Sunday, April 27, 2008


Andrew and I are staying with his mother until his father returns from Taipei.

Andrew’s mother gave us an early dinner last night before we all headed to the airport to drop Andrew’s father, and she had prepared several of Andrew’s father’s favorite foods in honor of his departure: Amish pot roast with cream, mushrooms and green onions (the smell of which drives the dog nuts while it is roasting), mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese, homemade stewed tomatoes, fresh green beans, white corn and Amish pepper salad (a sweet-and-sour salad made primarily with cabbage). For dessert, she had baked a Dutch apple pie.

When we returned from the airport, the evening was still young, so we dismantled brass fixtures, indoors and out, and polished them while we listened to music. Andrew’s mother especially likes French music, so Andrew picked out six discs of French repertory for us to listen to for the next several days: a disc of Rameau, a disc of Berlioz, a disc of Gounod, a disc of Debussy, a disc of Vierne, and a disc of Poulenc-Milhaud-Honegger.

Today, after church, we went to the care facility and had lunch with Andrew’s grandmother in the elegant dining room at the facility. Lots of families have Sunday lunch with family members at the care facility, but Andrew’s family very, very rarely goes there for Sunday lunch. Instead, two or three times a week, always on weekdays, Andrew’s mother will have lunch at the facility with her mother, and every other week or so Andrew will join his mother for a weekday lunch with his grandmother at the facility.

I had been to the facility only on two previous occasions, both times on a Sunday, but never for lunch. Today was the first time I actually had a meal at the facility. The food and the service were exceptional—it was like dining at a fine restaurant (and the prices are comparable, I am informed, although guest tariffs are nowhere posted).

We remained at the facility for a couple of hours after lunch, sitting with Andrew’s grandmother in the conservatory, before we left.

For the rest of the afternoon, Andrew and I exercised the dog and helped Andrew’s mother with a few things around the kitchen.

We did not eat dinner tonight. No one was hungry except the dog. He got his Sunday night baked and de-boned chicken—there’s no depriving him, and he knows the weekly routine far too well to try to fool him and pretend that a Sunday is really a Thursday—but the rest of us decided to skip dinner and have a light snack before bedtime.

Instead of eating dinner, we went downstairs and watched on DVD “A Slave Of Love”, a charming, even exquisite, movie from a surprising source, Brezhnev-era U.S.S.R.

Filmed and released in Russia in 1976, it is the story of a silent-movie crew caught up in the events of 1917 while filming a frivolous melodrama in the Crimea. Very Chekhovian in subject and tone, the movie touches on themes of love, loss, and misunderstanding, all set against a background of rapidly-shifting political events. The cast is superb, especially Elena Solovei, who plays an apolitical silent-movie star thrown into events she does not understand, always carrying the dramatic flourishes of her screen acting over into her private life. The cinematography is magnificent, very French in look and feel, with a pastel color palette drawn from Claude Monet. The movie is a small masterwork, the work of a very young Nikita Mikhalkov, who was clearly familiar with French New Wave cinema.

I had never seen “A Slave Of Love”—I had never even heard of it—and neither had Andrew, but Andrew’s mother had seen the movie when it was released in the U.S. in 1978. I was pleased to make the film’s acquaintance.

We spent the rest of the evening up in the kitchen, mostly doing nothing: a little talking, a little talking on the phone, a little emailing, a little playing with the dog. Andrew’s mother baked a small loaf of homemade bread, which she very seldom does, and we ate that with French onion soup.

I don’t think this coming week will be too brutal at work, either for Andrew or for me. Neither of us should have to work late this week, so we should be able to enjoy our time with Andrew’s mother.

There are no concerts we want to attend this week, and no plays in town we want to catch, so we probably will just stay in.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And Another Thing . . .

I am starting to become like Andrew, thinking of the things we shall miss when we move to Boston in late August.

I have already written about how I shall miss my job, and Andrew’s family, and our church, and the friends I have made in Minnesota, and the decent and welcoming environment of Minneapolis itself.

