Archive for March, 2011

Good to be home

Jeri and I were away for a week and a half, visiting Daughter Number Three in Italy.  The place is beautiful, it’s early spring over there, and the art and architecture are fantastic.  But it’s good to be home: 

To our humble abode on Maple Ave:

not really... this is il Duomo, the cathedral in Siena, just a few streets above the apartment that we rented


And to the harbor at Islesford.  That’s the Mailboat leaving after dropping us off:

Im joking of course. And I also stole Heathers photo of Venice. We didnt go there.


And to our faithful dog, Gracie:

This is really a bronze wolf, not a Husky-Lab mix. Shes nursing Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. These statues are everywhere in Siena.


And our precious cat, Little Sal:

All right, this is French, not Italian; but le chat noir is a tourist item even in Italy. And Little Sal really is black.

[Important disclaimer so I don’t get sued (or maybe now I will, for having admitted this):  None of these photos are mine because I haven’t uploaded  from the camera yet.  But these are probably better anyway…]

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In case you missed it last time, or even if you didn’t:  The dinner scene from the movie Big Night.  Great music, great visuals, great humor and the best food you’ll ever…see.  




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This thing makes a lot more sense if you’ve had Marv Wilson for a professor.  I found it on friend Peg’s blog, who got it from Jesus the Radical Pastor. 

I think this could offend just about everybody.  But only if they have no sense of humor.  🙂  

The Meaning of “STOP”

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life
by Tim Perry, Durham University.

 Suppose you’re traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist refuses to stop because he sees the stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeois use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers in the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic rolls through the intersection because he believes he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and tradition.

Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn’t bother to read the sign but he’ll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A seminary-educated evangelical preacher might look up “STOP” in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean:

1)  something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing;

2)  location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:

a)  Take another route to work that doesn’t have a stop sign so that he doesn’t run the risk of disobeying the Law;

b)  Stop at the sign, say “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who
hast given us thy commandment to stop,” wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.

Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage:

            Rabbi Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long.

            Rabbi Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding.

            Rabbi Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

            Rabbi ben Issac says: Because of the three patriarchs.

            Rabbi Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

            Rabbi Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter, but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign.

            Rabbi Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: “Stop, father!” In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written: “Out of the mouths of babes.”

            Rabbi ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: “Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.”

            Rabbi Ben Nathan says: Where were the stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: “Let them serve as signs.”

            Rabbi Yeshuah says….[continues for three more pages]

8. A Lubavitcher rabbi (Pharisee) does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal. He also works out the gematria of shin-tav-pey (S-T-(O)-P) and takes it to mean that the Rebbe Schneersohn, of blessed memory, will be resurrected as the Messiah after he has stopped at this intersection 780 times.

9. A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself because being the progressive Jew that He was, He would never have wanted to stifle peoples’ progress. Therefore, STOP must be a textual insertion belonging entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a street no one has ever seen called “Q” Street. There is an excellent 300 page doctoral dissertation on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar’s commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the dissertation, however; it doesn’t explain the meaning of the text!

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP.” For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author of the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the sign were not there.

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar amends the text, changing the “T” to “H”. “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back, that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area. If this is true, it could indicate that both meanings are valid, thus making the thrust of the message “STOP (AND) SHOP.”

14. A “prophetic” preacher notices that the square root of the sum of the numeric representations of the letters S-T-O-P (sigma-tau-omicron-pi in the Greek alphabet), multiplied by 40 (the number of testing), and divided by four (the number of the world–north, south, east, and west), equals 666. Therefore, he concludes that stop signs are the dreaded “mark of the beast,” a harbinger of divine judgment upon the world, and must be avoided at all costs.

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Sorry I can’t be there, guys!  But I’ve set this to post automatically while I’m gone.  Have a great weekend. 


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Well, half-Italian at least.  

Buon giorno from…Ireland?  No, Italy.  I think they have Saint Patrick’s Day over here. 

il Duomo di Firenze

By the time this posts, Jeri and I should have landed in Firenze (Florence) and we plan to stay here for three nights before taking a bus to Siena to visit Heather for a week.  She’s been here since January because her college is making her do a semester abroad.  College is tough nowadays.  When I was in school…

I know I have cousins over here somewhere.  My mother’s parents emigrated from the south of Italy to Hartford, Connecticut about a hundred years ago.  It would take a little work, but I could probably find people who look just like me but speak with a different accent (in Maine we don’t pronounce the “Rs” but over here they make a big, big deal over them).

