Friday, November 30, 2007

Today's Fortune

Lee told me about the Dante Inferno Hell Test, so I took it. And here's my result:

"You have escaped damnation and made it to Purgatory, a place where the dew of repentance washes off the stain of sin and girds the spirit with humility. Through contrition, confession, and satisfaction by works of righteousness, you must make your way up the mountain. As the sins are cleansed from your soul, you will be illuminated by the Sun of Divine Grace, and you will join other souls, smiling and happy, upon the summit of this mountain. Before long you will know the joys of Paradise as you ascend to the ethereal realm of Heaven."

The test also informed me that I'm moderately lustful and violent, although I score low on wrath. Hmmmm.

Well, They Can't All Be Winners

I finished the laptop sleeve. It's cute -- if you like things that look really, really handmade (Gary, diplomatically, said, "I like it; it's funky," to which I responded, "Yeah, it's the laptop-cover version of Jayne's Hat") -- but it doesn't work very well for its intended purpose, because it's a bit too slippery to hold. I'd be afraid of dropping the computer if I tried to travel with it.

Nertz. And it's such nice wool, too.

Oh well. At least the project gave me practice at decreasing and making buttonholes. That will teach me to strike out on my own as a beginner, instead of following a pattern!

Knitting Question

When you're nearing the end of a skein, is there a quick way to calculate if you have enough yarn length to knit another row?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hey! Who filmed my life?

Gary found this video on YouTube, and it's a perfect metaphor for what my life feels like right now. Somebody at work yesterday told me that she feels like she's running on a giant gerbil wheel, and I told her about the video, and she cracked up.

You've heard of the Rat Race. This is the Cat Race.

Anyway, I've been very busy, which is why I haven't been posting much.

Prayer Request

My mother's developed some worrisome medical symptoms: as in, her primary-care physician called her back immediately -- instead of waiting until the evening like they usually do -- and said, "Something's definitely going on; call this specialist and get the first appointment you can." Mom's seeing a gastroenterologist on Monday to begin yet another round of tests.

Please hold up good thoughts for her, whatever your method is of doing that.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up. (Once again, I didn't manage to submit anything. I definitely need to get myself back in gear!)

Head on over for the weekly best of the medical blogosphere!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cloud of Witnesses

Leaving for work this morning, I discovered this photo of Scott and his family on the floor of our coat closet. He'd evidently sent it to me in 2000, along with a large photo of my father as a young man: the envelope somehow wound up in the coat closet, and today, as Bali dashed inside while I reaching for my jacket, the small picture fell out. It was an eerie feeling to look down and see Scott looking up at me.

An acquaintance whose partner died last year told me that she found a poem he'd written; it was in a spot she'd gone over frequently since his death, and she'd never seen that piece of paper before. And the poem dealt with moving on after grief.

The appearance of the photograph is less mysterious, but it was still a bit of a shock.

Meanwhile, Sharon e-mailed me last week to say that she thought Gary was about the same size as her husband Bill, and would we like to come over and look through some sweaters and jackets?

So on Saturday, we did. Gary must have been exactly the same size as Bill, because Bill's sweaters and jackets fit him perfectly. Sharon was overjoyed: she said there are boxes of other clothing in the garage, and that Gary won't have to buy anything for years. She was very happy that Bill's things will be useful to someone she knows.

Bill had some fleece jackets and vests that Gary didn't want, but I love fleece, and I also like big, comfy clothing. So I snagged the fleece, although it's huge on me. I'm wearing Bill's bright red fleece pullover as I write this.

The dead are all around us, even when we can no longer see them. Every day is All Saints Day.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cats! What could be cuter?

I was supposed to go to the hospital today, but my allergies have been acting up, and I didn't think sneezing through my shift would offer much spiritual comfort to patients. Also, I have tons of work to do, so I'm staying home.

Meanwhile, here's the latest batch of kitty pix. All three cats were in photogenic positions the other day, so I grabbed the camera and got nice shots of all of them.

These first two are of Harley the Hilarious, sleeping upside down on a chair in the family room. Because his white belly fur is longer than his top black fur, my mother always says that he looks like his stuffing's coming out. These photographs show how apt a metaphor that is!

And here we have Figaro the Flexible, the long, skinny cat in a long, skinny box. Gary calls him the grayhound of cats because he's so lean and lithe. We think there must have been a Siamese in the woodpile somewhere.

Oddly enough, we know that both Harley and Bali are half-Siamese, but they don't look it a bit! Figgy also has that whole Siamese climbing thing going on. None of the cats sounds Siamese, though, for which I'm grateful. I grew up with two Siamese and loved them dearly, but their voices do get grating.

And here's Bali the Beautiful, posing on our dining-room rug. He really is a gorgeous cat, and he has such soft fur! Actually, all of our cats have soft fur: we think it's the food we give them.

