Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Growth happens in January

Yesterday outside the Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum I caught sight of signs of life. Some of the bulbs planted in the narrow garden between the church building and the parking lot had started to send out shoots.
shoot growing on January 30, 2006 in Tarentum, PA
shoot growing on January 30, 2006 in Tarentum, PA
cluster of shoots growing on January 30, 2006 in Tarentum, PA
I know cold weather is coming again, but it is encouraging to see these growing things in the middle of winter.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

News coverage of King service

There is a good article by Michael Aubele today about yesterday's Alle-Kiski Valley Dr. Martin Luther King memorial service in the Valley News Dispatch and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The VND print edition has two nice photos by Steven Dietz, but the Trib only includes one of them.

This is the same service I wrote about here, with a few of my own pictures.

The program for the service in which I participated had one of the many slippery misspellings of my name I have seen over the years. Aubele's article used the correct spelling. Whether this was the result of his having an encyclopedic reporter's memory, or whether he invested some extra time in checking the spelling, or both, I am grateful.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Crowd packs church for A-K Valley Martin Luther King service

Abundant Life Fellowship Mass Choir from Arnold sings at the A-K Valley Martin Luther King service, Jan 29, 2006
Approximately 125 people attended the Alle-Kiski Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service on January 29, 2006 at the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lower Burrell. This was the 39th annual such service in the Valley and was sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP and the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. The offering at the service supported the King Memorial Scholarships program which has given 136 scholarships since 1968.

The Moderator for the service was Rev. E. Philip Wilson, a retired Methodist minister.
Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church Choir singing at Martin Luther King service, Jan. 29, 2006
The Choir of the host church was the first to sing during the service. They sang "The King Is Exalted" and "We Are Marching In The Light Of God."

The Rev. Dr. James Legge, pastor of the Bull Creek Presbyterian Church offered the invocation as the President of the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches.

Sister Linda Ross Brown read the scripture lesson for the day.

The gathered congregation from a number of area churches sang "Lift Every Voice And Sing."
Rev. Elaine M. Hower, pastor of Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lower Burrell
The Rev. Elaine Hower, pastor of the host church welcomed the gathered congregation. Rev. Asa Roberts, pastor of the Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in New Kensington, brought greetings from the Alle-Kiski branch of the NAACP.
Minister Darryl Manley, World Overcomers Ministry, New Kensington sings at A-K Valley Martin Luther King service Jan. 29, 2006
Minister Darryl Manley, Associate Minister of the World Overcomers Ministry in New Kensington sang musical selections that included "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."

Mr. Ronald Altany led the congregation in a responsive reading of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Abundant Life Mass Choir sang at the A-K Valley Martin Luther King service, January 29, 2006
Abundant Life Mass Choir sang at the A-K Valley Martin Luther King service, January 29, 2006
The Abundant Life Mass Choir of the Abundant Life Fellowship in Arnold sang musical selections that included "Seasons."

I introduced the offering which would fund the scholarship program.

Rev. Elaine M. Hower, the host pastor, brought a message about the significance of the legacy of Dr. King.

The gathered congregation sang "We Shall Overcome" as the final hymn.

Rev. Warren Metzler, pastor of the St. James Catholic Church in Wilkinsburg spoke about the significance of Dr. King's contribution to the peace movement, and offered the benediction.
Reception following the A-K Valley Martin Luther King service at the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church on Jan. 29, 2006
Following the service there was a reception downstairs in the social hall of the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church. Do you think this service might have happened in Steelers country?

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

A visit to the Affogato Coffee Bar

Affogato Coffee BarLast night I visited the Affogato Coffee Bar in Bellevue to hear Nadina Bembic perform. I had tried to gather a group of folks who have been missing the coffee at Corbet Street's Central Perk in Tarentum, but in the end it was a rather small expedition.

Affogato has three connected rooms for various types of socializing. The large entry room includes a circular bar. There is a more intimate space for a performer.

A game of Scrabble being played in the back roomThere is a back room where I saw some young people playing Scrabble and Boggle. The bookshelves in the back room had magazines, books, and children's books. A number of times during the evening I saw parents walk their children to the bookshelves to select a new book for the child to read. This was definitely a child-friendly environment.

Nadina Bembic at the keyboard
This was my first opportunity to hear Nadina Bembic perform her alternative Christian jazz live. She performed a number of songs that I have heard through her website, as well as some new music she is preparing for a CD that I hope will come out soon. Her music is very personal and powerful.
Nadina playing the harp
She played the keyboard and harp in the course of the evening.

Tori Day

As an additional treat for the evening, Dina's niece played and sang during the breaks.

It was a bit of a drive from Tarentum, but an evening well-spent.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Keeping responsibility where it belongs

Today's Valley News Dispatch has a column by Kathleen Parker entitled "Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers: Let your conscience guide you." Discussing a recent book by Charles Fishman, The Wal-Mart Effect, the column is particularly timely for the Valley as new Wal-Mart stores prepare to open in Frazer and Harrison.
On the home front, Fishman argues that critics are wrong when they say that Wal-Mart puts little people out of business. We (consumers) put little people out of business, he says. We vote with our wallets, and we're the ones who choose Wal-Mart over local stores.
It is important to keep responsibility where it belongs.

