know your own sin

Mt. Lebanon UMC

August 2, 2015

David was only Israel’s second king, and he is considered its greatest king and the royal ancestor of Jesus. The gospels take great pains to point out that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, David’s home town, and that Jesus was descended from the house of David.

David was praised for his devotion to God, and this simple shepherd boy survived the wrath of Israel’s first king, Saul, and became a powerful and successful king on his own, and the founder of a royal dynasty. Continue reading

memorization

I have a lot of lines in “Don’t Drink The Water.” I haven’t counted them; it’s probably not as many lines total as I had a few years ago in “Cash On Delivery.” But it seems like more, and in Act 2 I have several extended speeches. It will all work out, but at this stage of the game it always looks like a mountain to climb.

Monday night’s rehearsal was a table read-through, and I recorded it on my smartphone, making a separate file for each scene. I had to use Audacity on my desktop computer to clean up each file — taking out long stretches in which I have no lines, as well as cutting out parts of the readthrough where we got diverted. (We’ve eliminated a minor character, and so we had to reword a couple of lines referring to that character.) If I started out saying a line the wrong way and then corrected myself, I cut out the bobble (or else I might wind up memorizing the wrong word!).

I got Act 1 finished and loaded onto my phone Monday night, and so I was able to listen to my lines while doing my daily walk yesterday and today. Now, tonight, I’ve finished with Act 2 (and it’s a two-act play, so I’m done). Being able to listen to this recording is part of my strategy, and it’s worked well for the last few plays I’ve been in.

I think we have a really funny cast, and it will be fun to see things come together over the next few weeks. But “hell week,” and the production itself, will be here before we know it. I just hope I’m ready.

Cue at the Trib

From early April until mid-June, I was a temporary fill-in at the Times-Gazette’s sister newspaper, the Marshall County Tribune in Lewisburg. It was a fun experience. I’d worked at the same newspaper for my entire 30-year career (30 years this month, by the way), and so it was a new experience to go into a newsroom and a community where I really didn’t know anyone. The rhythm of a twice-weekly (Lewisburg) is also quite different from the rhythm of a daily (Shelbyville).

The Tribune hired a new editor, and I got transferred back to Shelbyville, during the week I was at Mountain T.O.P., so I never really got to say goodbye to the Tribune staff, all of whom had welcomed me with open arms (and a couple of whom kept making noises about keeping me).

Two of the Tribune’s reporters are about to head off to college. Ivory Riner has been with the paper for a while as she earned her associate’s degree from Columbia State. (Lisa Brown from the Tribune’s front office would sometimes have to remind her it was time to go to class.) Now, she’s getting ready to go west to Arizona State, where she will pursue a degree in broadcast journalism. (Never heard of broadcast journalism, but they tell me it’s a thing.) Madeline Lewis, the paper’s summer intern, will return to Knoxville, where she’s a student at the University of Tennessee. The paper had a farewell luncheon for them today, and it was the perfect time for me to head over and say hello (and goodbye) to everyone.
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That’s Ivory in black, Madeline in white. At left is my high school classmate Becky McBee, who serves as business manager for both the T-G and the Tribune. Becky arranged the luncheon, which featured barbecue from Lawler’s. (If you are in Lewisburg, by all means get barbecue from Lawler’s.) She also had the idea for this cake:
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It was fun seeing everyone. Jennifer Vendro was showing me photos of the new home she and her husband are buying in Hohenwald. Annie Stokes joined the news staff while I was there, and she’ll have to pick up some of the slack from Ivory and Madeline’s departures. The crowd even included some former staffers — Angela Brown left not long before I did. Jim Ward had already retired as the Tribune’s general manager before my temporary assignment there, but I dealt with him frequently when he was there and was delighted to see him, too.
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I’m so glad I went over. It rained while I was there, or else I’d have been tempted to take one last walk on the Rock Creek Greenway, just for old times’ sake.

the new pew review

Last weekend, during worship at Shelbyville First United Methodist Church, the Rev. Lanita Monroe introduced our new minister of children and youth, Alden Procopio. I decided I needed a photo for the church Facebook page and so I got up and scooted down the aisle to take a photo, using the camera in my brand new Lumia 640XL phone.