In knitting news, the pieces of the laptop sleeve are all done, but have to be sewn together. I'll post a photo of the finished project. My big triumph there was figuring out how to knit a buttonhole. It's not the world's most beautiful buttonhole, but it's functional.

Also, last night -- with Katharine's patient help -- I started working on Gary's balaclava, knitting in the round with five double-pointed #5 needles. This is tricky work: since everything else I've done has been on #10 needles, I feel like I'm knitting with toothpicks. The project's definitely going to take a while! But Katharine tells me that if I can make my way through this pattern, I'll be an experienced knitter.

After this, though, I think I'll do something easy, like afghan squares in chunky wool.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Coming Attractions

On Christmas Day, our bishop-elect, Dan Edwards, will be visiting our parish. He didn't want to preach, and I was on the schedule for that day -- it's usually a tiny service, although it's going to be larger this year, because people want to meet him -- so I'm still preaching.

He's assured me over e-mail that I shouldn't feel any pressure, but of course I do anyway, especially since saying anything new at Christmas is always something of a challenge. But I'm going to be preaching about knitting -- bwah hah hah! (and yes, there really are connections to Christmas) -- so I'll have fun writing it, if nothing else.

Also, a few months ago I was contacted by someone from the Church Health Center in Memphis. They're starting an online newsletter next year, and their website developer had read my blog and wondered if I'd like to be a regular columnist about health and faith.

I told him I'd be delighted, so I'm going to be writing a brief biweekly column called "Bodily Blessings." I've written the first two, although I haven't gotten feedback on the second yet. I'll post a link to each column when it goes up.

Post-Turkey Miscellany

Lee sent me this picture of herself in the shawl. I'm so glad she likes it!

And here's another. Lee doesn't like this as much as the first one, but thinks it gives a better view of the shawl, so she gave me permission to post it. I like both of them!

I want to wish everybody a belated Happy Thanksgiving. I meant to post yesterday, but -- obviously -- didn't, partly because when we got home from Katharine's house, I pretty much felt like I'd been hit by a truck. (And someone at dinner had told us that the chemicals in turkey don't make people sleepy: that's a myth. So I can't even blame it on the excellent food we ate!) I think it was a combination of no exercise, having taken my meds a few hours late, and having run around like a crazy person on Wednesday.

Also, I've been waking up insanely early, like 4:00, and then not being able to get back to sleep. I don't know if this is a depression symptom, or a symptom of using my light box too much, which I guess would make it an anti-depression symptom. In either case, it means that I spend a lot of time being groggy.

Wednesday was at least productive, though. I checked out some apartment complexes for Dad, and found some good possibilities, along with an absolute not-on-your-life. This was prompted by the resident who, when I asked if she enjoyed living there, said cheerfully, "Oh, sure, it's nice enough, except it's a little rough in the summer, you know, with the shootings in this neighborhood." Ack! I mean, one can have shootings in any neighborhood, but when it's the first thing somebody volunteers about the place, it's a definite red flag.

Then I stopped by a convenient mall and did birthday shopping for Katharine, whose birthday was yesterday, and Gary, whose birthday is Sunday. Then I shot down to Jimmy Bean's, since I needed more wool for the laptop sleeve, and that's where I'd gotten the first skein.

JB, at least around here, has a reputation for being both expensive and snotty. My first time in there, I asked innocently if they had any inexpensive practice yarn for beginners, and the clerk stuck her nose in the air and sniffed, "Not here!" So I bought a sale skein of good wool which became the beginning of the laptop sleeve.

Wednesday, there was another, much nicer clerk. I told her how I'd been knitting on the back of the stitch, and she said, "Oh, I did the same thing at first!" She'd done it in an actual knitting class, and it took forever for the instructor to figure out why her rows didn't look quite right, so that made me feel better. She also said that her grandmother knit that way her entire life. "Listen, if you're making loops that form fabric, it's knitting!" When I commented on the many other errors in my knitting, she said, "Well, hand-knitting will never be perfect. That's just how it is." So she was much nicer than the first person.

Also, my sale yarn had been marked down even further. Woo-hoo!

After leaving JB, I did more birthday shopping for Gary. Then I shot home, grabbed the box of Homespun for Maggie -- who assures me that she really does like and want this yarn, and who's going to knit it up into blankets for children in crisis (yay, Maggie!) -- mailed it, got a haircut, and went to the gym.

This is a busier day than it sounds like, because there was a fair amount of driving involved. I was determined not to have to get near any retail establishment on Black Friday: today, I plan to go out only to go to the health club, which luckily isn't close to any stores.

If you're shopping today, I wish you patience, sanity, and luck!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It May Have Been Backward, But it Worked!

Lee has posted a lively account of opening my package yesterday. The contents appear to have been a success both with her and with her beasts!

I'll post a picture when I have one; I know she's working on that. And Lee, if you can get pix of the kitties with their new toys, that would be fun, too.