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End of the Spear

"End of the Spear"I was surprised this week when I learned that "End of the Spear" was playing locally. Because I had read somewhat mediocre secular reviews of this religious film, I went to see it today hoping I might have something more positive to say.

The film tells a remarkable true story about five American missionaries who make contact with the Waodani tribe in Ecuador and are speared to death soon after their first contact. Their surviving families continue to reach out to the violent tribe and break the cycle of violence that had been threatening the tribe with extinction. I've blogged on some other videos and resources that tell the same story over recent months (here and here). "End of the Spear" is a dramatization of the story.

Maybe it was because I was distracted by other concerns, but the movie did not grip me, did not pull me into its world and keep me there, in the way I would like to experience a feature film.

I did appreciate the soundtrack and the jungle cinematography.

The film brought out some connections in the interconnecting family stories that I had not picked up in other retellings of the events. I was particularly moved by the scene when the surviving missionary families were together watching the film footage the dead missionaries had taken of the first contact. In that scene Dayumae, who at the beginning of the film had escaped spearing and had made her way to safety among the "outsiders", recognizes her own relatives whom she misses, but also comes to the realization that "my family killed your family."

The movie will be out in DVD so I will probably give it another try later when I am not distracted. With a running time of 111 minutes, this feature film is too long for the average church event.

So far, of the multimedia versions of this story, the ones that I can see myself using in ministry would be:
  • the documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendor"
  • the interview with Steve Saint (an extra on "The Jim Elliott Story")
  • the interview with Marj Saint (an extra on "The Jim Elliott Story")
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ethics of anonymous commentary

I found an excellent article today in the Online Journalism Review concerning issues related to anonymous commentary in blogs. The article discusses and informs some of my thinking about maintaining the use of comment moderation on my blog.
[M]edia cannot offer transparency to the readers unless the readers are also willing to be transparent. If "News is a Conversation," then transparency is required among all participants in that conversation, including the readers.
I don't go quite as far as Crosbie suggests in the article. I have a pretty good idea of who some of the anonymous or pseudonymous commenters on my blog are. Even when they have not specifically told me why their identities are concealed, I have some idea why they feel it necessary. So I will make my decisions based on content of the submitted comment.

Then again, Crosbie is writing for journalists. I'm not a journalist. I only pretend to be a journalist on this blog when I get up after falling off my skateboard and decide to stop pretending to be a skateboarder for a while.

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Good order in meetings

I'll admit it: I'm a bit of a meeting junkie. I've spent a significant part of my life caring about how meetings go, so now when I attend a meeting I find myself paying attention to the process that leads to the basic outcomes of the meeting.

Valley News Dispatch, Jan. 26, 2006, editorial p. A8 "An embarrassment"
The meeting culture I have encountered here in the Valley is, well, ... different from what that to which I have been accustomed. I have not been able to attend the local school board meetings, but the Valley News Dispatch has been describing those meetings in their articles.

Tuesday evening's meeting of the Highlands School Board was covered in this article, and was the topic of the editorial "An embarrassment" in today's paper.

I prefer to see more of a culture of respect in meetings, so I would second the editor's suggestions for the school board.

The presiding officer of the meeting is responsible for making sure the group stays in order and on task. He or she represents the unity of the group that is meeting, should show respect for all participants, should expect the same respect from them, and should require that they each show respect for one another. Observers should not be allowed to disrupt a meeting. The only person speaking should be the person recognized by the presiding officer.

I know people here in the Valley are capable of doing better than this week's school board meeting. I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts put forth by each of the members of the Tarentum Borough Council at their meeting last week.

Working toward a culture of respect simply takes time, energy, planning, and attention from all the participants in a meeting. It is well worth the investment.

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Protect us from this kind of character-molding

The local news has been carrying this story all week about a Beaver Falls high school student who was harassed by his teacher John Kelly during a mid-term examination because he wore a Denver Broncos jersey.
When a reporter questioned Mr. Kelly about the incident on Monday, he replied: "We won the game [Sunday] night, didn't we? That's all I was worried about."
So the superstitious belief that the fans rather than the players control the outcome of a football game has now been used to justify a teacher's decision that the outcome of a game in which he was not a player was more important than his duty as an instructor in the school where he was employed.
[School Principal] Mr. Karczewski, the first person Joshua complained to, said what happened was "intended as a joke" and that it was "getting out of hand."
What makes the principal think it was not already out of hand when the harassment was going on?
Comments posted on an online alumni forum for Beaver Falls High School are largely in support of Mr. Kelly, who many former students describe as a favorite teacher who shaped their minds and molded their character.
Teachers are indeed influential for the young lives they touch, but this begs the question of what kind of character has been formed.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wishes come true in Criss Cross

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins is a charming story about young people finding their diverse paths and interests. Aimed at an audience "ages 10 up", the book delighted me with its focus on almost insignificant events that have the potential for individual growth and development.