I got to thinking about that later. I like putting photos like that on the church Facebook page. I wondered if it might be less disruptive if I just sat down front to begin with. We tend to get used to our pew locations, but this morning I wandered down front and sat on the second row, on the left of the aisle. My old regular seat had been about halfway back, on the right side of the aisle. The reason I moved from right to left is because sometimes when the kids have special programs or presentations, they tend to sit in the first couple of rows on the right side.

I asked Donna Brock if anyone regularly sat right in front of her. She said the seat was open, and so I took it. She did warn me that I’d have to crane my neck to look at lyrics and readings on our projection screen, and she was right about that.

Ironically, I didn’t get very good photos this morning, and no video. I had taken one quick test video last weekend, but I hadn’t tried recording any video since I upgraded the phone from Windows Phone 8.1 to Windows 10 for Phone Preview a few days ago. There’s some sort of problem – a glitch I’m sure I’ll figure out eventually, or maybe just a bug in this version of the preview software – which caused the video function to lock up the camera app. I wasted so much time fiddling with this that I missed getting even a still photo of the kids when they were standing up in front of us singing their song from Vacation Bible School. The only photo I got was of them seated on the steps as Lanita spoke.

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The fellow on the right was this morning’s guest speaker, the Rev. Dietrich “Deech” Kirk of the Center For Youth Ministry Training, the organization which has placed Alden Procopio at First UMC. Rev. Kirk gave a great message about the state of Christian faith among teenagers and youth, and what we as a Church should do about it.

I did actually get a couple of photos of him in the pulpit. The nice thing about the new phone is that it has such a large image size you can crop in quite a bit and still have a halfway-decent photo:

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Anyway, camera problems aside, I liked the results of my pew relocation experiment and think I’ll go back there next week.

distilled vinegar, red pepper, salt

Well, I was looking for something to download for my new Kindle, and a bottle of Tabasco sauce in the kitchen prompted me to see if there was a book about its history. There was; even better, it was on sale for 99 cents, and since I had a credit on my account I didn’t have to pay a thing.

McIlhenny’s Gold by Jeffrey Rothfeder is not an unduly long book, and I finished it quickly.  But it was definitely a good purchase – an illuminating (and unauthorized) look at the McIlhenny family and how it built a hot sauce empire. The book is fair, but it’s a warts-and-all picture of the company’s history. Rothfeder does seem to have strong negative opinions about Paul McIlhenny, who was running the company — badly, Rothfeder believed — at the time of the book’s release in 2007. (McIlhenny died in 2013.) Paul McIlhenny got the post by ousting the only person from outside the McIlhenny family to hold it, an Australian named Vince Pierse. Rothfeder makes no secret of believing Pierse should have been given more time to pursue his aggressive marketing ideas, which might have increased sales without compromising the product itself. By contrast, the options Paul McIlhenny pursued for expanding sales were to introduce other flavors of Tabasco sauce – flavors without the flagship brand’s reputation for long aging and high quality.

The McIlhennys still on Avery Island running the company did not talk to him, although he talked to other members of the extended family, who for the most part did not want to be specifically identified.

The story is a fascinating one – Edmund McIlhenny, a former banker, found himself unable to resume his former success after the Civil War, and so he started a hot sauce business. There was a well-told tale about how he came up with the idea after a Civil War veteran gave him some seeds, but that story appears to have been baloney – another, apparently similar, hot sauce made with peppers from Tabasco, Mexico, was sold prior to the war, and seems to have been McIlhenny’s true inspiration.

Still, McIlhenny came up with a near-perfect three-ingredient recipe of peppers, vinegar and salt. The peppers are aged three years and then combined with vinegar. Since the late 1800s, the pepper mash has been aged in barrels provided to it by the Jack Daniel Distillery a few minutes’ drive south of me. The barrels are used to age whiskey, then sent to Louisiana and used to age the pepper mash.

Edmund McIlhenny’s immediate successor, his son John, was less successful. When John left to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, his brother Edward “E.A.” McIlhenny took over, and it’s his story that is really the heart of the book. Edward McIlhenny was a fascinating character and a study in contradictions. He naturalist who nevertheless imagined some dubious ways of cashing in on nature. He was in some ways a product of southern attitudes about race, and there was a definite caste system within the company, and yet on Avery Island he forbade segregated restrooms or other facilities. He created a “company town” on Avery Island which was a mix of good and bad ideas. He was a man of power and influence whose last years were marred by a corruption scandal.