Meanwhile, I forgot to post a link to Grand Rounds yesterday. I'm not included this week, because I wasn't organized enough to get a post written. Better luck next time, I hope!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Knitting the Hard Way

Today I took the Knitting Disaster over to Katharine's house -- I didn't have time yesterday -- and she, miracle worker that she is, fixed it for me.

She also informed me that I've been knitting the wrong way this whole time. Turns out I've been knitting onto the back of every stitch, a technique that's used in some advanced projects, but one that makes the process slower and more difficult.

The good news is that I managed to complete two projects not only knitting the hard way, but using cruddy yarn. Also, Lee got her shawl today and sounds very happy with it. I'm hoping she'll send me a picture of herself wearing it!

The bad news is that I feel, well, kind of stupid. Katharine said, "But you taught yourself, just from pictures!" I went back and looked at the pictures, and sure enough, they showed the right way of doing it.

So I taught myself badly from pictures.

Sigh. Can't take me anywhere. Have I mentioned that I'm really bad at learning new physical skills?

In other news, I've been insanely busy at work, which is why my posting's been erratic. I'll try to be better from now on, honest. At all sorts of things!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

When In Doubt, Start Another Project

I haven't been able to get help with the tangled mess yet, so I put it into my knitting bag and started making a laptop sleeve out of some shocking pink chunky wool I have. I was going to felt it, but the stuff's so pretty in garter stitch that I decided to keep it that way (which meant that I had to rip and resize, but no matter).

Now that I've resized, it may be a bit too small -- although garter stitch is very stretchy -- but there are probably ways to extend the edges with crocheted borders or something, right?

Anyway, this one isn't a tangled mess. Yet.

And now I'm off to keep ploughing through acres of grading. Wheeee!

Saturday, November 17, 2007


My latest project was going along swimmingly, and then somewhere along the line I made a mistake. I thought I'd fixed it, realized that I'd only made it worse, tried to backtrack to start over, and made things worse yet. Now I'm afraid to touch it.

I've sent an emergency SOS to my friend Katharine, but she has family in town and is unlikely to be available. And the knitting store's closed tomorrow. Waaaaahhhh!

This is a holiday gift, so I'm under pretty tight time constraints (also yarn constraints, since I just bought the last in that dye lot and can't afford to waste any).

So of course this is when things would go spectacularly wrong! If you want God to laugh, tell Her your plans.

Dang. Just when I thought I'd really gotten the hang of this!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bye-Bye, Lion Homespun

Last night I finished the body of Lee's shawl, although buying fringe yarn and making the fringe will take another day or two, given my schedule. I'd started a third shawl, one for myself, with another color of Lion Homespun. I'd been going back and forth about whether I liked it or not, and when I showed it to Gary, he didn't; but I couldn't bear to have bought the yarn and then not use it, even though Gary said, "It doesn't make sense to spend your valuable knitting time on yarn you don't like in a color you don't like."

My mother had said the same thing the second I had trouble with the Homespun. "If it's that hard, don't work with it!" And my crocheting friend at church told me she'd bought Homespun once, started working with it, and promptly discarded both project and yarn. But because I liked the colors of Sharon's and Lee's shawls so much, I'd kept with it, and I was halfway thinking I'd continue with the third one, too.

In the meantime, I'd gone to Deluxe and splurged on fancier yarn: Cyprus Mohair, a bright, silky blend of 85% acrylic and 15% mohair.

This morning, I started a new project with the Cyprus.

Ohmygodwhatadifference! Non-splitting yarn! Stitch definition! Much more gorgeous colors even than the Lion!

That's it: I'm never using Homespun again. Life's too short to use bad yarn.

But that means that I have a whole lot of the stuff left over, especially since I overbought for the first two projects. I couldn't in good conscience give it to anyone who hadn't worked with it before, but I really don't want it to go to waste. I know that there are people out there who actually like this yarn, which must mean that you're made of stronger stuff than I am.

So I'll mail -- or give, if you're in Reno -- my Homespun to the first person who asks. Free Homespun to good home! Special-needs yarn needs patient, loving knitter! Help these disadvantaged skeins for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What the hay?

So what's up with TTLB? A few days ago, I was happily bopping along as a Crawly Amphibian. Then, overnight, I discovered that I'd been bumped down all the way to Multicellular Microorganism, although my traffic had stayed about the same and although people still seem to be linking to me.

And now I'm an Insignificant Microbe? What gives here?

Hmmmph! I'll insignificant microbe you!

Ah, well. This is when Christianity's a great comfort. The last shall be first. Microbes for world domination!

Actually, microbes already sort of dominate the world, don't they?

Buffy-Pup in Her New Home

Buffy's new mom, Nancy E (as opposed to her foster mom, Nancy J), sent me these pictures, taken within hours after she arrived at her new home.