The front flyleaf to the book includes a series of extracts from the first chapter, in which Debbie Pelbry makes a wish:
She wished something would happen.

Something good. To her.

Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, something like that.

Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one.

Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.
The 337-page book is filled with accounts of good things happening to her, some of which happen outside of her awareness, some of which she notices without comprehending their significance, and some of which lead to her own sense of being a better-integrated individual. Wishes come true.

"the spectrum of connectedness", illustration from Criss Cross
The Summary from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is: "Teenagers in a small town experience new thoughts and feelings, question their identities, connect, and disconnect as they search for the meaning of life and love." The connectedness and disconnectedness is not just among the teenagers, but also involves adult figures in the story.

One short interchange between mother and daughter happens when Debbie receives a letter from a boy she had met recently.

Debbie showed her [mother] the photo, thinking, this will explain everything; now she will understand. It was a school picture of a boy with chin-length blond hair, parted down the middle and tucked behind his ears. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt, a denim jacket.

So often in books, or in movies, one character looks at another character and understands in a precise way what that person is feeling. So often in real life, one person wants to be understood, but obscures her feelings with completely unrelated words and facial expressions, while the other person is trying to remember whether she did or didn't turn off the burner under the hard-boiled eggs.

Helen did sense something, an undercurrent. She thought that Debbie probably had a crush on the boy. But California was pretty far away, and she couldn't have gotten to know him very well in such a short time. Maybe they would exchange a few letters.

"He looks very nice," she said. "He's a cute boy."

"He is nice," said Debbie.

It was as close as she could come to saying, "I need to go to California. Can I?"

But it wasn't very close, not close enough. Her mother had no way of knowing that this would have been a good time to tell her daughter that she had once known a boy who went away. A boy who had made a game of finding little figures of dogs, and giving them to her. They might have talked about how that felt, and what you did next. But their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room.

Criss CrossThe book recently won the John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children's literature.

The author tells the story in a very playful way, with her prose and illustrations playing off each other. In the middle of the book appears the "Japanese Chapter," in which haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry become the primary mode of communication.

The author drew on her experiences of growing up in Springdale and Cheswick to add local color to this story based in a fictionalized version of the Pittsburgh area, with events happening in towns with names such as Seldem, Arland, Birdvale, Hesmont, and New Bridge. I would recommend this book to people from any area who are trying to understand the mysterious twists and turns of life.

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Nadina Bembic to perform at Affogato

I have received word that Nadina Bembic will be performing at Affogato coffee bar, 613 Lincoln Ave. Bellevue, PA. 15202, this Friday, from 7:30 to 9:30.

The show will be free, and in a children friendly environment.

She will be playing her harp and keyboard.

You can hear some of her songs on her myspace site.

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So glad this did not happen

"Biblical Disaster" design by Glenn JonesLast week my little sister's family gave me a T-shirt with this design.

Really cute.

"Biblical Disaster" is one of the (sold out) creative designs used by www.threadless.com.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Springdale native wins Newbery Award

Criss Cross For the second time in as many months I have been disappointed to discover that the new Borders Books and Music in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills has not had in stock a noteworthy book by a local author, when the Chapters Books and Music in Lower Burrell has had the book available.

Today I was off on a quest for a copy of Criss Cross, because I read that Springdale native Lynne Rae Perkins had just won the John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children's literature (article in the Valley News Dispatch here; article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here).

Somehow I expected that the larger bookstore would have the capability for keeping noteworthy books in stock. My drive to the mall taught me an important lesson. The book was not on the shelves. The associate at the information desk had heard of the book, but informed me it was not in stock.

Chapters in Lower Burrell came through for me.

My previous quest had been for copies of Giovanna's 86 Circles and Other Stories by Paola Corso (a Tarentum native). Unavailable at Borders, sufficient copies for the gifts I wanted to give were on the shelf at Chapters.

Next time there is a specific book I want, I will call first — to Chapters.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Sometimes instead of playing "Twenty Questions" one plays "One Question" twenty times

Sign informing about relocation of Corbet Street's Central PerkAfter being away for part of a week, today was the first time I had the occasion to walk past the old location of Corbet Street's Central Perk in Tarentum.

A sign in the shop window now says "Relocating - Thank you for your business & your patience."

A person with a short term memory deficit may have a hard time assimilating such a simple message. One such individual saw me taking this picture of the sign in the window.

He asked me, "What caused the coffee shop's downfall?"

I pointed to the sign and answered that the shop was moving to a new location and that there had not been a downfall.

The same questioner then asked again, "But what caused the coffee shop's downfall?"

Same answer.

I'll be glad when the shop opens in its new location and I get a new question.

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The reserved pastor begins to develop an interest in football

waving a terrible towelAt the beginning of the worship service at Central yesterday, Marsha Lokar reminded everyone that when I was about to come to Tarentum I had been asked if I liked football.

