Thursday, December 11, 2008

This can't be legal

There is a residential apartment building in Western Pennsylvania that has the following sign mounted on each door from the stairways into the hallways that lead to the apartments.


I just have to believe that the person who paid for these signs might not have been alert to the difference between "locked" and "closed." (In fact, none of the fire doors is locked, notwithstanding the stern written order. Some of the doors are often found open, perhaps left that way by people who are totally baffled about what the sign might actually mean.)

The desire to securely close doors has its place. Certainly, a fire door keeps residents safe when it is closed and slows the spread of a fire to other zones in the building. But locked? Should residents caught in a zone that is on fire have to remember to bring along a key to the fire door in order to escape? As long as they also remember lock the fire door behind them?

This sign has prompted my thinking about the church's responsibility for evangelism, which seems to be in radical contrast to the regulatory desire to bar the doors against whoever seems to be an unfamiliar threat. I pray that the church will rise to its high calling of being a "fire exit" for those who need its message of hope.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Some cool upcoming events

star from one of the Advent banners hanging at The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington, PA, Advent 2008 During the past week I learned about a couple of cool upcoming events. So I thought I would fiddle with Zoundry Raven (my blogging software) to see how it could handle the XHTML code for describing the events in the hCalendar microformat.

This Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 3:00 PM EST, Bruce Reyes-Chow (Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the PCUSA) will have an online conversation with Beau Weston about his paper "Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment." The event is Moderator Musings, Episode 2: Conversation with Beau Weston, and anyone can watch it live online at

Early next year on February 19, 2009, from 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM, Pittsburgh Presbytery will sponsor a convocation on "Our Freedom of Religion at Risk: A Presbyterian Crisis" to be held at the Beulah United Presbyterian Church, 2500 McCrady Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235. The speakers will include Joseph Small, Beau Weston, Euan Cameron, Mark Tammen, and Jeff Tindall. More information is available at

These two events are now on my calendar.

And, as a side note, I've discovered that it is a real benefit that Zoundry Raven allows me to edit the XHTML code.

Powered by Zoundry Raven

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting at Parkwood

photo of creche display in the Parkwood United Presbyterian Church, Advent 2008Yesterday Pittsburgh Presbytery met at the Parkwood United Presbyterian Church. There were 116 ministers and 98 elders representing 60 churches present.

We began the meeting with a worship service in which we sang from five different Advent hymns (with a single verse from three of the hymns). I had in the back of my mind that R. Bryan Lassinger would be playing the organ, and it was a special joy to me to hear him playing throughout the service. It was also a pleasant surprise to notice that there is a church in Pittsburgh Presbytery that uses the Revised Standard Version as its pew Bible. Hallelujah!

During the service, Robert Anderson, our interim pastor to the presbytery, invited a number of people to come forward and tell about where they had seen God working. This was an important kind of sharing at any meeting, but especially appropriate during Advent when we are encouraged to be watchful.

Jay Lewis, the Stated Clerk, introduced a committee that is reviewing the booklet of proposed amendments to the Book of Order and of proposed ecumenical statements. The committee is developing a process for the Presbytery to discuss and vote on these matters.

During the meeting the presbytery adopted a 2009 budget that is shy of $3 million, and we approved the proper changes in the terms of call for the ministers on the presbytery staff.

We also took a variety of actions to elect or appoint individuals to positions within the presbytery, and to approve calls to pastors. We commissioned David Van Diercksen to serve as the U.S. Coordinator of Puentes de Cristo, a border ministry in Reynosa, Mexico. We granted honorable retirement to Johnnie Monroe, and celebrated his ministry. We approved the oral parts of trial for Thomas Hall.

During the meeting the Presbytery declined (by a vote of 54-120) to approve a resolution on examination process proposed by the session of the Bellefield church.

All in all, I thought it was a good meeting.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Give thanks

The children's story that was read in church on Sunday has given me some extra reasons to give thanks on the coming national holiday. The story was a reading of a children's book entitled The Story of Thanksgiving, and it included a description of Squanto showing the pilgrims how to plant corn.