Evidently she's doing very well: she already sits, stays, and fetches, and puppy kindergarten hasn't even started yet! I have a hunch she's going to be a great therapy dog.

I love this shot: "Aren't I adorable when I'm acting shy? C'mon, don't you just want to give me treats and scratch my ears? You know you do! All right, all right: so where are the treats, already?"

This one's pretty priceless, too. "Hello, green creature! My name's Buffy! What's yours?"

And here's the, "I'm all alert now and ready for a walk!" pose.

One last snapshot for your delectation. Doesn't she make your day? She sure makes mine!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Grand Rounds, and Other Stuff

This week's Grand Rounds is up. Thanks for including me, Dr. A!

Yesterday at the gym, I ran into a friend from the medical school who's a therapist. We got to talking about depression, including mine, and she asked if I'd be willing to talk to one of her medical-school classes about depression in January. I said that of course I would. It was a very heartening conversation; part of me always feels as if I'm being whiny and boring when I talk about this stuff -- although I do it anyway, obviously! -- but if whining allows me to help future doctors better understand the subjective experience of the illness, something good will have come out of it.

Fittingly enough, we also talked about the spiritual and medical importance of turning brokenness into gift. My friend's Jewish, so for her the image of that is the breaking of challah bread at sabbat services, while for me it's the breaking of the bread in the eucharist. The bread can't feed people until it's broken, and the great challenge for all of us, whatever is happening in our lives, is to discern ways to transform the broken pieces of our lives into blessings for others.

And now for the sad news: this morning I got e-mail from Sharon that her husband Bill died on Sunday. She and her family must be feeling broken right now, and I pray that they will be able to find blessing and comfort.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Slow Knitting

Yesterday wasn't a great day for me; I woke up at 5:00, which was convenient for getting to church at 8:00 to preach, but then I was so exhausted when I got home at noon that I slept for two hours instead of going to the gym. We went to see a movie -- Across the Universe, which was really excellent -- but when we got home, I more or less crashed again. I think maybe I was fighting something off. I feel a bit better today, although I definitely have to make getting to the pool a priority.

My general slowness yesterday was reflected in my knitting. I'm not a fast knitter anyway, but when I was working on Lee's shawl between services at church, a good friend sitting next to me (someone who's been crocheting since she was in the womb), gave me a pitying look and said, "Oh, my, you are a novice, aren't you? Look at how slow you are!"

When did needlework become a race?

Last week I went to one of my new favorite places, Deluxe Yarns, an independently owned yarn store in Reno. The owner -- who used to be a nurse at my hospital, as it turns out -- seems like a kind, gentle person. When I complained about being a slow knitter, she said, "That's all right; there's no hurry. Take your time. You'll get there."

That's what I needed to hear. I've always been exceptionally slow at picking up physical skills, and I have to remember to focus on the fact that I'm getting things done, not on the fact that I'm not getting them done more quickly.

I now have projects planned well into the next millenium. After Lee's shawl, I'll do one for myself, and then one for my cousin's sister, and then one for my cousin's wife, and then one for some friends with two special-needs children. At that point I should be thoroughly sick of shawls! I also want to make myself a felted laptop cover and a tunic or two. I want to knit a throw for work and another for home. Gary wants a cardigan. I still, at some point, want to learn to knit toys for kids at the hospital.

And I'd like to knit myself a depression doll, something like those popular Ugly Dolls, but less adorable: a drab, sadsack creature with drooping eyes. This will be a way of externalizing my chronic illness and reminding myself to love it, even though it's not cute or clever or quick. It's part of me, and it needs patience and kindness. I'm sure the cats will enjoy snuggling with it, and I'll put it in the window -- or take it for rides -- so it can see the beautiful place where it lives. When it's feeling especially glum, I'll sing to it, and when it's feeling very slow, I'll say, "That's all right; there's no hurry. Take your time. You'll get there."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Real Live Violence

My husband loves violent movies. As I've gotten older, though, I've become more and more bored and uncomfortable with them. As far as I'm concerned, there's too much violence in the world: I don't need to pay to watch it for entertainment, and I'm troubled by narratives that portray it as fun or cool.

Lest this make me sound like a prude, let me note that the blood, profanity, and occasional physical danger in the ED where I volunteer doesn't bother me. Partly this is because I feel safe there, between the presence of security guards and plenty of burly techs. But part of it is that in the ED, violence is a symptom, an unfortunate side-effect of various medical conditions or mental states. It's neither glorified nor encouraged: it's treated.

During a recent shift, we had a patient who did not want to be in the hospital and who proclaimed, loudly and often, his intention to leave. As is so often true in these cases, alcohol was involved, but when he wasn't raving, this patient was quite articulate. He also had a sense of humor. He was wearing a loud plaid shirt, and when he first threatened to leave, a tech called security and the ED doc, who marched up to him and said, "Okay, look, nobody here is going to hurt themselves chasing you. If you want to leave, leave. This is what will happen: we'll call the cops and tell them to look for a guy in a plaid shirt, and they'll find you and bring you back here, and then we'll tie you up. Okay? I promise you, those are your options."