Maybe next trip I’ll go look for them and tell them to lighten up on the trill.     

Jeri is here for the architecture as well as to see Heather.  She studied much of this in college, particularly the cathedrals of Florence and Siena, the two cities where we’ll stay.  When we first decided we were coming she trotted out her textbooks and photocopied the plans of il Duomo, the cathedral in Siena, which turns out to be around the corner from the little flat we’ve rented.  We’ll be right in the old city, in the center of things, which means cafés, museums and fine food within a short walk, and that suits me fine.  We’ll probably take a few bus trips to neighboring towns like San Gimignano, but we wont have to.  That’s the good part.  And maybe we’ll do an overnight trip to Rome.  Not driving.  Not driving.  I hear they’re crazy over here, even though we’re related.

Heather has been getting around the country quite a bit since January and we’re counting on her as a tour guide and travel agent.  For photos and more about her travels see her blog by clicking here. 

See you in Maine.  Ciao

il Duomo di Siena, early 13th century. Click once or twice to enlarge.

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I love it and I hate it, and it’s over with for another year.

Yesterday we may have set a record: Nine o’clock in the forenoon to six-fifteen in the evening (not counting the boat ride).   

The concept of town meeting was designed for the Town of Cranberry Isles.  I think it works better here than anywhere because we know each other, we’re stuck on an island together (rather, one of two islands) and we have to live with one another or else move to the mainland in disgrace.

Who was it that said, “Home is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”? 

In the world off-island the move to Suburbia has destroyed the sense of community that once existed in small cluster-towns or in city neighborhoods (not to mention islands).  The sprawl.  The Mall.  The drive past it all, on the way to something else.  To something better? 

But back to town meeting:  This year the meeting was on “the other island” (Great Cranberry) because we alternate.  For reasons of declining demographics we from Little Cranberry Island (Islesford) still outnumbered the Big Islanders on their own turf, and almost could have held the meeting on the mailboat on the way over.  But that didn’t happen, at least officially.

Town meeting is a time when one can disagree forcefully with hairball ideas from otherwise good and trusted friends, and then sit down with them at mid-day and have baked beans and talk about old times. 

I’m talking about hairball ideas that would cut funding for education, local libraries and off-island services like ambulance and (free) bus service.    

THE RULE:  Address the issue, not the individual.  He may have that hairball idea, but he’s still your friend and neighbor, you’ve known him all your life, and he may be the one to tow you in from offshore when the John Deere quits.  Or, if it’s a different friend, a different hairball idea (even though he’s working on his Ph.D.), he may become an ally in another important cause (and after all, you really do love talking about theology and Anglican politics with him).  So don’t insult his dignity in public or you’ll be alone one day, talking to yourself.  Or adrift at sea when the John Deere quits.  Behave yourself, enjoy the baked beans and curried chicken together, then go at it again the rest of the day.

Civility.  Yes.  It’s part of what it’s all about, especially while getting various ideas and approaches onto the floor of the meeting in order to vote intelligently—and we do vote intelligently, once all has been talked over.  I have never been disappointed in the outcome of Town Meeting.  The occasional issue perhaps, but the overall meeting, never.  The system works.

Or at least it still works in the Town of Cranberry Isles.

Anyone in Washington listening?


[Addendum:  Barb beat me to the blog on this.  For a photo essay of Town Meeting 2011, visit  http://barbarasfernald.com/2011/03/14/9-hour-town-meeting-with-45-minutes-off-for-lunch/  ]

(By the way, Barb, you did a terrific job as moderator.  I loved your great big smile while fielding a rant from one… uh… determined citizen—even though he wasn’t always clear which article of the Warrant we were on.)

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SNL crisis

Credit:  Pithless Thoughts

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We don’t have a lot to do here in Maine in the wintertime, so our brand-new Republican governor, Paul LePage, has helped get us through our cabin fever with a monthly chuckle.  He’s becoming Archie Bunker in the Blaine House.