A group from my church goes each year to the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) facility in Sager Brown, Louisiana, to do volunteer work, and their schedule usually gives them the chance to go and tour the Tabasco facility on Avery Island, a half hour’s drive away. I would love to do both those things, and will one of these years.

Anyway, this was a fascinating book. It’s a good parallel to another book about the history of a family-owned company, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, in that it shows the difficulty of maintaining a family-owned business and its core principles as the generations pass, the world changes, and the ever-expanding circle of heirs demands profits from a company it has no working involvement with.

Highly recommended if, like me, you’re a Tabasco fan, and worth reading even if you’re not.

Happy Prime Day, or, Kindle me this

I am an accidental subscriber to Amazon Prime. When I reviewed Amazon’s Fire Phone for the newspaper a year ago this month, simply signing in to the phone with my Amazon account triggered the free year of Prime that Amazon offers as a benefit to purchasers of the phone. Even though I had not bought the phone — and, in fact, it was just a review model which I had to send back to the carrier after a week of testing — the Prime subscription remained.
It’s been fun to have free shipping and some of the other benefits, although I haven’t watched as many Prime Video offerings as I thought I would.
Fortunately for me, my expiration date isn’t until next week, so I was able to look in on the Black-Friday-like savings for “Prime Day” today.
Three and a half years ago, I bought the entry-level, $79 Kindle e-reader. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. I’ve read books — more books than I’d have read in that time without the Kindle — and I also have a couple of simple games on it for when I’m crashed on the couch. I just got through teaching Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality in my Sunday School class, and I had the book on my Kindle. I have several Bibles on my Kindle. I borrow Kindle books through the local library. The Kindle has been showing some signs of wear and tear — nothing bad, and nothing that really gets in the way of book reading, but it’s scuffed up some and the down part of the four-way rocker switch is now difficult to press.

So when I checked Amazon very early this morning (I had to be at the paper at 6 a.m., so this would have been about 5:45) and I saw the current entry-level Kindle on sale for $49, I jumped on it without hesitation. The current entry-level model is nicer than mine. It has touch-screen (something that wasn’t offered on the basic model three years ago), it has more storage, and I think it has higher resolution. Because of the touchscreen, it doesn’t even have or need a four-way rocker button.
Tablets are fine, and I can read books on my big new smartphone using the Kindle app if I need to, but a non-backlit e-ink e-reader is much better on your eyes and feels much more like an actual book. It’s better if you read outside (it doesn’t wash out) and it’s better if you read right before bed (there’s research indicating that backlit screens too close to bedtime can help keep you from falling asleep as quickly). It’s just better for reading all around.
Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the money, but being able to buy a $79 e-reader for $49 was too good a deal to pass up. Who knows when or if they’ll offer it again?

don’t drink the water

Attention, Middle Tennessee friends: I will be playing the part of Walter Hollander in a production of Woody Allen’s play “Don’t Drink The Water” Sept. 18-20 and 25-26 at the Fly Arts Center in Shelbyville.

The play will be directed by Martin Jones, a press operator at the Times-Gazette with whom I’ve appeared on stage several times in several different venues. Since this is Martin’s first time directing, Sue Thelen, who directed both Martin and me last year in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” is assisting him.

It’s a very funny play, and I love my part – a role that was played by Lou Jacobi on Broadway, Jackie Gleason in the 1960s movie version, and by Woody Allen himself in the 1990s TV movie (which Woody also directed – he wasn’t involved with the theatrical movie and never cared for it, so the TV movie gave him a chance to remake the story his own way).

dontdrinkThe story is set in the 1960s in a mythical Communist country in Europe. The Hollander family – Walter, Marion and their daughter Susan – are “ugly American” tourists who cause an international incident when Walter innocently takes photos of something that turns out to be a military installation. He is accused by the local secret police of being a spy.