My answer over three years ago had been something to the effect that I'd have to work on that, and maybe I could learn.

Marsha waved a "Terrible Towel" during the announcements in worship. Later that day I was spotted doing the same thing during the AFC Championship Game.

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Beauty Queen

"10,000 Butterflies", leni sternLately I am enjoying listening to the "10,000 butterflies" limited edition EP by Leni Stern. The four tracks are a preview of an upcoming album.

I'm rather taken by the song "Beauty Queen" in which the ranting of a woman who "maybe ... was crazy" connected with a bypasser's internal reality.

I don't know why I'm here
You don't know who I am
Don't touch me I'll break
I am glass, I am steel
Don't touch me, you can't
You won't reach me where I am
She was a beauty queen

So maybe she was crazy, she was different from us
Or maybe she's not crazy at all
I wanna know what it was
How she could take one look
And see the bottom of my soul

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tarentum church board

church boardSkateboard from Wal-Mart, $8.97

Acrylic gesso, Mod Podge, craft tools left over from craft projects years ago, $0.75

Computer generated appliques, $0.03.

Learning to stay upright, priceless.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Can I get pierogies with that?

I'm visiting with my parents in Cooperstown, New York, and learned that the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced yesterday that the Pittsburgh Pirates will play the Cincinnatti Reds in the Hall of Fame Game on May 15, 2006. The Pirates will be the home team.

This news raises one question for me.

Does the absence of a Jumbotron in historic Doubleday Field mean that there won't be a pierogie race?

A pierogie race past familiar sights in the pastoral village of Cooperstown would be an intriguing contrast to the race that usually passes through an urban landscape.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Equal rights for skateboarders

"Butler has skate park" letter, Valley News Dispatch, Jan. 17, 2006, p. A6Following on the excitement in the Tarentum Borough Council meeting last night, which is also reported in the Valley News Dispatch in a fine article starting on page 3, the letter to the editor may seem anticlimactic.

The writer from Harrison draws attention to the issue of equal rights for skateboarders when he points out that lots of towns already provide playgrounds for young people who want to engage in other sports, but the growing numbers who skateboard are often overlooked.

Not in Tarentum. Not anymore.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Tarentum skateboard park plans moving forward.

Tarentum Borough Council met this evening for just over an hour in a meeting marked by heightened shows of mutual respect on all sides. There was a heavy turnout of visitors to the meeting, which led the Council to limit entry to the Council chambers to 39 visitors, the first of whom were Tarentum residents or property owners. It was estimated that 25 people were left outside. The large turnout was due to interest in the proposed Tarentum skatepark. Skateboarders from around the area were both inside and outside.

As the time for citizen comments began, Council President Magnetta said that he had turned 180 degrees in his attitude toward the proposed park. He told about visiting the public skateparks in Cranberry and Millvale, and how impressed he was by the Cranberry facility. He continued to want the park to have some location other than Crab Diamond, and described some alternative locations together with anticipated challenges in moving the project.

The agenda for the meeting showed that President Magnetta had made new committee appointments after the organizing meeting of Council. He had appointed himself as the chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee. There were a number of positive interchanges during the meeting between Mr. Magnetta and Councilwoman Sopcak, in which she brought him up to speed on relevant information she had obtained in guiding the skateboard park project to this date. Mr. Magnetta said he wanted the local skateboarding youth to be involved in the design of the park. According to Councilwoman Sopcak the previous week the Parks and Recreation Committee had scheduled Feb. 13 for that purpose; Mr. Magnetta thought that would work but there might be something else that needs to happen in Council chambers that evening. Mr. Magnetta assured the youth that the design meeting would be publicized so they could be involved. Councilwoman Sopcak thanked President Magnetta for his change of heart about the skateboard park.

Residents who spoke at the meeting expressed support for the skateboard park, concern for the dredging of Bull Creek, and concern about a cat problem in the 2nd Ward.

At the time of President's comments, Mr. Magnetta explained that the Council had been in executive session immediately before the meeting in order to conduct interviews of candidates for a position at the water plant.

Mayor Wolfe gave his report of the activities of the police department, at the conclusion of which he voiced his concerns about a possible noise problem at the skateboard park. Mr. Magnetta assured him that there had been no noise problem at the skateboard park in Cranberry.

When the time came for committee reports I was watching with great interest to see how the business would be handled. The only committee that had held a public meeting since the last Council meeting had been the Parks and Recreation Committee, yet almost all of the committees had various actions listed under them. I was naturally wondering when the committees had decided to make all of those recommendations. As the committee reports were presented, it became clear that each motion was coming from individual council members for consideration by the whole council. (If the motions had actually been coming from the committees, there would have been no need for anyone to second them. But every motion was seconded by a council member.)

