged on my BlackBerry) -- more news, more blogs, more (well, that one's not quite as good). And I can finally post the pictures of the church in Fairmont (and begin, in earnest, the process of developing the church's new website).

Anyway, it's been a fairly quiet week otherwise. More planning for Holy Week (almost done, just Easter Sunday to go), planning beyond Holy Week. Bible Study went well this week. And, on the Internet theme, I officially began my "Pastor's Blog" for the church (the link is always on the right), called "Along This Pilgrim's Journey..." (bonus points if you know the source material of that).

I've finally begun watching a sufficient number of movies again (one a week just doesn't cut it). I have three reviews drafted for Cinema Utopia, with maybe more to come this weekend. I watched two Oscar nominees this week, Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood. Both are very dark, but Michael Clayton is certainly the more enjoyable (and more recommended, from my point of view). And I found that the 2nd closest movie theater has $3.50 matinees, which means I'll probably be watching more first run movies, rather than waiting for DVD releases. It'll be a good use of my day off, I'm sure.

Well, I see that the minutes are ticking away, and I still have some work to do on this Friday afternoon (so much for a leisurely Friday afternoon). More to come....

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Play's the Thing (and other things)

Steven Sondheim is having a good week. The revival of his Pulitzer Prize winning "Sunday in the Park with George" opened to a glowing New York Times review last evening, and last season's well received minimalist revival of "Company" was broadcast on PBS' "Great Performances" Wednesday.

I had the opportunity to see a community production of "Sunday" last spring, which was very exciting because it is one of my favorite musicals. To a person, all those I knew who saw the production disliked it -- they found it slow, tedious, boring...when they could understand what was going on. I admit that certain production elements limited the show's effectiveness (including some rather awkward and misguided tempi on the songs), but I think they just didn't think it was very interesting. Ben Brantley, the Times reviewer, points out many of the aspects of the show that I enjoy in his review. Brantley's criticism of the second act is accurate, but he also points out the overall resonance of the show.

The "Company" production was strong, though it certainly had an interesting cast. Raul Esparza was an interesting choice for "Bobby, Bobby," but more interesting was the lack of overly strong personalities among the rest of the cast. This resulted, at least, in a rather subdued "The Ladies Who Lunch," compared to Elaine Stritch, but enhanced the dreamlike quality of the entire piece(the edges were very smooth in this flowing production). Director John Doyle won a Tony for his imaginative staging of "Sweeney Todd," in which all of the actors doubled as the instrumentalists; he does similar staging here, but I found it slightly underwhelming. (He says in interviews that the point is to highlight Sondheim's score; this might be necessary in the completely sung-through "Sweeney" but "Company" is quite a different animal.) Still, "Company" may be Sondheim's best musical (most critics would have my head for that comment, almost universally preferring "Sweeney," while Sondheim himself rather perversely prefers "Assassins"), and it is always good to see talented people wrestle with it.

Other notes from the week:
I served at another funeral this week, again for someone I did not know, though this time it was not for a congregation member, but for someone "twice-removed." It is an awkward experience, conducting a funeral for people you do not know, but I'm slowly learning how to approach such things.

The church has hired a new secretary. This is exciting, except for the fact that I was a prominent part of the interview and selection process, so if it doesn't work out, it is almost entirely my fault and I have no one else to blame. (I don't think that will happen, but I really need to develop some "plausable deniability" for such decisions.)

I've exercised at the gym three times this week. I haven't injured myself. I haven't injured anyone else. I haven't been barred from the premises. All good things.

Bible Study was well attended this week, despite some wintery weather. That's a good sign (both for me and for the church as a whole).

So it was a pretty good week for me too (though I'm waiting for someone to write nice things about me in the newspaper)....

Friday, February 15, 2008

I'm a broken man

That's right. Completely broken. I've given in. Sold out to the man. Believed what all the commercials tell me.

And no, this has nothing to do with Valentine's Day. (You're all cynics.) I did not have a "hot date" (no surprise there); I did not have a lukewarm date (no surprise there either). I did not sit at home crying (but only because I chose not to watch The Dirty Dozen -- bonus points if you get that reference to an unnamed movie).

I've joined a gym.

