Three cheers for small-town America! I know small towns and villages can be narrow and stifling and ingrown—but they can also put on festivals that warm my heart and give me hope for our country. I love the Independence Day parade and party put on by little Geneva, Florida, an eclectic and heart-warming mix of modern America and old-time Florida. And I'm sure that if I were in Hillsboro, New Hampshire this weekend, I would love their Fest and Fair, which sounds like something from my own childhood. Until this year, the event was called the Balloon Festival and Fair.
Long ago, nine balloon pilots lived in Hillsborough. They’ve all left or stopped flying, and balloons have become too expensive for the fair, which serves as a fundraiser for local firefighters and service organizations, Daley said, so the Hillsboro Balloon Festival and Fair has dropped “balloon” from its name.
The man quoted above is Jon Daley, our son-in-law. In addition to being one of the town's three selectmen (the form of local government in New England), he is a fireman and an EMT with the Hillsboro Fire Department, and his wife (our daughter) is part of the Ladies' Auxiliary, so planning for, working at, and attending the Fest and Fair is mandatory in their family.
Mandatory—and fun, at least for the kids, even without the balloons. I suspect one or more of our grandchildren may be running a lemonade stand there, too.
The fair hopes a bigger car show and a new skillet toss will bring fresh air.
The skillet toss must be New England's equivalent of Geneva's cow-chip toss (which in these modern times does not use the real thing, in case you were wondering).
Aside from the lack of hot-air balloons, there was only one thing I found depressing about the article:
[This year] here will be cheaper beer. “Before we had fancy beers, and everyone said they don’t like fancy beers, so we’re doing Bud and Bud Light,” Daley said.
Better stick with the lemonade.
The fireworks – “a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot longer than any of the other small-town stuff,” according to Daley – are back. So is one of last year’s hot draws: the unicorns. “This year they’re bringing two bigger horses too,” Daley said, clarifying that he meant to refer to horses’ elusive and horned relatives.
I know a couple of Swiss granddaughters who would want to come to the fair for the unicorns alone.
Admission is free, though some activities may cost money, and parking is $10 per car. No animals, aside from working service dogs, are allowed.
It's time to reprise a favorite G. K. Chesterton quote.
Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate. There are indeed a certain number of people who like to hang about the gate and never get any further.
— G.K.'s Weekly, January 29, 1928
Item: Football player Colin Kaepernick kneels before the American flag during the National Anthem as a protest against racism in America, and kicks up a storm of protest and counter-protest. He is accused of being disrespectful to the flag and the country.
Item: Nike, the shoe company, decides to make an Independence Day-inspired line of sneakers featuring the "Betsy Ross" flag, then reneges when Kaepernick objects, saying that the flag is a symbol of racism.
Item: Another shoe company takes up the slack—and I'd say the profits, except those are apparently going to a veterans' charity—and starts producing shoes with the Betsy Ross flag design. It is cheered by those who are offended by both Nike and Kaepernick.
Has the world gone totally mad?
No one can truly know another's thoughts, but I'm pretty sure that when Mr. Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem he was not expressing his respect for America and her flag. I'm equally confident that the manufacturer of the new shoes sees this as a way to express love for flag and country—giving no thought to the idea that the flags thereon would soon be worn on the feet and dragged through the dirt.
I care nothing for Nike (their shoes are out of my price range) and no more for Kaepernick than is required of me by my claim to be a Christian (usually less, I'm afraid—but I can't blame him for my own fault). But it was firmly impressed on me as a child that kneeling is the ultimate gesture of respect, save only for complete prostration, and that wearing the flag as an article of clothing—let alone footwear!—is disrespect beyond the pale. I believe that attitude has the force of history behind it.
It's at this point that my inner cynic rises up and declaims, "A plague on both their houses!" How can we hope to communicate when words and symbols have inverted their meanings?
The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation by Justo L. Gonzalez (HarperOne, 2014)
My list of books read this year shows June's tally to be woefully short, a mere two books. In part that shortfall is due to being on vacation with much else calling for my attention, but the primary cause was this 530-page book. I read most of it in June, but it squeaked over into July before completion.