The Council reopened the 2006 budget to address a number of concerns. They added $30,000 to the budget to help out the three fire companies, and $7,000 to cover additional expenses for the skatepark to be constructed from concrete. (Incidentally, in December I had wondered what the Council had meant when it had "tabled" the skatepark issue as it adopted the advertised budget. I learned tonight that the budget the Council had adopted in December had already included about $28,000 for the borough's contribution toward the cost of the park. Tabling in this case meant that the borough was keeping open the possibility of not going forward with the park project.)

The Council also approved the Borough Manager to obtain a Tax Anticipation Loan of up to $200,000 if needed.

In a series of motions, the Council reappointed Karen Marietti to the Civil Service Commission, reappointed Ginger Sopcak to the Planning Commission, and reappointed Cynthia Kramer to the Zoning Hearing Board. The Council also acted to advertise two vacancies on the Civil Service Commission.

The Council voted to start the hiring process for two full time police officers. The Council hopes that the cost can be covered by money already budgeted for part time employees.

The Council considered a request from the VFW for "Loading Zone/No Parking" signs on Wood St. It appears that someone has already put such signs up without borough approval. The Council voted to deny the request and to require the unauthorized signs to be taken down; yellow paint on the curb is sufficient.

The Council approved an annual resolution on River Conservation from Emlenton to Harmar.

Councilwoman Sopcak informed the Council that she had received a letter approving a DCED request for a grant for an outdoor video projector that can be used to show movies in the summer in Riverview Park.

Tonight the Valley News Dispatch was represented by freelance reporter Misty Chybrzynski, so Valley residents should look forward to a good article in tomorrow's paper.

This meeting struck me as much more orderly than some I had observed recently. Nevertheless, near the end of the meeting there was an increasing amount of chatter from observers at the back of the room that made it hard for me to hear what was being said. Even one of the Council members was having trouble hearing what other Council members were saying. I hope the Council continues to make progress in working together in an orderly way, and that the observers will also become more respectful of the work of the Council.

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God's Call Goes Out

As I was looking over the lectionary passages for next Sunday I, once again, realized that I had written a hymn back in 1982 that was good for this Sunday. "God's Call Goes Out" is to be sung to the tune St. Anne.

God's call goes out through all the earth.
What shall our answer be?
Let us consider what God asks
And answer truthfully.

As Jesus walked he called to some,
To fishers by the sea.
He said, "Lay down your nets and come."
They followed; so can we.

The lost are found; the strayed return;
The aimless find their way,
For by God's grace we now discern
Our place in the new day.

God's call goes out through all the earth.
What shall our answer be?
If Thou, O Lord, art God-with-us
Then let us be with Thee.

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Black history month as an encouragement to all

"Documenting the Past" editorial, Valley News Dispatch, Jan. 14, 2006, page A8Acknowledging Black History month, the Valley News Dispatch on Saturday had an editorial "Documenting the past" that shared some information about the AK Valley Sojourners display that will be at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington on Feb. 25. The editor recognized the efforts to preserve and record black history as a good occasion to recommend the practice more generally.
We urge all Valley families to document their history — before older relatives who remember these stories are gone.
There are many resources available to help people learn how to research their family history. Central Presbyterian Church hosts the Tarentum Genealogical Society which has monthly meetings, as well as a library of resources that can be used for actual research, along with guides that can help someone get started.

The next meeting of the Genealogical Society is Monday, Jan 16, 2006 at 7:00 PM in the social hall at the Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny St., Tarentum.

New books in the Tarentum Genealogical Society libraryWhen I was passing through the Society's library, I noticed that they had received a donation of two books by Tarentum native Paola Corso: Giovanna's 86 Circles and other stories, and Death by Renaissance. The books of fiction and poetry are not genealogical research tools but they open a helpful window on Tarentum's past.

The Society's library on the second floor of the church is open before and after their monthly meetings and on Thursdays from 10 to 2.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Will his dream die?

Today's Valley News Dispatch has an article by Tom Mitchell describing the scarcity of special observances in the Alle-Kiski Valley on Martin Luther King Day. The headline over the story asks whether this lack of observances means that his dream will die. The article tells about local ecumenical services being cancelled because of lack of attendance.

The thought that the dream might die is troubling.

Not all observances have been cancelled. Last week I blogged about the Alle-Kiski Valley Service for 2006 that will be held at the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lower Burrell on January 29 at 3:00 PM.

In fact last year I commented on the reason the local observance will not happen on the holiday weekend. And is it any surprise? Everyone around here knows that the big local excitement this weekend was a football game, overshadowing much else that might be happening at the same time. The planners of the local event did not know what the Steelers would be up to when they picked the date, but they were accurate in their predictions that whatever the Steelers were doing would have all the local attention.

Christmas didn't die last year when some big churches cancelled their Sunday services; nor did Sunday die.

King's dream will stay alive when we remember it and recommit ourselves to pursuing it.