The patient looked her in the eye, raised an eyebrow, and started unbuttoning his shirt. She said, "If you take your shirt off, we'll tell the cops to look for a guy without a shirt." He started laughing -- everyone else did, too -- relaxed, and let the security guards lead him to a gurney.

He swung back and forth between calm and tense for the next few minutes. I went over to talk to him, staying a few feet away. He had a lot to talk about, and real, heart-wrenching reasons for being as upset as he was. But something I said set him off: he became very loud very quickly, and lunged suddenly off the gurney (not towards me, necessarily, just to anyplace where he could work off his agitation).

I stepped back. Three security guards closed in on him. At one point, he was scrabbling at a wall and they were trying to pull him away from it; at another point, he was bent face-down over the gurney, with the three of them piled on top of him, trying to capture his flailing limbs. They must have been able to grab at least one limb, because he kept yelling, "You're breaking my f***ing wrist!" They kept saying soothing things, trying to calm him down: finally they succeeded in getting him in restraints. They did all this as politely as possible, and the nurse who came to give him a shot of Haldol explained patiently what the drug was, and asked the patient please to lift the sleeve of his gown to bare his shoulder. The patient complied.

I felt genuinely sorry for him. I think the medical staff did, too. As for the security guards -- especially the three who were there -- I've known for a long time that they're angels of God, superhumanly even-tempered and kind even with people who are behaving very badly.

All the commotion freaked out some of the other patients. One, around the corner, came up to me later and said, "Are you okay? Is everybody there okay?" Another, in a room very near the restrained patient, asked me if it was safe to walk in that part of the hallway.

Through all this, I paid detached attention to my own reactions. I'd been careful not to get too close to the patient at any point, and had security not been there, I might not have risked talking to him. But I was glad I'd talked to him, and when he became violent, I wasn't scared or startled or even particularly excited. I was just sad.

His fracas with the security guards wasn't fun. It wasn't cool. It wasn't a beautifully choreographed Kung Fu action sequence, or a thrilling military adventure with sexy weapons, or a tense stand-off between Good Guys and Bad Guys. It was an ugly, awkward, blessedly brief altercation between a very sad, angry person and a group of professionals who were doing their jobs as well and kindly as they knew how. There was no stirring soundtrack, no clever wrestling moves, no heart-stopping suspense. There was only a mass of moving limbs, the patient's hoarse yells, and the guards' sometimes clumsy efforts to keep him from hurting them, himself, or anyone else.

Whenever one of my writing students hands in a story with long combat or fight scenes -- all of it carefully choreographed and described in endless detail -- I say, "I'm not your target audience. Fight scenes bore me; they're just descriptions of physical mechanics. What I care about is the characters, what drove them into this and how they'll recover from it later."

Some of my students understand this. Many don't. I wish they could spend some lively evening in the ED (as protected bystanders, like I am), to see what real violence looks like, and how ultimately uninteresting it really is.

Trick Questions

Here's this morning's homily. If anybody reading this is a veteran, Happy Veteran's Day, and thank you for serving your country.

In addition to being my wedding anniversary, today is also Bali's first birthday. A gala day indeed!

The Gospel is Luke 20:27-38.


Fittingly enough, given today’s Gospel, today is my wedding anniversary. The Sadducees would probably find my history almost as confounding as the one they use to try to trick Jesus. My husband was married and divorced before I met him; furthermore, he and I had two marriage ceremonies, neither with benefit of clergy. I wasn’t religious yet when we got married, and Gary still isn’t. Our first wedding was in City Hall in Manhattan, on a Tuesday morning in August of 1995. We chose a weekday because Gary had always wanted to go to work and say, “I’m sorry I’m late, but I just got married.”

Our second wedding, a few months later, was on November 11, the sixth anniversary of the day we met. At my bridal shower, a friend had sung a song she’d written for us; it began, “Susan and Gary, they marry and marry.” We held the second wedding in a restaurant. Ninety people witnessed the decidedly non-traditional ritual I’d written. Friends and family offered blessings, and we exchanged ceremonial objects and vows. I wore a purple corset over a green velvet gown I’d found for $25 in a thrift store; Gary wore black leather pants and a linen poet’s shirt. After the ceremony, one of the barkeepers came up to me and asked cautiously, “That was a really . . . interesting wedding. Are you . . . French?”