Another thing I shall miss about the Twin Cities is the group of guys we join for basketball once or twice a week. They are a great bunch of fellows, All-American to the core, and I don’t think Andrew and I will meet that kind of person in Boston.

The activity of sport is something about which those who have never participated cannot understand. Participating in sport adds an invaluable dimension to one’s life, although that dimension is difficult to define.

I am not referring to the belief, among some, that participating in sport helps BUILD a young man’s character. I have never for a moment believed that participating in sport helps build character. I did not believe that in the seventh grade, and I do not believe that today. The full spectrum of human behavior, best to worst, may always be witnessed among sportsmen, just as it may be observed among the population at large.

The activity of sport, however, helps REVEAL character, and participating in a team sport will generally reveal a great deal about the character of one’s teammates and the character of one’s opponents. Amidst all the play and amidst all the competition, unspoken rules come into force, and everyone learns to fail to observe these unspoken rules at his peril (the penalty is always subtle but instant ostracization). Young men who do not participate in sport must learn these unspoken rules by other means, and often they are unable to do so, to their lifelong detriment.

Further, participation in sport fosters socialization and teamwork skills as well as ingrains a sense of fair play, qualities necessary for success in business and professional fields—and, I would argue, qualities necessary to maintain healthy personal relationships.

I can always recognize, a million miles away, a person who has not learned the lessons that sports impart. Such persons are generally socially awkward, if not completely graceless, and they invariably fail to recognize that their peers maintain a distinct arm’s-length distance from them.

I like and enjoy and value the easy and close friendship and comradeship of our basketball buddies. I like the pre-game chatter and rituals, and the games themselves, and the winding-down period after the games. I also like the late-night suppers that follow, whether hamburgers at Ruby Tuesday, or the Farmer’s Breakfast or Swedish Pancakes at the Edina Grill. The suppers are full of talk, food and fun.

I’ll miss all of this when we leave Minnesota.

I shall also miss the dog.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jude The Obscure

Andrew and I are relieved that the tax season is over, which has allowed us to decompress, at least a little.

I am doing something right now I very seldom do: reading a novel. I read constantly and widely in history, biography, political and world affairs, and philosophy, but I seldom read novels. In general, I do not find novels to be rewarding reading.

The novel I am reading, on Andrew’s recommendation, is exceptionally rewarding: “Jude The Obscure” by Thomas Hardy. Gloomy and troubling, it must be one of a handful of the greatest novels ever written, rich in texture and keen in psychological insight. I am two-thirds of the way through the book, and I am finding it to be an engrossing and luxurious, even overwhelming, reading experience. It almost makes me want to plow through the remainder of Hardy’s oeuvre, except that none of Hardy’s other novels is supposed to be as original or as compelling (or as bleak) as “Jude The Obscure”.

I am totally fascinated by the complexity of the character of Jude the stonecutter (surely a self-portrait of the author, given how multi- and deeply-layered is Jude’s psychological makeup), and I am equally fascinated by the stifling portrait of late-Victorian Britain Hardy creates.

Hardy worked as a laborer in his early years, and I remember vividly one of the results of his youthful handiwork during our visit last year to London.

At Saint Pancras Old Church, a 1,000-year-old church near Saint Pancras Station, the north side of the large churchyard contained an enormous and ancient tree around which were arrayed dozens of ancient gravestones. The gravestones had been placed there by Hardy, who had moved them from an ancient burial ground (dug up to make way for new rail tracks leading to the soon-to-be-completed Saint Pancras Station). Instead of discarding the ancient gravestones, Hardy had artfully arranged them in a dignified series of circles around the base of a tree in the churchyard, where they remain to this day.

That tree and the ancient gravestones, one of the loveliest memories I have of our trip to London, somehow embedded itself into my consciousness, and I think of Hardy’s act of simple respect constantly as I read his tale of another laborer who works with stones, Jude.

I have never read Thomas Hardy before. On the night of April 15, taxes done and mailed, I asked Andrew whether any Thomas Hardy books were worth reading. “Jude The Obscure. Jude The Obscure. Jude The Obscure” was Andrew’s answer, so we immediately went over to his parents’ house to retrieve a copy of the novel.