The family takes refuge in the U.S. embassy, but the ambassador is on his way back to the states and has left things in the hands of his incompetent son Axel (played by Michael J. Fox in the TV movie version). Between Walter’s bluster and Axel’s bumbling, things get worse and worse, and there’s some question whether anyone will make it out of the embassy in one piece.

Meanwhile, Axel and Susan (played by Mayim Bialik in the TV movie) find romance.

Father Drobney, a Catholic priest who’s been a refugee living in the embassy for years now, serves as a narrator, talking directly to the audience about the plot.

It’s all a lot of fun, I think we have a good cast (a few supporting roles still need filling),  and I can’t wait to get into the plot. I would love for any of you to come and see the production. You’ll be hearing more from me about it in the weeks to come.

in the interest of ministry

Well, this afternoon I drove to Murfreesboro for my first meeting as a member of a particular church committee. I was kind of nervous about it, frankly, but it turned out fine.

I can’t really tell you anything at all about what we discussed, because of the confidential nature of it, but I’ll tell you where I was and how I got there.

Several months ago, I got a phone call one evening from the Rev. Chris Haynes. When a United Methodist minister – familiar or unfamiliar – calls me on a weeknight, my first thought is that I’m being called on to fill the pulpit in my role as a certified lay speaker. I don’t believe I’d met Chris before, but I had no reason to think any different that night.

But Chris wasn’t sick or getting ready to travel; he was calling me for another reason entirely.

“I’m calling to ask if you’ll serve on the district committee on ordained ministry,” he said.

Then, I jumped to another conclusion.

“Oh, I understand. You didn’t mean to call me; you meant to call my father, Rev. Jack Carney. His number is ….”

But that was just as mistaken as my first thought. It turns out the committee, known to clergy and Murfreesboro District officials as “D-COM,” has both ordained clergy and lay people as members.

The committee talks to candidates for ordained ministry at various points in the process and makes recommendations related to whether they should proceed. We’re only making recommendations, not the final decision, but still, it’s a pretty important matter. I wondered whether I’d have anything to add.

So I drove to the Murfreesboro District office in Murfreesboro this evening.

But – again, without any details at all – I thought the meeting went OK tonight, and I felt comfortable. I’m sure we’ll have tougher interviews, and tougher decisions, in the months ahead, but I feel a lot better about it now.

It helped that the first person I saw on the committee was my pal Ruthan Patient, director of lay servant ministries for the Murfreesboro District. Ruthan always puts me at ease, and she did so tonight. She even had a certificate for me – something she’d been meaning to give me since last November but didn’t want to mail, saying that I was grandfathered in under the old rules for certified lay speakers.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the other committee members and seeing where this heads going forward. Hopefully, my experience as a preacher’s kid will come in handy at some points as well.

Can I speak to Lily? Lily could probably have helped me

The most ironic words in the English language are “customer service,” a phrase many companies seem to reserve for the department which is designed to do anything but serve the customer.
I have my mobile phone service with a company which, to avoid them any embarrassment, I will call “BT&T.” My old smartphone has been acting up, and I felt like it was about time to get a new one. There was a brand new model about to be released, right in my price range, and with features I wanted, so I waited eagerly for the opportunity to purchase.
Finally, the day came. I got online at the BT&T website and placed my order.
Now, a smartphone is an expensive purchase, the type of thing that you normally have to sign for, and so I wanted it delivered to my office instead of my apartment. Fortunately, the BT&T website had a way to specify a shipping address during the order process. I thought I had done what I needed to do, but perhaps I missed clicking some final button — because, when I got my order confirmation, it specified that the phone would be delivered to my apartment, exactly what I didn’t want to happen.
I fired up the online chat feature of the site, and the first woman I chatted with insisted that I could change the shipping address from the website. But she kept directing me to the place where one would change their billing address. I didn’t want to change my billing address; this is a personal phone, not a work phone, and I want the bill to come to my home address, not my work address. I finally got through to her, and she transferred me to a higher-level chat person. That person was unable to help me, so they got permission to have someone call me on my (old) smartphone to discuss the situation. Again, the first person I talked to didn’t seem to have any of the answers, so she transferred me to an “order specialist.”
At this point, I’d been on chat and the phone a total of half an hour or more. I was at the office, and didn’t want my co-workers to think I was spending all day on personal business.
Now, here’s the funny part. The person on the phone transferred me to the order specialist, whom I could barely hear. I got up and moved to a quieter part of the building, but I could still not quite make out what the person was saying. I turned the volume on my phone up to the maximum, but still, nothing. I’d been able to hear the first lady fine, at a normal volume, but this person was just barely audible enough for me to know there was someone there, but not enough for me to carry on a conversation.
That’s right – BT&T, one of the biggest mobile and landline telephone service providers in the world, couldn’t give me an audible connection to their customer service rep — the fourth person with whom they had connected me (two on chat, two on voice). I finally had to just hang up.
I’m now resigned to getting an attempted delivery notice on my door from FedEx or UPS. At that point, I can call them and have them deliver the package to the office the next day. It will add a day to the process, but at this point an extra day’s wait is preferable to another 45 minutes on the phone with BT&T.