To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world (quoting Thomas Jefferson, and more on him later): 

In September while campaigning, candidate LePage said:  “And as your governor, you’re gonna be seeing a lot of me on the front page saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.’”

In January, a few days after his inauguration, he explained his absence from Martin Luther King Day celebrations:  “Tell ’em [the NAACP] to kiss my butt.”

Two weeks ago in February, the governor explained why the science that supports a ban on the chemical BPA is inconclusive:  “[I]f you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards.”

The man has done more to sell newspapers in Maine, and to promote op-ed pieces and political cartoons than anyone I can think of.  So here comes the irony: 

Now, in March, right on schedule, he tells us not to buy newspapers; and this in a state that lives and breathes pulp and paper industry (What?  Not sell Paul Bunyan-sized rolls of the stuff to the New York Times?  Has he otherwise solved the economic problems of northern Maine?).

As Mark Twain said, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys his ink by the barrel.” 

I’ve said enough.  This just in from the Opinion column in the Bangor Daily News:

LePage, Lies and Newspapers

Posted March 07, 2011, at 6:45 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage almost made it through a week without an uninformed, incendiary comment in public. Then, he dropped this on Friday at the Fishermen’s Forum: “Buying a Maine daily newspaper is like paying someone to lie to you.”

Those, mostly conservatives, who mock the “lamestream media” seem to forget that the media consists of private businesses — newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations —  that help sustain local economies, just like manufacturers, hospitals and farms. Further, they should remember that newspapers (cable TV didn’t exist yet) were so revered by the Founding Fathers that they gave them their own constitutional amendment – the first one.

Imagine if Gov. LePage had said, “Buying lobster is like paying someone for an oversize cockroach,” which, like saying newspapers are full of lies, is patently untrue. The outrage would have been angry and swift, as it should be.

But somehow insulting newspapers is fashionable.

Newspapers in Maine employ thousands of people, pumping millions of payroll dollars into local economies each year. They are important supporters of local charitable causes. Most endeavor to buy paper made in the state. “Your paper and the paper other Maine newspapers use comes from Maine mills, as does the paper for advertising inserts,” says John Williams, the president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. “That’s a direct financial impact in Maine that is very positive.”

Newspapers are also the most effective means for local businesses to inform the public about their products and services. They rely on newspaper advertising because it brings customers to their doors.

Most important to men like Thomas Jefferson, newspapers provide a public service. Their articles let readers know what is happening in their communities, state, country and world. In this role, they are the only watchdog of government that can quickly inform the populace of what the government is doing — good and bad.

For this reason, the Founding Fathers believed that the press (which included only newspapers and pamphlets at that time) needed special protection under the Constitution. Hence the first item in the Bill of Rights.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1787.

Mr. Jefferson understood the great value and critical importance of a free press, even one that didn’t “agree” with him all of the time. Reading something you disagree with or dislike doesn’t make it a lie.

So, rather than attacking newspapers, the governor should contact them when mistakes are made so that they can be corrected (a request to the governor’s office for a list of the “lies” this paper has printed recently has yet to be fulfilled). But if he thinks that newspapers should print only articles and editorials that reflect his point of view, he misunderstands their role. To do so would be a violation of the trust placed in the press by men like Thomas Jefferson.


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At least it’s easier to shovel…

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We’re trying to learn a little Italian around here.  Also, on Saturday mornings (while Jeri makes pancakes) we normally listen to folk music on WERU’s “Saturday Morning Coffeehouse”. 

So, what could be better than hearing folk and Italian, and hearing it all from Joan Baez? 

Rhetorical question.  Nothing could be better.  Don’t try to answer that.


C’era un ragazzo

C’era un ragazzo
che come me
amava i Beatles
e i Rolling Stones

girava il mondo, 
veniva da
gli Stati Uniti d’America.

Non era bello
ma accanto a sé
aveva mille donne se
cantava «Help» e «Ticket to ride»
o «Lady Jane» o «Yesterday».

Cantava «Viva la libertà» 
ma ricevette una lettera,
la sua chitarra mi regalò
fu richiamato in America.