My marriage doesn’t conform to many of the rules other people use to recognize and organize such things. People who don’t believe in divorce might consider both of my weddings invalid, because Gary had already been married. People who believe that marriages must be church-sanctioned might frown on us because our relationship has never been formally blessed by clergy. People who believe that proper weddings involve white gowns, tuxedos, and multi-tiered cakes would be nonplussed by our two weddings, which contained none of those things. During the twelve years of our marriage, we’ve met people who question our relationship because we’ve chosen not to have children, because Gary has chosen to stay home to do the cooking and housekeeping while I bring home the paycheck, because I’m a church lady and he identifies as a non-denominational pagan. It turns out that other people have all kinds of rules for what makes a marriage real, and ours doesn’t fit a number of them. But that’s okay. Our marriage is real to the state; much more importantly, it’s real to us, because we love each other. The rules that other people have sometimes wanted to impose on us are, quite simply, irrelevant.

When the Sadducees ask Jesus their question -- the one about the woman who marries and marries and marries and marries and marries and marries and marries -- they are asking which marriage he considers real, which one God will honor after the resurrection. Jesus dismisses the question as irrelevant. The Mosaic marriage laws regulated family life here on earth, ensuring that widows would be cared for and lines of inheritance preserved; but life after resurrection is entirely different. In the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells his audience, there is neither marriage nor death. All are loved and cared for, and all partake in God’s great bounty.

The Sadducees were asking a trick question. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, but did believe in the law set down by Moses. Mosaic marriage laws would be rendered nonsensical if everyone who had died could just get up and walk around again; therefore, the rules that Moses gave his people must make resurrection impossible.

The Sadducees were a wealthy group, aristocrats who compromised with Rome to protect their worldly fortune. Jesus’ teachings threatened their wealth and power, as he continues to threaten wealth and power in our own day. The Gospel we heard this morning comes immediately after another trick question, the one about whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus answers. The Sadducees tried to trick him into saying that one could not be both a good Jew and a lawful citizen of an occupied country, but he sidesteps their challenge.

So they move on to the next challenge, designed to trick Jesus into saying that one cannot be a faithful follower both of Moses’ teachings and of Jesus himself. Jesus turns this second trick question on its ear. Moses himself believed in the resurrection of the dead, Jesus tells the Sadducees, for Moses said that God was the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. Since God is the God of the living and not of the dead, Moses himself must have believed that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still lived in God’s presence. And the Sadducees are struck silent, as they were after he answered the question about taxes. Jesus has outwitted them again.

Behind all this legal and theological sparring lies great urgency. Jesus isn’t just parrying arguments from intellectual opponents: he’s maneuvering for his life in increasingly tight quarters. Ultimately, he will be cornered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and nailed to a cross, and buried in a tomb. The Sadducees and his other enemies will, once again, think that they have won, that they’ve delivered an irrefutable blow. And again, they will be proven wrong, struck silent by an empty tomb. God’s love will, again, make human law simply irrelevant.

As Moses and Jesus both knew, we need human law to govern political and social life. Earthly laws, properly formulated and administered, can help us work towards social justice, towards making this life the best it can be both for us and for our neighbors. But beyond the grave, human law no longer applies. That realm is God’s, the place of perfect freedom where there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither married nor single: where all will be like angels and all will be at home. None of us has seen this place: we can only imagine it.

The Sadducees are threatened by Jesus because his Gospel promises change, the vision of a world where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. The first do not consider this good news. In their frantic and angry clinging to what is, to maintaining their current social status, the Sadducees have rejected any exploration of what might be. They have denied imagination, which may just be a denial of God himself.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman, in his book The Prophetic Imagination, observes that “The speech of God is first about an alternative future” (64). God has never been in the business of keeping things the same. Every cherished, age-old practice on this planet began as a new-fangled invention, fiercely protested by the keepers of tradition. This is a sensitive subject in the Episcopal Church, with its “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Human traditions, including the traditions of the church, are beautiful reassurances of continuity, and they deserve their place of honor in our deliberations. But when they are imposed as law rather than expressed as love, they too often stifle life, rather than nurturing it.

We are currently embroiled, in this country and in this church, in a long and exhausting debate about what kinds of relationships can be called marriage, about what kinds of love can be recognized as real. Most of you know where I stand on this issue, and the rest of you can guess. I love my unconventional, nontraditional marriage, and because I love being married, I want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to love being married, too. For me, that desire is a natural outgrowth of the Great Commandment to love my neighbor as myself. I want my neighbors to have the same benefits and happiness that I do. As a result, I believe that this is an area where national law and church tradition both need revision to reflect a broader vision of social justice, a more loving alternative future. Some of you agree with me on that, and some of you don’t. This isn’t a debate anyone can win with intellectual arguments, although many of us on both sides will keep trying: asking each other trick questions, using selected snippets of Scripture as proof of the rightness of our own positions.

The debate is important to our life here on earth, to the life of our nation and the life of our church. But although I cannot prove it, I have a hunch that when we arrive in the presence of God, in that place we cannot yet imagine, all of our previous categories will become, quite simply, irrelevant. In the end, all that will matter is the love of God, the love that transforms everything it touches: healing even the deepest wounds, bridging even the widest divisions, and emptying even the most tightly sealed tombs.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Ergonomic Knitting (for Jean)

Jean left a comment on one of my knitting posts -- the one where I complained about RSI-type pain in my hands -- asking if there are any ways to avoid this. I've now done some research, and here's what I've come up with:

Here's a good column about RSI in knitting, and the prevention thereof.