It is easy to hear that story without noticing its significance. Corn seems so familiar to me. From my childhood, the family garden always included a section for a few short rows of corn. When I was in high school, picking fresh sweet corn from our field and selling it in front of our house was a regular summer activity. It is hard for me to imagine my life without corn.

And yet that short story on Sunday reminded me of a very important fact: that there was a time when my maternal ancestors who came over on the Mayflower did not know how to grow corn. There certainly is much more that could and should be told about the first colonial Thanksgivings, but the story I heard on Sunday reminded me about the whole history of corn, without which a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant such as myself would not have experienced corn.

I am thankful to God for many things this Thanksgiving: for my daily bread, and for people of other cultures who over thousands of years developed the foods that enrich my life.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Remove or block

One of the hazards of having a Facebook page is the accumulation of excessive applications. If a friend invites you to play a particular game or participate in an online activity with them, you need to install the application for that game or activity, most of the time giving the application access to your information. In many cases, the only way one can find out what the application is about is to install it and try it.

Lately I have been inundated by notifications from applications I tried once without finding them interesting. And so the adventure of uninstalling Facebook applications begins ...

I find my way to Facebook's Applications page where there is a list of the applications I have installed. Next to each of the applications there is a row of icons indicating whether I have bookmarked the application, whether I have added it to my profile, whether I have authorized it to access my data, whether I have given it permission to post stories on my wall, and whether I have given it other kinds of permission.

Then there are the buttons to edit the application's status, to read an "about" page for the application, or to remove the application. "Remove" looks really good.

But when I click it I get a window with a message like the following:

screen capture of window explaining that 'You may either remove access or block this application.'

The user must make a choice, and none of the choices is "Remove AND Block."

I don't know how many times I have scratched my head over this conundrum. I have ended up going with "Remove" because it feels more protective of my privacy, and my general practice has been not to have applications I am trying out show up on my profile page anyhow. I think that all the applications I have "removed" have also disappeared from my bookmarks and application page, but nowhere on this explanatory window is there a promise that "removing" access will actually include "blocking" as well.

If anybody on Facebook has any better solutions, please let me know.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's just a jump to the left and then a step to the right

photo of tickets to Rocky Horror ShowAt the beginning of this month I really enjoyed being able to see the Stage Right production of The Rocky Horror Show. (Just to be clear, this was not a screening of the 1975 film, but a live stage production of the musical.)

I had never been to any live show of this musical, but had seen a video of the movie once. I knew it had a number of great songs but I was not prepared for how much fun the live show would be. There are simply some things that won't happen when watching a video, like being invited to get on my feet with a crowd to dance "The Time Warp", or having to cover my head with newspaper as shelter from the rain, or almost being hit in the face by a roll of toilet paper, being pelted by rice, or hearing live singers make their songs work in spite of technical problems with the sound system.

It was a great production and I am glad I went. (And for those who are curious, I did not try to go as Brad. I simply went as myself.)

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Tarentum streetscape

Photograph of East 6th Avenue, Tarentum, PA, Nov. 12, 2008

I hope I always remember the things I see when I look up as I walk on streets in Tarentum. There are such contrasts: interesting architectural features, bare brick and painted brick, and autumn leaves as brilliant as the yellow traffic hazard signs.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The window quiz

There is a worship and the arts group at The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington. Last week they introduced their new art installation of displays in each of the eight windows in the sanctuary. The overall title of the project is "Give Thanks for Our Legacy of Faith."

The last Sunday bulletin invited the church members to match the themes with the windows. The themes are:

A. Three Churches Become One
B. Missionary Women
C. Youth Learning and Doing
D. African Connections
E. Children in our Midst
F. Emerging Ministries
G. Celebrate the Saints
H. A Future Legacy

Here are the eight window displays going clockwise from the front of the sanctuary.

1. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #1, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

2. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #2, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

3. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #3, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

4. photograph of window display "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith" window #4, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

5. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #5, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

6. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #6, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

7. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #7, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

8. photograph of window display in series "Give Thanks for our Legacy of Faith", window #8, November 2008, The United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington

Can you match them all up?

Drag your mouse on the next line to see my educated guesses.

Possibly the right matches: A-5; B-4; C-3; D-2; E-6; F-7; G-8; H-1

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The election at last

Photo of the entry to the polling place at City Hall, Lower Burrell, PA on November 4, 2008I just got back from voting today, and was impressed by the turnout.

I am still getting used to the practice in Pennsylvania of allowing people campaigning for their candidates to work so close to the polling places. When I lived in New York and Connecticut there was always a much larger zone that was off-limits to this activity. But when I go to vote here I feel like I am running the gauntlet of campaigners all the way up the sidewalk, even to the door of City Hall.

As I look back on the last month, I don't know how many times I heard people lament that the election was not over yet. This sense of weariness with the election leaves me concerned that our two-party system (a legalized duopoly here in Pennsylvania) is failing to present the electorate with a choice of candidates who actually energize the public to participate in our democratic systems. I hope that the turnout I saw today is evidence that the choices offered really did motivate people to get out and vote.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

A colorful way to deal with hunger

photo of autumn leaves through a skylight, Cooperstown, NYToday I was impressed by creativity and sensitivity at the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington.

Aware of the needs experienced by people in the community, they are doing a special four-week appeal for their Food Pantry. Entitled "The Colors of Autumn Food Collection", they are asking people to donate donate non-perishable food items by color each week.

The first week is YELLOW and is ideal for canned corn or wax beans, canned pears (or other yellow fruit) lemn pudding or jello, egg noodles, or apple sauce.

The second week is GREEN-ORANGE, and is ideal for green beans, peas, or other canned green vegetables, pumpkin pie filling, carrots, mandarin oranges, orange jello, pistachio pudding, or macaroni and cheese.

The third week is RED, and is ideal for tomato products, strawberry or cherry jello, strawberry jam, or kidney beans.

The fourth week is BROWN, and ideal for canned tuna or canned meats, whole grain cereals, peanut butter, chocolate pudding, or baked beans.

The church bulletin had a trifold flier giving these and other suggestions for the four weeks, along with scriptural encouragement to generosity.

I thought this was a great idea for a good cause, and was very impressed.

Current mood: so-so, with a rating of three flowers.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Learning to find a new perspective

Yesterday was my first day of classes at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in Interim Ministry training, and what a day it was!

There are 27 of us taking the class. We are an ecumenical group of men and women from across the theological spectrum, and from across the country. The team of four leaders brings a wonderful mix of skills, styles, and perspectives to the class.

We are divided up into smaller groups for discussion, Bible Study, and prayer.

We will be holding information that we share with one another in confidence, so I won't be posting photographs of any of the sessions or participants.

Today we start tackling our first case study.

Mood: upbeat. Rating: four flowers

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Monday, October 06, 2008

The view from the pew

Over the last month I have begun my transition from installed pastor to whatever God has in mind for me next. Not having a pulpit where I am expected on Sunday mornings has given me the opportunity to go worship in other churches.

I had a short list of churches that I thought I would want to experience, and was pleasantly surprised that my visit on to the United Presbyterian Church of New Kensington persuaded me to stop church-shopping. The pastor, Colin Yuckman, preaches thoughtful sermons and has been dealing with the theme of exile. Their education minister, Kathy Davis, does the Time with Children during the service, and talks with the children on issues related to the rest of the worship service that would be especially relevant to them. The music in worship is a broad mix of traditional hymns from the Presbyterian Hymnal and more contemporary praise music; I have enjoyed using familiar praise songs as specific liturgical elements throughout the service. The congregation is engaged in many forms of ministry and mission within the community; the very first Sunday I was there the pastor was recognizing members of the church who had been involved in a work project to fix someone's home.