hail, hail freedonia

“Duck Soup” (1933) airs tonight at 7 p.m. Central on Turner Classic Movies, as this week’s installment of the family-friendly summer series “TCM Movie Camp.”

Marx Brothers fans – and I’m definitely one – know their work can be divided into two distinct eras. From 1929 through 1933, Paramount released films featuring four Marx Brothers – Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. “Duck Soup” was the last of the movies the boys made for Paramount. Now, many people – and I’m definitely one – consider it their best, but at the time it was a flop, and Paramount dropped the Marx Brothers like a hot potato.

On stage, though never in the movies, there had been a fifth Marx Brother, Gummo (real name Milton). In the interim after the boys were fired by Paramount, Zeppo (real name Herbert) left the act and joined Gummo in starting a successful talent agency. Zeppo didn’t really have much of a comic persona anyway; he primarily played straight man to the others.

MGM, where boy wonder Irving Thalberg was still in a leading role, hired the three remaining Marx Brothers – Groucho, Chico, and Harpo – and their first MGM movie was 1935’s “A Night At The Opera.”

Zeppo isn’t the only difference between the Paramount Marx Brothers and the MGM Marx Brothers. At Paramount, the boys were more anarchic. But Thalberg – and those who followed him – put more of a story to the brothers’ comedy, and usually had them helping someone out. They were trying to help out young lovers in “A Night At The Opera,” trying to raise money to keep a hospital open in “A Day At The Races,” and so on. In some ways, this undermines the anarchy – part of the fun of the Paramount Marx Brothers is that lunacy is their first priority, and the plot is an afterthought.

Granted, “A Night At The Opera,” their first MGM movie, is one of their funniest – probably because of Thalberg’s craft as a producer. But Thalberg died during the making of “A Day At The Races,” and fans are in general agreement that the MGM Marx Brothers movies go downhill fast from there.

The trouble, of course, is that TCM’s parent company owns the MGM library, so TCM can show the MGM Marx Brothers movies as often as it likes. It has to pay for the rights to the Paramount Marx Brothers movies (strangely enough, it has to pay Universal, which at some point bought the rights to much of Paramount’s classic-era library). TCM shows “Duck Soup” fairly regularly, as well as “Horse Feathers,” and occasionally “Monkey Business,” but hardly ever shows “Cocoanuts” or “Animal Crackers.”

Enough of my quibbling. “Duck Soup” is on tonight, and as I said earlier I think it’s the all-time best Marx Brothers movie. The movie takes place in the fictitious country of Freedonia. The country is badly in debt, and its wealthiest citizen, Mrs. Teasdale, won’t loan it any more money unless Rufus T. Firelfly (Groucho) is appointed leader. Meanwhile, the ambassador for neighboring Sylvania is up to no good and hires Chico and Harpo as spies.

DISCUSSION QUESTION: Whose faith is more misplaced – Mrs. Teasdale, who for some unexplained reason thinks Groucho can run a country, or the ambassador, who thinks Chico and Harpo can overcome their ADD long enough to collect any useful information?

Anyway, this is a Paramount Marx Brothers movie, so as I indicated earlier the plot isn’t really that important. The movie is loaded with all sorts of humor – from verbal jousting to the famous (and completely silent) mirror scene between Groucho and Harpo. It’s just funny, at so many levels.