This blog entry talks about the same topic, and offers some helpful hand stretches for knitters.

I've seen some sources that recommend the continental style of knitting, where the yarn is controlled with the left hand rather than the right, as faster, more efficient and more ergonomic than the right-handed method most Americans use. (I've also spoken to several experienced knitters who've tried continental and don't like it.) I haven't had much luck with this from reading online instructions, so when I have a bit of time, I need to watch this video about continental knitting.

In the meantime, I'm being careful to take plenty of breaks, not to knit for too long at a time, and to change positions and stretch when I feel sore. These measures seem to be helping.

In other news, my mother's home from the rehab place -- yay! -- and this morning, I checked out several more apartment buildings for my father. I found one I like a lot, one that's good in some ways but about which I also have reservations, and one I had a bad gut feeling about. But there are a lot more on the list for me to check out; this is going to be a long-term project.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Very Smart Shelter Review

Richard Larson has posted an exceedingly intelligent and thoughtful review of Shelter over at Strange Horizons.

He gives the book demerits for repetition (yeah, I do too), but likes the ending, especially the last line. He certainly understands what the novel's about. And he describes it as "Steinbeckian," which I take as a compliment!

Thank you, Richard Larson!

Cats! Excellent Medicine!

I had a semi-cruddy day at work yesterday, so I cheered myself up by taking photos of the beasts. (Thanks to Gary, as always, for technical downloading help.) Here are Figaro and Harley, cuddling on the blanket I threw over our new leather chair to keep them from eating it. The blanket strategy worked in terms of leather protection, but meant that the chair became even more attractive as a snoozing spot. I'd meant to sit in that chair to grade last night, but I had to sit somewhere else, because the cats had taken over the prime location!

Here's Bali in the hallway. This shot shows off his lovely golden eyes; you can also see a hint of his beautiful silver ruff, which seems to be seasonal. He loses it in the summer, and it comes back in the fall. I wish it showed up better in photographs, because it's really striking. Bali's a very handsome animal, and he knows it.

On Sunday, which is also my and Gary's wedding anniversary, Bali will be a year old! He won't be a kitten anymore! He'll be a full-grown cat! So here's one last shot of him acting kittenish, although I'm sure he'll continue doing that for many years to come.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Painless Grand Rounds!

This week's Grand Rounds is up, with a great theme -- pain and the prevention thereof -- and some great artwork. I'm delighted to be included, as always.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Shelter on Amazon's Top 10 SF/F List for 2007

Shelter is number six on Amazon's list of the top ten science fiction/fantasy books of 2007. Woo-hoo!

I've known about this for a while, but I wasn't allowed to say anything until the list went live. The SF/F editor at Amazon is Jeff VanderMeer, who wrote the Washington Post review; he e-mailed me about this last week and said that while he has some problems with the novel, he put it on the list because its characters and situations have stuck with him to an unusual extent. He thanked me for writing a book that made him think and feel so much.

You're very welcome, sir!

I am, of course, tickled pink, although I wish a) that the list was easier to find on Amazon and b) that Amazon didn't insist on using the cluless PW review, rather than one of the better ones. Shouldn't they include VanderMeer's opinion, rather than PW's?

Oh well. Small problems, to be sure. I hope this lovely mention boosts sales!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going to the Dogs

Every week before I leave for my volunteer shift at the hospital, Gary says, "Good luck. I hope nobody dies."

"Thanks," I always answer. "I hope so too." And most of my shifts have been blessedly death-free. But I showed up for a recent shift and was immediately flagged down by the caseworker.

"Susan! We need you today. We've just had an expiration."

I hate that word, which makes the patient sound like a carton of milk; I really wish the medical staff would just say that a patient has died. But the term seems to be firmly embedded in the hospital lexicon, so I just winced and kept my opinion to myself.

The patient was elderly, which didn't make the death any easier on the spouse and grown child. I spent the better part of an hour with them, on and off: I prayed with them, but mostly listened, as various nurses did, too. (The department was quiet enough to allow this, which is unusual.) The physician who'd worked on the patient joined us as we said the Lord's Prayer.

I also helped relay questions and requests to the caseworker. Did the family have to wait for the coroner? (No.) Here's the name of the funeral home the family has selected. (Oh, good, we can call and have them pick up the body.) Oh, and here's a new one: they want the patient's pacemaker donated to a veterinary hospital, to be given to a dog. (Say what?)

I'd never heard of this. Neither had the caseworker. But the family had seen it on Animal Planet and loved the idea, and a family friend who was with them had donated her dead husband's pacemaker to a veterinarian, to be given to some needy pooch.