So here is the description of King's dream from his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. It is worth remembering.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Anti-business attitudes in Tarentum

The following anonymous post was made on January 9 at 5:54:08 to the thread about the Organizing Meeting of the Tarentum Council.
What's that smell of burnt coffee coming down river? I wonder what the scoop is on the central Perk coffee shop folding up it's filters , and heading out-a -Dodge way past the midnight hour? Sitting down for a cup of Java could let and old "mud drinker" hear tales that would turn a pot of freshly brewed coffee stale! Perhaps sneaking out late at night means somebody's done harm upon there fellow man~ I hope not~ Innocent until proven guilty..remember? Who really knows whats up and PERKING? Lets all hope Tarentum council can have a good taste in there mouths soon,HMMMM tea anyone?

I deleted it from the thread for a number of reasons. It was an abuse of anonymity. It was not about the meeting. It made false statements ("burnt coffee", "folding up it's filters", "heading out-a-Dodge", "sneaking out") and inappropriate insinuations ("somebody's done harm", "who really knows"). In short, it is the unsavory type of communication used by a certain element who prefer to hide in the shadows and snipe rather than make statements they would be willing to stand behind if their identities were known.

I've given some thought to the fact that I allowed an anonymous one-liner about Council President Magnetta's keys to remain in the earlier thread after I objected to it as an example of the kind of commentary I did not want to see on my blog. The comment above went much further, and is a more extreme example of what has motivated me to impose comment moderation. I don't intend to allow trash talk of this sort to be published on my blog. There may be other places where it passes for civil discourse, but not here.

One striking aspect of this anonymous "comment" is that the writer expressed the hope that if a business in town were to close that would somehow make the Tarentum Council have a good taste in "there [sic] mouths." It is really sad that so few people in town recognize the value in Tarentum's having and fostering a vibrant business community and all that it could provide: jobs or services residents need in walking distance from their homes.

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Alle-Kiski Valley Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service scheduled

The 39th Annual Allegheny-Kiski Valley Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, January 29, 2006 at the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3084 Leechburg Road, Lower Burrell.

The offering for the service supports the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Program.

The keynote speaker will be Ms. Terrilyn Cheatham, who is a 1999 recipient of the Dr. King Scholarship and currently a law student.

Special music will be provided by the Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church Choir, Minister Darryl Manley, and the Abundant Life Choir of which Brother Roger Thomas is director.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

What's black and white and red all over?

Blue newspaper box for Valley News Dispatch, on Corbet Street at 5th Ave., TarentumEver since I moved to this area I have gotten used to looking for the blue newspaper boxes when I wanted to buy a copy of the Valley News Dispatch. There have been a couple in walking distance from the church in addition to those I might find while travelling around the region.

This summer I started noticing a change. When the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills opened in July there were shiny red newspaper boxes inset in the wall at the entrances to the mall. I thought it was something just for the new mall, but in recent months I have noticed other design changes such as the new field of red behind the menu on the web site for Pittsburghlive.

New red newspaper box for Valley News Dispatch, 4th Ave. at Corbet St., TarentumToday I had my first sighting of a shiny new freestanding red and black newspaper box in Tarentum. Maybe I missed a press release or news story about the Trib papers changing their look. I rather like the striking new appearance, but I'm not sure what it is intended to communicate. It definitely gets my attention.

I just hope it is not part of a secret plot to turn Pennsylvania into a red state.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hard to find good coffee in Tarentum this week

It has been hard to find good coffee in Tarentum this week. I've had to settle for McDonald's coffee on my way to work.

Corbet Street Central Perk's window during the Christmas season 2005
Shop owner Ginger Sopcak has informed me that Central Perk is in the process of relocating from 410 Corbet Street to a new location that will be announced in due course.

Contrary to the over-active local rumor mill, the coffee shop did not close for good and has not moved out of town. No coffee was burned during the packing, no filters were folded, and no humans were harmed. The packing and cleaning that began during the daylight hours on Saturday afternoon continued late as long as the shop owner had capable assistance available.

I for one am looking forward to learning where the new location will be.

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Comment moderation

I have decided to introduce comment moderation, which is a feature blogger.com offers to people who maintain blogs on their system. There have been instances in the past when I have had to respond to inappropriate comments being made anonymously. There are also anonymous or pseudonymous commenters who have a history of using their privilege responsibly. If you make a comment, it will go to a list of comments on which I make the decision whether it will appear on my blog. I will make my decisions on a comment by comment basis.

(Hint: Brevity, relevance to the blog entry, and focus are positive; the longer a rambling tirade goes, the more likely I am to conclude that there is a good reason not to publish the comment.)

There is no reason for me publicly to debate with anonymous critics of any of my decisions about my blog.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

AK Valley Sojourners Exhibit

There is a good article on page B1 in today's Valley News Dispatch about the AK Valley Sojourners Exhibit that will be part of the Black History Festival at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington on Feb. 25, 2006 from 10 AM to 4 PM.

The exhibit is intended to tell the story, through photographs and memorabilia, of the black journey to and through the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Laurie Wade of New Kensington is receiving photo donations to include in the exhibit.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

"You don't live here"

I've been trying to figure out why one of the anonymous commenters on this blog seems to think it is significant that I am not living in Tarentum. It feels as if the suggestion is being made that caring about Tarentum and what happens here is inappropriate for a non-resident.