I know. I've completely sold out. (Well almost -- I'm not going to join any aerobics classes, so I haven't turned into an '80s Yuppie. No Jane Fonda flashbacks for me.) But I've ponied up my money, signed on the dotted line, and even scheduled an appointment with a trainer (but just so I don't stupidly hurt myself on the weight equipment).

So, let the taunting begin.

Friday, February 8, 2008

West Virginia is like a box of chocolates...

People ask me what West Virginia is like (or I hear from others that they're asking what West Virginia is like).

So far, things seem to be going well. I'm settling into my apartment -- there's still boxes to unpack, but I'm actually making progress. It's a nice apartment, very comfortable and very quiet. I have a dishwasher (hooray!), which means that I'm actually keeping up with the dishes like a grownup. I purchased a washer and dryer (no words can express my utter joy), so I no longer need space in my bedroom to stockpile dirty clothes. And Sandy seems to be settling in as well, though I don't think she knows what to make of my unconventional work hours.

I've taken advantage of my adult salary and my lack of -- a wife, a girlfriend, children, expensive tastes, gambling debts, maybe even good sense -- to purchase a different automobile, quite a step up from the little green Saab. Of course, the Saab didn't want to go without a fight (I actually had to stop by the mechanic in Indianapolis to have the muffler replaced DURING my move from Chicago to West Virginia). But now it's out of my hands. But not before I gained some valuable experience in my introduction to West Virginia winter driving. I live in the hills of West Virginia, so snowfall amounts are pretty small (generally only a couple of inches), which is no problem to drive in. But much more common, and more challenging, are the brief periods of icy conditions that occur here. I've driven on ice before, but West Virginia offers exciting new challenges: hills and curves. Last month, on one icy evening, I was returning to my apartment, which is on top of a hill, and I was taking it easy. Things went well until I discovered that I was not keeping my momentum climbing the hill and I started sliding backwards. I gamely tried to drive down the hill, but the car slid into a ditch, which I then gamely tried to drive through. I was successful with three tires, but got the fourth stuck, which required a call to AAA. The tow truck driver was a) nice, b) competent, and c) arrived in about 30 minutes, which made it a fairly pleasant experience and one that was certainly different from my experiences with tow trucks in the Chicago area. And I learned that you need to keep a certain speed going up a hill in slick conditions. A good lesson to learn in the Saab. But now the Saab is out of my hands.

Things at church seem to be going well. I'm getting used the rhythms of the worship service and I think the congregation is getting used to me. My sermons have actually been on the shorter side (20 minutes each), except for last Sunday's Lincoln Sermon, but even it was only about 25 minutes. I'm not sure if I'll find this a comfortable length while preaching every week or if I'm just lulling them into a false sense of comfort. The people are very friendly, and I'm slowly getting to know some of them. And I've made a couple of decisions about priorities for the next few months, which gives me some direction, which I find helpful. Currently, I'm planning and preparing the first series of Bible studies (to last until June) on several Paul's letters.

Here's a funny church story for you though. Since coming to West Virginia, the hardest thing to adjust to is the time change. Everything is an hour later here from what it is in Chicago -- the TV schedule (including the news) is an hour later, the sunrise and sunset times are different -- and I've had trouble adjusting. Too often, I let myself stay up far too late. Needless to say, this has made Sunday mornings a challenge. Two weeks ago, I thought I had the problem licked. I went to bed early. I was up early (and actually had a small breakfast and glanced at the headlines in the newspaper). I was on schedule until I took off my glasses to get into the shower, and one of the lenses fell out. This meant I had to look for the small screwdriver (which fortunately I had unpacked, but unfortunately I had not put away in the most logical place) and then I struggled for about a half hour to fix the glasses (oh, yes, Mr. Mechanical). I took a quick shower, dressed, and hurried out the door. Of course there's frost on the car. I quickly clean it off and get in, only to rip a nice tear in my slacks. So back inside to put on something else. On my way to church I got a call making sure I was all right. And I arrived 45 minutes late (later than I have any other Sunday). I hope you're laughing because I am -- in fact, I was even laughing on that Sunday as it happened.

Well, that's a brief update. I'm still waiting on much, much quicker Internet service to start in my office, which will allow me to post more frequently. I have a post ready, complete with some pictures, but that has to wait for a faster connection.