The caseworker scratched his head and said, "Well, sure, I guess the funeral home can do that. I don't see why not."

The family was pleased when I told them their wishes would be honored. And when I gave them my patented take care of yourself during this stressful time speech, the spouse said, "Oh, I have to! I have a dog at home who depends on me!"

I know that organ donation can help families ease some of the pain of death, by allowing their loved ones to give other people new life. As an animal lover, I was moved to learn that posthumous donations can help non-human loved ones, too.

Sharon's Shawl

I brought Sharon her shawl today. Here she is wearing it on her deck (click to enlarge). Her husband is in home hospice care, and was asleep when I stopped by.

Sharon gave me permission to post these photos. When I asked if I could take them, she laughed and said, "You're going to put them on your blog, aren't you?"

The house has seen a lot of new people lately: family and friends, hospice workers, healthcare aides. Sharon's little dog, Misty, has been very disconcerted by all this. When I got there, she wouldn't do anything but growl at me, trying to protect her person against another stranger; by the end of my visit, though, she let me pat her.

Here's another shot of the shawl. I really did love making it, even though the yarn drove me crazy and even though there are plenty of errors.

A friend at work said, "Isn't it a Buddhist practice to make sure that every project contains an error?" I told her that if so, this is the most Buddhist prayer shawl ever.

I hope the shawl, however flawed, will bring Sharon a little bit of comfort during a hard time.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Knitting Updates

Sharon's shawl is finished, and will be delivered sometime this weekend. I now have about twenty inches of Lee's shawl, which means that it's about one-third done. I've started one for myself, the current work project, but only have nine rows on that so far.

I hope to get a photo of Sharon wearing her shawl; if she gives me permission, I'll post it.

My enthusiasm for knitting hasn't waned a whit. I'm slowing down a bit, though, because I appear to be developing repetitive-stress type pains in my hands and elbows. *Sigh* So I'm taking lots of breaks and not knitting too many rows at once.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!


I got back late Thursday, as planned; all the flights went smoothly, and I was very proud of myself for managing to negotiate the snarl of Southern California freeways in an unfamiliar rental car. (I was given a PT Cruiser, not a car I'd buy: it has bad visibility, and is a bit too big for comfort when parking and such.)

It was great to see my cousins again. We vowed to stay in better touch; I hope that actually happens.

The funeral was . . . intense. Scott was a Son of the American Legion and did a tremendous amount of volunteer work there, helping to raise thousands of dollars for charity, including Hurricane Katrina relief. He also did a tremendous amount of drinking there. The funeral was held at the American Legion Hall and featured an open bar: before the ceremony started, the post commander told everybody, "This is Scott's funeral. He'd want us to drink. Everybody get a drink from the bar." There were several refueling breaks during the service, which started half an hour late and went on for a good two hours. My cousin Tod gave the eulogy, early on, and warned us that the remembrances would feature adult language and content, and so they did. The mike went around the room, and people told increasingly raunchy (also loving and heartfelt and teary) stories about Scott, and after each remembrance, there was a loud toast. There were several hundred people in that room, so all of this took a while.

Since alcohol unquestionably hastened Scott's death (far too early; he was 55), I had a slightly queasy feeling about all of this. On the other hand, it was 150% the funeral he would have wanted.

My cousin Val gave one of the last remembrances, and told cheerful stories about how Scott had set fires in the house as a toddler, had gotten up each night to urinate in his mother's linen closet, and had defeated his parents' last-ditch, frantic effort to lock him in his room by carving a hole through the wall with a saw. He also liberated a neighbor's toilet by sawing it off its base; the neighbor called Scott's mom and said, somewhat testily, "Please don't give him more tools!"

He loved tools. The centerpieces at the funeral contained flowers, small American flags, and toy plastic tools from Home Depot, which the guests got to take home as favors. I'm now the proud owner of a set of black plastic pincers, in memory of Scott.

During the eulogy, Tod said, "Scott loved fiercely and lived hard," which is as fitting an epitaph as anyone could have written. Tod closed the funeral with a dirty joke, which he said his brother would have loved.

Scott's wife and two teenaged daughters were sitting in the front row during all of this, but they certainly knew him better than anyone, and they didn't look surprised by anything they heard.

I gave Tod a lift to the airport after the service. We'd expected to leave the American Legion at 4:00 or so, but at 5:30 we were still there, and my flight was at eight, and Tod wanted to stop at his sister-in-law's house to pick up Scott's tools to take home with him. And we had to drop off the car at the rental place, a distance from the airport, and take a shuttle. So the PT Cruiser went into overdrive! We got to the airport at 7:15, and I'm one of these people who prefers to arrive two hours early. But I got my flight without any trouble, and Tod and I had a good talk on the drive, so it was worth it.

I'm very glad to be home, but also tired and busy, which is why I haven't posted for the last few days.