Let me tell you Central Presbyterian Church's story about Hurricane Ivan.

Central Presbyterian Church is an official FEMA emergency shelter. We make sure the Tarentum Fire Departments know how to reach officers of our church in case any of the large apartment buildings in our neighborhood require evacuation. We don't get paid or rewarded for doing this; it is simply part of our church's role in the community, and something we can do because of the capacity of our building.

Early on the evening of September 17, 2004 two officers of our church heard about the flooding along Bull Creek, and heard that some people were being evacuated. We did not know the scope of the problem. We took the initiative to call the Fire Department to ask whether our church was needed as a shelter, and we were encouraged to open our doors.

So two officers of the church, one a resident of Harrison township, and the other a resident of Lower Burrell, opened the building and waited at the church in case the number of people being evacuated from the Bull Creek flood plain exceeded the capacity of the fire hall that was being used as a staging area for the evacuees.

There was a power outage in the neighborhood that night; so the church was without lights for a few hours during the flooding. We lit some candles. The two non-residents may not have been engaged in heroic rescue actions for which they lacked training, but they waited at the church (and not in their homes) in case it became necessary to extend hospitality to local flood victims.

It is no secret to Tarentum Borough that Central was the first church in the community to open its doors in case it was needed as a shelter that evening.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Milking the system

County, Hosanna join to repair homes, Valley News Dispatch, Jan. 6, 2006, p. A3-4Today's Valley News Dispatch had an article reporting that Allegheny County and Hosanna Industries had accomplished their goal of repairing 500 homes damaged by the flooding from Hurricane Ivan. Some of those homes were in Tarentum.

The article tells about a small number of the assisted victims who nevertheless assign blame for their situation to the volunteers who helped them. One Tarentum resident accepted $30,000 of materials used to fix his home and then blamed the volunteers for not doing the repairs to his satisfaction. He gave his home to the mortgage company.

The Hurricane Ivan floods were truly devastating to parts of Tarentum, particularly for those families who had not maintained flood insurance even though their homes were in a flood plain. It is sad that people live at that level of poverty, and it is a good thing that there were generous people willing to give generously in order to help them to be restored to something like the life they had before the flood. But I wonder whether it would not have been kinder to help them simply get a fresh start on higher ground.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tarentum Council organizing meeting for 2006

Tonight at 6:30 the Tarentum Borough Council met for its organizing meeting for the year. District Judge Carolyn S. Bengel administered the oath of office to each of the newly elected Council members.
Carl J. Magnetta
There were two nominees for President of Council: Carl Magnetta and WIlliam Rossey. Carl Magnetta was elected by a vote of 4-3, in which Mayor Wolfe cast the deciding vote.

There were two nominees for Vice-President of Council: Mike Gutonski and William Rossey. Mike Gutonski was elected by a vote of 5-1.

The Council needed to fill a number of positions this evening, but President Magnetta felt that the positions should be filled without following the borough's normal process of advertising the positions to determine if other qualified individuals were interested in serving. A motion was made to advertise all the positions, but it failed by a 4-3 vote. Separate motions were then made to advertise each position as it was presented on the docket, but each of those motions failed.

The Council appointed David Strellec as the Borough Solicitor, and Gibson Thomas as the Borough Engineers.

There was a unanimous vote to accept the resignation of Carl Magnetta from the Third Ward Council seat.

The motion to advertise the new vacancy on the Third Ward Council seat failed. Joe Davidek, who did not stand for popular election in the fall campaign, was appointed to fill the vacancy.

The motion to advertise the single seat on the "Vacancy Board" failed by a vote of 2-5. The Borough Council appointed Michael Davidek to the vacancy board. In the course of discussing this matter, Joe Davidek acknowledged that Michael Davidek was his brother, and then participated in voting for his appointment anyhow.

President Magnetta recognized Jeff Thomas to make a statement to dispel rumors about his health, and to assure the Council and community that his work would be handled during his convalescence.

Although there was no item on the docket for citizen comments, Council President Magnetta then recognized Peter Varos to offer a statement of advice to the Borough Council that they should work together. He then recognized his son-in-law to comment on a number of issues unrelated to the business of the meeting.

Following the meeting I had a conversation with some citizens who were concerned about Mr. Magnetta's invitation to his pastor, Father Aaron Kriss, to offer an invocation following the oaths of office for the council members. This is the first time that I have seen prayer offered during a Tarentum Borough Council meeting. Father Kriss commented on today being a day for devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and then led the Council in prayer. Some of the citizens felt that a specific religion was being forced upon them, and were not comfortable with that part of the meeting. My own feeling was that, although I saw the First Amendment issue, governmental bodies do frequently invite clergypeople to lead in prayer. It seemed to me that as long as the members of the Council saw the pastoral ministry of the invitee as appropriate for them, any concerns of those observing the meeting should be secondary. I have no way of knowing whether the full Council was consulted before this invitation was extended.