Stop! coi Rolling Stones!
Stop! coi Beatles. Stop!
Gli han detto vai nel Vietnam
e spara ai Vietcong…

Ta ta ta ta ta…

C’era un ragazzo
che come me 
amava i Beatles
e i Rolling Stones

girava il mondo, 
ma poi finì
a far la guerra nel Vietnam.

Capelli lunghi non porta più,
non suona la chitarra ma
uno strumento che sempre dà
la stessa nota ratatata.

Non ha più amici, non ha più fans,
vede la gente cadere giù:
nel suo paese non tornerà
adesso è morto nel Vietnam.

Stop! coi Rolling Stones!
Stop! coi Beatles. Stop!
Nel petto un cuore più non ha
ma due medaglie o tre…

Ta ta ta ta ta…


Musica e parole: Migliacci – Lusini

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She didn’t give me a whole lot to work with, with that little point-and-shoot camera, and as she was busy working the whole time and trying not to fall off ladders (she’s OK now, thanks for asking). 

But I can’t say much.  I forgot my camera on the kitchen table when I left for Ecuador.   

So, after a little cropping, here we go:  Scenes from Colegio Moriah.

Men working on the roof of the school building

Using the uncompleted church building for classrooms while the school gets built. This is quite typical: first, move in; then, build. Each building or room gets used for whatever purpose best suited at that time. Eventually, with God's help, it'll all come together.

Sunday morning after church service, and ladies only in this photo. Jeri is on the far left in pink blouse.

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…but I happen to know that Sally is not merely a fan of The Far Side (see two posts ago) but also a huge fan of John Cleese and Monty Python.

For good behavior and for rapid recovery Sally got released from Mass General this evening.  And because there’s no telling what the surgeons found inside that brain of hers (and won’t admit to) I’ll let John Cleese explain. 

In Sally’s case the “God gene” will remain perfectly intact, whatever else the surgeons scraped away at.

Welcome home, Sally and Skip!



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Jeri building a form for a concrete arch

I got my wife back again.  Jeri flew in from the Dominican Republic Monday, two days after I got back from Ecuador. 

We go on “separate mission trips together”.  I’m with a medical mission to South America (see previous blog entries) but Jeri co-leads a construction team to the Caribbean, to San Pedro de Macorís in the Dominican Republic.  For nearly ten years they have been building a school for the church Iglesia Bautista Cristo para las Naciones (Christ for the Nations Baptist Church) in a poor Haitian community in the DR.

Not only do they build the school, called Colegio Moriah, they also build the church building itself, to replace the previous one that met under tarps hung between chain-link fences at the pastor’s previous home.  In fact, one of the first buildings constructed on the new grounds became a house for Pastor Tanis and his family!   Whatever they build serves multi-purpose as the project develops.

Jeri is more or less the mastermind of the project.  In the first place, she designed the buildings; but since then she does a ton of fund-raising (for the yearly operation of the school as well as its construction), organizes much of the team’s effort to go there every February, and takes part in the cement-slinging and painting.  She fell off a ladder on the job but is OK now.  And taking a well-deserved nap as I write this. 

For more information about the project, visit http://colegiomoriah.org or the older site, http://www.colegio.homestead.com .

And as a matter of unabashed fundraising, please let me talk you into donating!  Among other expenses, the teachers’ salaries in particular are an ongoing concern, and we now have a matching grant from the RD Foundation (up to $5000 total) until the first of April. 

Anything you give before April will count double through the generosity of the Foundation.  Please click here.

Consider this:  a mere $250 pays for one high school student’s tuition, uniform and books for a year. 

A gift of $2,750 pays for one teacher’s salary for a year.  A year!  Amazing.  And those teachers really do deserve to be paid.

Think about it.  And thanks for dropping in.   

School under construction in 2009. Kids raising the Dominican flag in the morning as workers wait.


The school in June 2010. The two above photos were taken from atop the unfinished church building.

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…but I know that Sally is a big fan of The Far Side.  

And because we’re all praying that her operation goes well this morning at Mass General, I’m confident enough to post a neurosurgical spoof in advance.

God bless you, Sally!  Keep smiling and let that brain heal with a bit of humor. 

[Update/answer to prayer:  Skip emailed last night; Sally just out of surgery, talking and coherent, with memory enough to remind Skip to get out the email message.]


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