I have been reading it ever since.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Return Of The Native

Andrew returns from Milwaukee late this afternoon. It will be good to have him back home.

We don’t have much on the schedule for the weekend. We will hang around the apartment most of the time, and get some rest.

Sometime during the weekend, we plan to go downtown to Jungle Theater to see David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, “Rabbit Hole”, but we will pick our performance at the last minute. The play won the Pulitzer Prize For Drama a couple of years ago, but that does not signify very much, because the U.S. is not a nation of dramatists. The play is not supposed to be very good, according to friends and colleagues who have seen it. “Rabbit Hole” received mixed, perhaps even negative, notices here in the Twin Cities. Nevertheless, it is the only thing in town Andrew and I want to catch this weekend.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Vague Guest On A Dark Earth

I think I am going to miss our church when Andrew and I leave Minnesota. I have started to become attached to it, primarily because I have started to become attached to the people who worship there.

Andrew’s parents have worshipped at the church since the time of their marriage, so of course this is the church Andrew has known and loved since childhood.

However, I did not feel welcome in the church when I first moved to Minneapolis, which is a long and complicated and boring story, having more to do with me than with the church or its parishioners or pastoral staff. It took me many months to start to become comfortable there.

Andrew’s mother does a lot of work with the church, serving on various boards and panels and fund-raising committees. She seems to attend two or three meetings a week, on average, most of which are held during the day, happily, and not at night.

Andrew and I are not active in the church in that sense. We do not serve on any committees, or perform a meaningful amount of work for the church. We attend services, mostly. Otherwise we confine ourselves to attending major church functions, such as special holiday events or special family gatherings.

Many years ago, when Andrew was young, the church would conduct frequent church sales, at which parishioners would donate items—mostly white elephant items, I think—for public sale to raise funds.

Andrew would always assist at these church sales and, according to his parents, he would end up buying lots of the white elephant items that had not been sold by the end of the day and bringing them home with him. Apparently Andrew felt sorry for the people whose items had not moved off the display tables, so he bought their junk from them and toted it home. So much junk accumulated in Andrew’s parents’ basement that Andrew’s mother and father finally had to instruct the church pastor not to allow Andrew to buy anything more at the church sales. Getting rid of the stuff was not easy. It could not simply be offered back to the church for the next sale, so Andrew’s parents had to cart the stuff off to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. When I hear stories about the junk Andrew bought at the church sales when he was young, I laugh myself silly. Andrew laughs, too.

In many ways, our church is bizarre. This is because, as a mainstream Protestant denomination, it is largely a microcosm of America. About a quarter of the parishioners are from the Far Left and believe that their personal politics should be intricately intertwined with the church and its mission. About a quarter of the parishioners are from the Far Right and believe that their personal politics should be intricately intertwined with the church and its mission. Sometimes I think the church is almost a political organization more than a religious institution.

Nevertheless, everyone gets along, and the church does much good work: for its parishioners; for the community; and for the world at large (at great expense, the church has its own charitable outpost in Africa, where free educational and medical services are provided to the poor).

The church has also been in the forefront, among all churches in the nation, in the fight against ordination of gay clergy. Not long after I arrived in Minneapolis, the church hosted a major nationwide convention, assembled solely to address this issue, for churches objecting to ordination of gay clergy. I found this to be odd, because so many of the church’s parishioners hold Hard Left views on so many other issues. I also found it to be odd because the church has many homosexual members, all of whom are made to feel welcome. I further found it to be odd because the church is very much an establishment church, with an establishment congregation holding establishment views. None of this made any sense to me at the time, and it still does not make any sense.

It is inevitable, according to Andrew’s father, that the local church will break away from the national organization at some point. The national church, for years, has threatened to sue in the event the local church chooses to become independent, and has threatened to seek to obtain ownership of local church assets (the local church is one of the wealthiest parishes of any denomination in the country, with lots and lots of assets at stake). Andrew’s father says that the national organization, despite its threats, will never actually sue, and that this is because it knows it cannot win in court and, further, because it knows it cannot win in the court of public opinion.