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Receiving kindness from strangers

What a day. I started out this morning on what would have been a long drive from Tarentum, PA to Cooperstown, NY, expecting to spend a few days with my parents and to see some of my siblings and nephews and nieces. During the first hour or so of travel I found myself thinking about the mysterious ways in which God had blessed me over the years, and particularly about the good things happening in my life now.

My plans changed when my car broke down not far outside of Brookville, PA. I was at the bottom of a hill, in a location where my cell phone would not work, so I had to hike up the hill in hopes of finding either a pay phone or a location where I could use my cell phone to get help. When I was able to use the cell phone I had a bad connection and talked to probably 7 different "counselors" at AAA, each time having to reintroduce myself, read off my membership number, correct my address, explain my situation, and describe my location. I was assured that someone had been dispatched.

While I was waiting at my car, a very helpful state trooper from the Punxsatawney Station stopped and helped me get my car into a more safe location.

When the tow truck had not showed up in over an hour I hiked back up the hill from my car and went through another round of attempted calls to AAA, at the end of which I was assured that the tow truck was on its way in 10-15 minutes. I was instructed to return to my car and wait for the tow truck. On my way back down to the car, my cell phone's battery discharged to the point that I could not make any more phone calls. I waited at my car and still never saw the tow truck.

So I left a note for the tower and set off up the hill again, this time with my cell phone charger. I got a ride to the Sheetz in Brookville, where I used a pay phone to call AAA again and re-explain my situation and tell where I could be found. AAA agreed to send the tow truck to pick me up there.

While I was in the Sheetz, I found an outlet that I used to start recharging my phone. A cashier saw me standing by the window and asked me if things were alright. I explained my need to recharge the cell phone and that I was waiting for a tow. She invited me to have a coffee while I waited. When I came back to pay for the coffee she let me have it for free, which was a very kind gesture in the middle of a difficult day.

Eventually the tow truck arrived, and the driver was very efficient in getting my car out of the spot it was in and back to a local garage near my home.

Each of the strangers who extended courtesies to me helped to make this difficult day more bearable.

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The pulse of the Tarentum community

Editorial "Give the kids a chance" in Valley News Dispatch, January 3, 2006, page A6Valley residents are certainly entitled to reach their own conclusions, but in my humble opinion the Valley News Dispatch has its finger on the pulse of the local community.

Tarentum officials should be open-minded about building a skatepark.

Certainly there are some officials who will get on their soapbox to announce their opposition to anything new. It would be very interesting to hear what, if anything, they actually support.

One thing we should know by now is that skateboarding is not just for the youth. It is a gift to the community that the youth have the energy for promoting the idea of a skatepark, but they are not the only ones who will benefit from the presence of such a facility.

Letter "Skater is responsible teen", Valley News Dispatch, January 3, 2006, page A6The open-mindedness that is called for requires that the officials be truthful about what they are hearing from the community. Miranda Tasker's letter raises concerns about the truthfulness of some of our leaders. It would be understandable for a community leader to claim that many people support a particular position, but to deny the existence of people who have voiced a contrary opinion directly to a community leader is simply irresponsible.

Of course, one of these was the same person who told me at the last council meeting that four residents of Tarentum were not entitled to have their views represented.

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Identifying recreation needs

Letter to the editor, Valley News Dispatch, Jan. 2, 2006, p. A6The letter to the editor in Monday's Valley News Dispatch from Jim Gray of Costa Mesa, California raises an interesting point about identifying the recreation needs of a community:

"You only have to look around to see all the empty ball fields and look down the street to see the kids riding their skateboards all over the place."

He points out that skateboarding has surpassed Little League in popularity.

At the last Tarentum Council meeting part of the discussion of the proposed skateboard park involved various proposals either to build more ball fields or to convert an existing ball field to a skatepark. I don't see the need for competition between the two forms of recreation.

I have my own childhood memories of Little League baseball. I remember the day when I was a timid kid who held a bat at home plate and was probably making his decisions about whether to swing at each pitch not on whether the ball was in the strike zone but on whether it was coming slow enough for me to feel confident that I could hit it. And I remember the day when I did swing and hit the ball and then got as far as third base; of course, I got that far not because of the tremendous force and sharp-eyed accuracy with which my bat connected with the ball, but far more because of the lack of skill of the team fielding my feeble hit.

Little League is a good experience for kids to learn that they can apply themselves, give it their best shot, and then accomplish something by doing their best with whatever happens next. I hope that there are parents supporting local Little League programs and kids joining in local Little Leagues to have experiences like I had.

But today there are lots of kids wanting to skateboard, applying themselves to accomplish something in a different sport. The decision about what kind of recreational facility is put into Tarentum should not be made on the basis of "no" votes cast by people who won't play baseball or football or skate, or support young people in any of those activities. Rather, the community should pay attention to the evidence that we already have about the recreational activities in which young people do want to participate. Last summer I saw far more young people in Tarentum riding or carrying their skateboards than I saw in baseball uniforms or carrying baseball equipment.

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