Our rector chose this book for his six-week class in church history. I chose the Kindle version because that enabled me to begin the reading while still out of town—unfortunately we had to miss three of the six classes, and I wanted at least to keep up with the reading. It wasn't easy, because Fr. Trey set a pace that was blistering even to a bookworm like me, though perhaps not to one who has so recently been in seminary and law school.
But I more than kept up. I finished the book yesterday, and the last class isn't until mid-month. What can I say? Once I get started, it's hard to stop. And I have a new birthday book—Brother Cadfael—calling out to me.
Plus, the book is interesting. The earlier chapters are better than the later to my mind, because the closer the author gets to modern times, the more obvious his biases become. I'm wondering if the trend will continue in Volume 2.
Mind you, I don't hold against him the fact that his biases show, even if they are sometimes frustrating. How can someone write on any subject, let alone one as difficult and as sensitive as history, without leaving the imprint of his own life's experiences? Isn't that why particular people write particular books? But the experience illustrates the truth-seeker's variant of caveat emptor: Be leery of trusting single sources.
I'll spare you the collection of quotations this time, but simply share one of my strongest and most lasting impressions.
As most of my readers know, it is my habit to read through the Bible once each year. I like to switch off different versions, and currently I'm using the one called simply, The Message. I don't doubt that many people find this version useful and enlightening, but for me it combines slogging through a swamp with enduring fingernails on a blackboard, so it's taking me a while to make progress. I'm well into my second year, and still in the Old Testament. The constant grind of God sets us on the right path—we mess up badly—God gets mad and threatens to give up on us—bad things happen—God decides he loves us too much to abandon us completely—God sets us back on the right path—we mess up badly—ad infinitum, is getting really old. This theme-and-variations seems a little repetitive in any translation, but it's orders of magnitude worse in The Message.
Enter this book on church history. History in general has been a weakness of mine ever since I learned in school that one could enjoy/be good at science and math or English and history, but not both. (I know. Surely no one actually said that? But that's what I heard.) About the history of the church I know even less, hence my eagerness to take this class. Reading the book made me glad to be experiencing the Old Testament at the same time. Why?
The impression given in most churches seems to me to be that God did a lot of work through history preparing mankind for the Incarnation—the coming of Jesus—and then considered the job done, with nothing left to do till the Second Coming. That's like jumping from the Garden of Eden to the Stable at Bethlehem, without considering all the years of history and preparation in between. What learning something of church history has shown me is how similar the Anno Domini years have been to those Before Christ. It's the same old song in a different key: make a good start, mess up—sometimes disastrously—receive correction, try again, mess up again, etc. Gradually learning, clarifying, and growing in the midst of and in spite of and even because of some really bad stuff going on. Just like Old Testament Israel.
Everything changed with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And yet ... plus ça change ... people are still people. God's process of teaching, refining, clarifying, and polishing goes on. His work in and on and through his Church is just as important as his work with Israel. It is much like his work with individuals: everything indeed changes radically when one becomes a Christian, but God's work in us is far from complete.
Why do we learn so much in church about what God does in our individual lives, and what he did with Israel BC, but so little about his work with the Church AD?
Having recently emerged from a long labor, I am again amazed at how like childbirth is the creative endeavor.
The creative endeavor in question was a new book. Not that kind of book, I hasten to assure my friends and relatives who are published authors. My speciality is Shutterfly photo books—primarily for our grandchildren—with titles like The Art of Frederic Edwin Church, The Cantons of Switzerland, and Grandma and Dad-o Visit the Gambia. But if my artistic efforts are on a small scale, they are nonetheless artistic efforts, and extraordinarily like that highest of creative works of which mankind is capable, the co-creation with God of a unique human being.
As usual, this book began with nothing but a joyful idea and a due date: I had an offer for a "free" (pay only for shipping & tax) Shutterfly book with an expiration date of June 30. At that point I had no idea what the book would be about, just that it would be. The project perked along happily in the back of my mind as I occasionally thought about possibilities and laid the groundwork. Ah, the early days, when the delivery date seems so far away! I had plenty of time, and expected an easy "pregnancy."
As happens all too often, life took some unexpected turns, some good, some bad. Complications developed.
We had planned a major trip in May and June, which always plays havoc with my projects, but in this case there were two time periods in which I thought I could count on quiet time for some intense work. During our New Hampshire visit, all of the family but me were to have gone on a four-day camping trip, leaving me alone in the house to create. Later, during the Connecticut portion of our trip, we were to be there a full week before the main event, and our plans were simple: Porter—talk with his dad, work around the house, and play board games with his sister; Linda—work on this project! Almost two weeks of very little else to do? Surely I could accomplish much!
Yeah, right. First monkey wrench? Not long before the start of the trip, Porter experienced what turned out to be an intense sciatica attack. It was a miracle he was able to lie down flat for the MRI—which showed that his spine is a ticking bomb, ready to cripple him whenever the bulge hits the sciatic nerve. Despite this, we prepared for the trip in between medical necessities, and had some unexpected company (of the best kind!); in the end he was feeling well enough to want to make the trip. I wasn't so sure, but by another miracle he managed to make the long, long drive, only stopping more frequently than usual to rest and stretch. We arrived in New Hampshire only one day later than planned, and the camping trip was the following day! At that point, I felt I needed to be wherever Porter was, especially in a camping situation. We both decided to go, and it was great fun.
But there went the first writing session.
The second one was obliterated through two factors: (1) Porter's 92-year-old father became ill, and (2) we decided to bring two of our grandchildren with us when we left New Hampshire. So that week was spent on other activities—those more important than writing and those more fun. That's "fun" in the general sense—I find the creative process immensely satisfying, and yes, fun (most of the time), but not many agree.
When finally home (though not back to normal), I realized my due date was rapidly approaching and something had to be done about it. We all know that induced labors are more intense and painful than natural labors, and so it was in this case. Soon I was in my least favorite part of the book-creating process: wading through huge piles of data, making painful decision after painful decision necessary to make it all manageable. When the pain was at its worst I was ready to give up due to frustration and exhaustion. Of course, I was then in "transition," the point where laboring women are ready to jump out of windows—or defenestrate their husbands.
On to the blissful agony of the "pushing" stage, where the labor pains finally make obvious progress and the end is in sight. I had created the covers—for some reason, having the covers done makes everything else seem possible. I was on a roll. Only the necessities of life stopped me. I love this stage! The work was still tedious and painful: the process of making a photo page consists mainly in deciding what not to use, reluctantly casting aside photo after photo that just won't fit. To use another analogy, you can't make a sculpture without removing the wood or the stone, and the closer you get to the finished work, the more important and delicate each removal is. But oh the thrill as each page fell into place! Normally I'm good for nothing but sleep after nine o'clock at night. I blew past that mark, unheeding. Rarely do I work as efficiently and as effectively as I did that night, despite the lateness of the hour. Nine, ten, eleven, midnight—the hours passed and the pages slowly and steadily fell into place. It seemed nothing would stop me.
But finally, at 3:30 a.m., something did. My Shutterfly deal expired at midnight Pacific Time, and I still had four pages to go. Often, when I've barely beaten a deadline (never this late before!), once the deadline is actually past, Shutterfly will extend the offer by one more day. Not so this time, when I could have used it. By 3:30 it was clear that there was no point in pushing myself any further. I had another offer almost as good that didn't expire for another week. I went to bed at an hour very near to the time I often arise in the morning. Not since the birth of my firstborn had I worked through that much of the night.
The next day I was glad I had gone to bed, albeit for what turned out to be only a couple of hours' sleep, because there was still most of a day's worth of labor ahead of me. Of course, my sleep-deprived brain wasn't as efficient as it had been the night before! But I made it, and—after much more proofreading and editing than if I had finished the book at 2:55 the previous night—I clicked on the "Order" button and the baby was born!
And here's where the childbirth analogy breaks down. I won't actually have the book in my hands for at least a week, for one thing, and for another: with this particular book the pain is gone and the sleepless nights are done.
I chose the subject of this book for two reasons. One: I think it will bring delight to Porter's father, who could use some sunshine in his life right now. Two: since I could make it with no text, and I had plenty of appropriate photos at hand, I thought I could do the job quickly. I even thought of trying Shutterfly's feature where they take your photos and make them into a nice book for you. But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I have my standards, and I must tell the story myself. So be it.