My opinion on the matter is that the local church is wrong to seize national leadership on this issue—for many, many reasons, all of which are far too complex to address here. However, I also recognize that this is, primarily, a non-issue, because there are not large numbers of gay clergy seeking ordination in our denomination nor are there large numbers of our denomination seeking gay clergy. The issue of ordination of gay clergy is a red herring issue, serving as a public point of contention between church headquarters and several church parishes throughout the country that are unhappy with headquarters on other issues, issues having nothing whatsoever to do with gay clergy. The gay clergy issue is simply, in Andrew’s words, the “MacGuffin”, the plot device used to propel other matters into sharp relief.

Andrew’s opinion about the matter is very similar to mine, although he goes a little further than I do in dismissing the importance of the issue. He says that no one in the local church or the national church gives two cents about anyone’s sexual orientation, whether parishioner or pastor, and that the issue carries no long-term significance. According to Andrew, it is only when someone mounts a platform and attempts to inject the issue of sexuality into a forum where it does not belong that anyone tends to get irritated. This is fully consistent with and supports Andrew’s “MacGuffin” argument, incidentally, and I think he is probably right.

Andrew’s father’s views on the issue are slightly different. He says that the fight between the national church and local churches on the issue of ordination of gay clergy is a contest about power, pure and simple, and nothing but power. Local churches have become tired of the pronouncements of the national church. Local churches have much more autonomy than they enjoyed only three or four decades ago, and the national church continues to lose power and influence (including the all-important power of the purse) at the expense of local churches that have learned to flex their muscles. The national church is bristling over its loss of influence, and local churches are bristling over nationwide church directives, which are often viewed as high-handed and out-of-touch. The final result, inevitable according to Andrew’s father, will be a national church that serves as little more than a central clearinghouse for a loose confederation of autonomous institutions.

Andrew’s mother’s views are slightly different still. She contends that the entire church has nothing against ordination of gay clergy, including the local church that has served as vanguard of the nationwide movement within the church. She contends that local church leaders have public views on the ordination issue at variance with their private views, and that this tension between public and private views is the result of a painful soul-searching process that is ongoing and unresolved. Ultimately, she says, the church will come up with some variant of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

When Andrew and I moved to Minnesota in the summer of 2006, these issues were at a boil. At the time, Andrew and I discussed at length with Andrew’s parents whether the family should continue to attend the church. I was diffident, but Andrew and his parents decided, after so many years, that they did not want to leave the church that had become home to them.

It would have been very, very difficult for Andrew’s parents to leave the church. Both of Andrew’s parents had been raised in the Lutheran faith, but they had joined their present church right after they were married because they liked the pastor. They have remained ever since, never returning to the Lutheran Church.

It would have been difficult for Andrew to leave the church, too, because it is the only church (in Minnesota) he has ever known.

I am not as pious as Andrew, and I did not generally attend service the first few weeks I was in Minnesota. After a few weeks, however, I started to attend Sunday Service on occasion, and over time I started to get into it, and I have gone ever since.

There is a sense of community at the church, and a sense of calm and peaceful reflection during service. There is also a sense of order and continuity and comfort in the rituals observed during service, and these rituals are an essential part of any religious observance, I believe. I am happy going to church now, and I look forward to each Sunday morning.

I have made many friends at church, in all age brackets, and I enjoy seeing these friends each week.

I also enjoy watching Andrew’s old Sunday School teachers and Boys’ School teachers come up to him each Sunday and greet him and make a fuss over him and practically pet him. I find this to be charming, and so do Andrew’s parents.

Andrew and I always sit in the same pew each Sunday, next to Andrew’s parents. Andrew’s father sits adjacent to the central aisle. Next to him sits Andrew’s mother, then me, then Andrew. This pattern never varies, unless the rest of the family is in town, in which case Andrew’s brothers and his older brother’s family sit between Andrew’s parents and Andrew and me, oldest to youngest, in order.

Sunday Service has become an inherent part of the week for me, and an inherent part of my life.

I’ll miss the church while we are in Boston.

“As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die And Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark earth”—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe