Sunday, July 31, 2005

Bells and Africa

African fabricThis morning the sanctuary at Central Presbyterian Church was decorated in preparation for our Vacation Bible School, "Serengeti Trek, where kids are wild about God." We had a mixture of decorations: some we made locally and some we borrowed from the Vacation Bible School done jointly by the Cheswick Presbyterian Church, the Springdale United Presbyterian Church, and the Springdale United Methodist Church.

animal tracksThe decorations included a length of African fabric, simulated animal tracks, a simulated acacia tree, and a large (but far from life-size) painting of a giraffe eating from the tree. One of the visitors this morning tried to stump me by asking for the name of the giraffe. If she really wanted me to be at a loss, she should have asked me which part the giraffe sang.

ringing bellsAs a special musical treat this morning, Roberta Erickson rang handbells for our prelude, anthem, and offertory. Roberta is now a member of the Oakmont Presbyterian Church, but was a child of Central Presbyterian Church.

Because our week-long Vacation Bible School begins tomorrow, we dedicated the teachers and volunteers during this worship service.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Tarentum Fest '05

The young people of Tarentum had an exciting concert by homegrown talent on Saturday, July 30, from 2 to 9 PM in Riverview Park. The Tarentum Fest '05 concert was free. Friends and family of the many band members were there to support and enjoy the musicians. The language was clean and the gathering was free of alcohol.

Black Friday
The opening act was Black Friday.

Subject of Change
Subject of Change, a band from Springdale, was the next to play, and did not let the crowd down.

early crowd
The early crowd at Tarentum Fest had people of all ages.

Filthy McNasty
Filthy McNasty gave their final performance.

Some of the crowd were dancing near the stage.

The next band was XFashionVictimX.

more dancing
People enjoyed dancing to their music.

It Ends Today
It Ends Today also gave their final performance.

Drain This Blood
Drain This Blood had the crowd on its feet. I wish I had been able to stay for the remainder of the acts, which included Featherlight.

During this concert there were a number of announcements made about a petition for a skateboard park for Tarentum. The Borough Council has approved an application for a grant for a skateboard park that will provide a safe place for young people in Tarentum to skate.

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How much could you remove in an hour?

Take a look around the place where you are reading this blog, and ask yourself the question, "If I had one hour to remove whatever I valued here, what would I take?" Now consider the following excerpt from this.
As we marched towards the rubble of the homes my heart was pounding. I turned a corner and saw the first heap. Stone, steel, wood, all kinds of material whose purposes were now indecipherable. It was hard to tell that this had actually been a home. Three children were sitting on top of the rubble, not saying a thing, just looking. I couldn't handle it, I turned to leave. And as I was turning I saw out of the corner of my eye, under a tree with his face in his hands, the owner of the home. He must have been around 70 years old. He was sobbing. I probably do not need to tell you my reaction.
Next to this man was a pile of chairs and table, some tapestries, etc. I asked Sami what that pile was and he replied, "It's what they were able to salvage in an hour. That's how quick the notice is. The IDF shows up with the caterpillar and crane and tells them they have one hour. After that, if they aren't out of the home, the IDF claims that they cannot be held accountable."

Thanks to Adam for pointing me to this entry, and also for telling the story of the refuseniks, loyal members of the IDF who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.

By the way, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has gone on record to oppose the construction by Israel of the so-called "Separation Barrier."

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Is it lawful to provide, food, and transport to medical aid?

Rick Ufford-Chase in this article reminds us of the arrest of Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz who were arrested for trying to transport three extremely ill migrants to medical care near in Arizona near the Mexican border.

This is one case where there is a higher law.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Jedi Presbyterians

frame from a badly pirated version of Revenge of the Sith

This picture was taken from an appallingly bad pirated version of "The Revenge of the Sith" that had been dubbed in Chinese and then translated back into English. In the process the phrase "Jedi Council" became "Presbyterian Church".

Apparently the dutiful translator also ignored the fact that the opening scroll was already in English and provided a new title for the film: "Backstroke of the West."

Excuse me, I must rush for another round of committee meetings with the local Jedi Council.

Thanks to this post, which referred to this one.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Grandview Playground cleaned up

On Saturday, July 23, over fifty volunteers gathered at the Grandview Playground in Tarentum. The group included members of the Tarentum Borough Council, members of the Tarentum police force, members of the Highlands School Board, neighbors, parents, children, teenagers, and representatives of other community organizations.

They pulled weeds, swept debris, replaced gravel, repainted the playground, and built a new picnic table. This was a positive day for Tarentum with both good weather and good people cooperating to improve a playground used by many.
Mr. Graczyk, Principal, bringing a shovel
repainting the basketball post
raking and painting
Carl J. Magnetta is hands on with the picnic table project
Can a child use this table?
Getting paint to just the right spot
First coat of paint on the wall
Prepping the line striper
Pulling weeds
Pulling weeds
Weeding and sweeping
Measure twice, paint once
Ginger Mesnar Sopcak weeding
When life gives you a paint spill, make a blue star

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Pittsburgh Seminary has found its next president

The Rev. Dr. William J. Carl, III will be the next president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. There are a few press releases about this news:

In the short time that I have lived in Western Pennsylvania, I have come to appreciate the many benefits that the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary provides to the churches of the area. Congratulations to the seminary for finding its next president!

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Tonight at the Tuesday evening meal and ministry at Central Presbyterian Church we had a couple of new visitors who joined us at the table for a good time of fellowship. Bob, one of our new guests, treated us to after-dinner music on the piano.

During the Bible Study afterward we were going to talk about the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). It is hard to understand what that parable is trying to teach about the posture of God toward the lost if we are out of touch with our own feelings about those people or objects or qualities we have lost. So I asked the young people before and after dinner to make pictures that told how they felt about something they had lost. This evening the young people put a lot of energy into the artwork they created, so much that it was hard to get them to finish up. Their own feelings about what they were drawing were that strong. Two of the pictures were of pets the children had lost; one was a cat and the other a dog. These children know what it means to long to be reunited with someone special to them. And I think they can imagine how their joy would overflow if they did get reunited.

Lemon, a cat Cookie, a dog

The parable of the lost son is an open-ended story. It stops in the middle of a conversation between the loving father and the angry older son who never left home and who is deeply resentful of the grand celebration over the return of his good-for-nothing younger brother. In the conversation the older son refuses to join the party, and pours out his bitterness to his father. The father pours out his heart to the older son, reminding how they both had thought his brother was dead, and now he has been returned to them alive.

The story ends with so many questions unanswered. Will the older son recognize the wonderful turn of events and open his heart to his younger brother? Will the older son join the celebration? Which son is more lost?

Asymmetric reporting

Thanks to Jeffrey Zeldman for pointing out the asymmetric reporting of terroristic acts.

Library tour

Library tour for Tarentum Genealogical SocietyThe July 2005 meeting of the Tarentum Genealogical Society was held on July 18 in its library, which is on the balcony of the Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum. The program for this meeting was a tour of the holdings of the library.

The library has books on how to start doing genealogical research for those who are interested in charting their family tree. There are computer resources on CD, together with other microfilm and microfiche records. There are collections of obituaries, records from funeral homes, historical documents, guides to find local cemeteries, histories of nearby counties, and more.

resources at the Tarentum Genealogical Society libraryVisitors to the library are encouraged to sign a guest book indicating what they are researching. This is a helpful tool that helps them to network with others who may have already done research that intersects with theirs.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Torrance June 26

I appreciate the willingness of Rick Ufford-Chase to tell his side of the events at the First Presbyterian Church of Torrance, California on June 26. Read his side of the story here. If you want to respond to him, he encourages directing your comments to him.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Praise with dance

One of the unfortunate aspects of traditional worship is that worshipers may get overly self-conscious about whether their behavior might disturb what they imagine to be the spirit everyone else gathered wants to experience. Children who are unburdened by those perceived expectations are a blessing to us all (even if they may drive their parents crazy).

This morning I was treated to the sight of a 2 1/2 year old child of the congregation who was moved to dance to the opening hymn. Holding her father's hand on one side and her mother's hand on the other side, she bounced and wiggled and waved while the congregation sang the opening hymn. She may not have understood all the words the older people were singing, but the broad smile on her face assured me that she had the spirit right.

All hail (bounce) the power (wiggle) of Jesus' name! (wave)
Let angels (big steps) prostrate fall (jump);
Bring forth (jump) the royal diadem (wiggle),
And crown (bounce) Him (wave) Lord of all (big steps);
Bring forth (jump) the royal diadem (wave),
And crown (bounce) Him (bounce) Lord (bounce) of all! (wave)

And on another note, thanks to submergence for pointing out the worship songs refrigerator magnets.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Things to do in downtown Tarentum after visiting the Galleria

The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills offers a lot of shopping and entertainment opportunities, but after you've done everything offered at the mall, there will still be things left to do in downtown Tarentum.

For example, you might want to:
  1. Borrow a book from the Community Library

  2. Take a walk in the fresh air in an outdoor park with a view of the Allegheny River

  3. Go roller-skating at the Tarena

  4. Have an ice cream sundae in a genuine 1949 diner restored to its original specifications at the Gatto Cycle Diner

  5. Dine in a railroad station converted into a restaurant at the Tarentum Station

  6. Make or decorate ceramics at Joan's Kiln Korner

  7. Buy a uniform

  8. Rent contractor's equipment or party furnishings at A-1 Rental

  9. See a doctor or dentist

  10. Catch a public bus

  11. Worship at a church of your choice

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Impressions of the Galleria from the inside

Following up on my report from earlier this week about the opening of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, I made a trip over to the mall to see what it was like from the inside.

I walked the interior circuit and learned that even with occasionally wandering through stores it was a walk that could be done in less than a half hour. Then I made my selection from the restaurants near the foodcourt for a place to have lunch.
Johnny Rocket's in Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
I settled on Johnny Rockets, not knowing what to expect inside. When I got to my seat I was given a complimentary nickel to use in the jukebox to select something I would like to hear. My server gave me a plate of "American" fries with a smiley drawn in Heinz ketchup. I quickly discovered that occasionally the servers would dance together if an appropriate song was being played on the jukebox.
Dancing between the tables
Lunch at Johnny Rockets was a memorable and entertaining experience.

The decor in the various neighborhoods was intriguing. Outside the glow in the dark miniature golf course there was a green with giant golf balls on which weary mall walkers could sit down.
golf ball seats in Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
Outside Dick's Sporting Goods the seats were gigantic baseball gloves.
Baseball glove seats in Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
There were also some neat mobiles hanging from the ceiling. In one section there were mobiles that were representations of noteworthy Pittsburgh buildings.
building mobiles in Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
In another section of the hallway, the lighting fixtures were in the shape of familiar Pittsburgh bridges.
bridge shaped lighting in Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills
While walking the circuit I stopped in Borders. It looked bigger from the outside, but the selection of books was broad and I am still very pleased that there will be a place where I can shop for books locally.

I also found "Destination Wellness," a space being used by the Alle-Kiski Medical Center for promoting health and wellness. They will start a walking program called Mills Milers in September. They already had a resource library in place and in the future will offer health screenings and classes on various topics.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Broken water main

water bubbling through cracks
Today there was a broken water main under East Third Avenue in Tarentum. Water leaking from the pipes had built up pressure and was bubbling up through cracks in the street.

Pavement lifted by the water pressure
In one place there was so much pressure that pavement had been lifted and broken so the water could escape around it.

Excavation through the water
The workers who had to reach the broken water main had to dig down through water that kept filling in the hole.

need to pump water
As the workers got closer to the source of the leak, they had to pump a lot of water out of the hole.

repairs done
Eventually they were able to repair the leak.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Albert's is saving my sole(s)

Albert's Shoe Repair"It looks like there's a problem with your sole," said the bystander at Albert's Shoe Repair where I had stopped to drop off a pair of shoes. "Do you go to church?"

I did not groan at the pun, but identified myself as the pastor at Central Presbyterian Church, and ended up having an extended conversation with this bystander and the proprietor, both members of Roman Catholic parishes. They asked, with genuine concern, how my parish was doing. One thing I have learned about church people is that they generously value the health of the churches that are their neighbors, even though separated by differences of doctrine or tradition.

I'm glad I discovered Albert's Shoe Service at 757 Freeport Road in Creighton over a year ago. It may be popular in some circles to throw things away when they start to appear worn out, but Albert's has given new life twice to the same pair of shoes for me.

We could do more to value our fellow citizens

I was dismayed to read this offensive and racist editorial in today's Valley News-Dispatch.

Apparently the live birth of a healthy American is to some people an invasion if the child has the wrong parents. This is the perspective of those people who persist in referring to American citizens as "foreign invaders."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills to open Thursday

Entrance to the GalleriaThe anticipated news event for the Valley this week will be the opening of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills on Thursday, July 14, 2005. Located on 200 acres in Frazer township the locals have watched the construction of the mall's own exit on the 28 expressway, and have been able to see various other signs of construction when driving past the site on 28. But one has to drive up to the site to see that this mall will be very, very big.

I am one who has been looking forward to the opening of the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills because it will feature a Borders bookstore. In the close to three years that I have been living here I have missed easy access to a good bookstore. It will be very nice to have a place to browse books so nearby.

Borders Books and MusicThe touchy question for everyone is whether the changes brought by the Pittsburgh Mills will be good. Clearly the collection of so many stores in one location will create pressure on the many smaller stores that continue to populate the small "Main Streets" of the neighboring towns. The opening of the Galleria accentuates the growing and artificial distinction between the places where people live and the places where they shop. On the other hand, the mall is able to create this pressure because it brings so many shopping opportunities close to communities where the alternatives have not been overwhelming.

The trip from downtown Tarentum up to the Pittsburgh Mills is a journey through the history of where people have lived and where they have shopped. I start at the edge of a dense residential neighborhood once dotted with so many corner stores that it was possible for any resident to get to a shop in ten minutes. I drive up East Sixth Avenue, where there are a number of stores open for business, but, as many of my older friends remind me, there is today no place a woman could go to buy a dress. I take a short trip on the expressway to enter an easily navigated set of access roads where the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills comes into view, an expansive structure where many of the treasures of the world will be for sale, and, at the same time, a place where no one lives.

While the distinction between the places where people live and the places where they shop continues to grow, I suspect that many people long for the distinction to disappear. Last week I was briefly in Philadelphia and had an opportunity to visit Main Street at Exton, a shopping center designed to look like a familiar, charming "Main Street" in a small town. It was all a clever illusion. The tall facades of the many stores suggested the presence of second floors where dwelling might be possible, but they were only facades. It was certainly another attractive place to shop, but not an actual recreation of the mixture of dwellings and stores that made up the main streets many people remember.

CinemarkHappily, my own decision to start shopping at the new Borders is not at the expense of any existing business in Tarentum. And when I see a movie at the new Cinemark, it will be because that cineplex is the closest one to me, not because I am abandoning any theater in Tarentum.

While I wish for the possibility of a greater geographical proximity between the places where I live and work and the places where I buy the things I need from day to day, the opening of the Galleria will be an important step toward being able to do more of my shopping a lot closer to home.

There are some follow-up stories at
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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Celebration of Small Church Ministry

Poster for Celebration of Small Church MinistryToday in Presbyterian Churches across the country there was a celebration of small church ministry.

At Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum we celebrated what was happening in other small membership churches, and used worship materials prepared largely by the Small Church Committee in Cincinnati Presbytery.

Some of the highlights of this service of Holy Communion included:
  • An offertory in which "Beaner" Bergstrom played the piano in public for the first time, treating us to the "Canon in D" by Pachelbel;
  • Seeing a number of old friends who have not been able to be present on Sundays, but who worshipped with us today;
  • New visitors who live in the neighborhood and walked down the street to worship with us;
  • A young boy in the neighborhood who spontaneously showed up alone, wanted to see what was happening, and then stayed through most of the service;
  • In addition to the gorgeous weather, the recently planted Russian sage was blooming.
Sage in bloom

For a little more information about small churches, this is a nice article.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Composed with Zoundry Blog Writer

Zoundry logoFor the past few months I've been composing my blog entries with Zoundry's Blog Writer. I initially looked for it because I was a bit uncomfortable with Blogger's online editor, and the price (FREE) was right.

Zoundry's Blog Writer (BW) is a nice WYSIWYG editor for blog posts, with features that make it easy to add product links, for those blogs offering product reviews that might lead to sales of a product. I have not used Blog Writer to sell anything, but I've found the other features quite useful.

Blog Writer has a feature called "media repository" which streamlines the process of uploading images that will appear in the blog. Instead of having to log into the account where I have some webspace where I can upload images, and upload them before post the blog that will use the images, Blog Writer manages the whole process. It automatically generates a thumbnail of any image to appear in the blog posting, and uploads both the thumbnail and the desired image to the web. The blog post will include the thumbnail, which is hyperlinked to the original image. This way of handling images is really useful when one is using thumbnails of images to support the text, but it gets in the way when one wants the focus of a post to be full-size images themselves.

One tab in the Blog Writer allows the user to view the HTML source code for the entry, but not to edit it. This is useful for those of us who understand HTML code and want to see why an entry looks the way it does, but is occasionally a source of frustration when one wants to fix something quickly by changing the code directly. I've found that most of the time I don't need to edit the code directly, and the few times that I do, I am able to use the online editor provided by Blogger. Zoundry says that allowing the user to edit HTML code is one of the improvements in the pipeline.

Another tab in the Blog Writer enables the user to preview a blog entry as it will appear in the blog. This feature works fairly well as long as one is focusing attention on the blog entry itself. The feature is not perfect as it sometimes does not display all parts of the template correctly. Nevertheless, it does display the entry in the correct fonts, colors, and size.

There is not a lot of documentation accompanying the program, but the online help files do address some issues. Zoundry has recently introduced searchable Zoundry Forums, where a number of users raise questions and suggest features to be added to the Blog Writer. The responsiveness of the Zoundry team makes up for any deficiencies in the current documentation.

I've found Zoundry's Blog Writer to be a very useful tool for composing and posting my own blog entries, and I recommend it to others.

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