I have felt appropriately greeted each time I go there. I have been able to sit with a neighbor of mine in the apartment building, and that has provided ways for me to be introduced to other members of the church. The second Sunday I visited I was pleased to see old friends Bert and Bob Erickson who were there to ring handbells.

A week ago I needed to find a different church in order to go to an earlier service because of plans I had for the afternoon. I found a church near my home that had an early contemporary service. Again, I felt appropriately greeted by a couple of the worshipers. I did not know any of the praise songs used in the service, but they were all easy to learn so their newness was not a barrier to worship for me. This contemporary service did not use a bulletin, and the one sheet of paper that was handed to me as I came in was a list of announcements. Interestingly absent from the list was the name of the guest preacher, who was also not introduced during the praise service. That service will go down in my memory as The Sunday I Heard The Sermon From The Anonymous Preacher. Pastoral anonymity is not necessarily a bad idea, because I think most of us preachers would like to be transparent, not to put attention on ourselves, but simply to participate in sharing the eternal Word with others. In this case, the mystery (to me) about the identity of the preacher was an unhelpful distraction.

Today I start my first week of Interim Ministry training.

Current mood: pretty good, with great anticipation. Rating: 4 flowers.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

New blog name

With the wrapping-up of my relationship with Central Presbyterian Church, I need to change the focus of my blog, which will remain at the same internet address as before.

Welcome to "Not So Reserved", a blog with a (perhaps temporary) name that reminds me that sometimes our perceptions may be exaggerated. During hurricane season there are lots of stories told about people in coastal areas who do not take seriously the warnings that it is time to evacuate from their homes. Of course, around here the warnings of severe weather (promoted by weather programs sponsored by Giant Eagle) are also taken with a grain of salt, but people still flock to the supermarkets to stock up on the necessities in case just in case the predictions come true.

Around here they also used to warn people that I was a reserved pastor. Maybe those warnings were exaggerations as well.

Current mood: so-so, but hopeful; with a rating of 3 flowers.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The workspace of a 21st Century quilter

Photograph of items resting on quilt being made: eyeglasses, needles and pins, thread, cell phoneThis is a picture I took during one of last-month's gatherings of the Central Quilters. When they are working on a quilt that is on a quilting frame, the horizontal surface doubles as a table holding the various small tools that might be needed.

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Don't say you never found a coupon on my blog


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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Olympic boycott

I am boycotting the Beijing Olympics. I didn't go to the opening ceremonies, and I won't attend the closing ceremonies. Additionally, I refuse to compete—even if asked. I also have not kept my TV on to make sure that whatever is happening in Beijing is brought into my living room. Nor have I bothered to turn the TV on when friends or family have told me not to miss seeing an Olympic event.

This is probably not a very principled way of participating in the boycott of the Beijing Olympics. After all, most (if not all) of the local people I know are still in town rather than in Beijing. I don't think I have ever made anybody's list of outstanding athletes. And I don't watch that much TV anyhow.

I am skeptical about the use or overuse of boycotts or the threats of boycotts. If a boycott is intended to change the disapproved behavior of another, it seems that the focus of action needs to be made very clear. That implies to me that a genuine boycotter should not only inform friends and acquaintances about his or her intention to boycott, but should also communicate those concerns to the party whose behavior one wishes to change, and in a way that would allow for a timely change in that behavior.

In the middle of all the Olympic hoopla, I've read two excellent articles in recent weeks, explaining individual decisions to boycott the Beijing Olympics. I may not agree that a process for a meaningful boycott has been followed, but I do agree with their statements of concern and feel that they are worthy of further attention.

John Stewart has posted a devotional on his blog drawing attention to the persecution of Christians by the Chinese government.

Charles C. Haynes wrote a recent column drawing attention to broader religious persecution in China.

The breadth of human rights violations cries out for a change of policy by the Chinese government, and should have been considered more strongly when the Olympic committee was selecting a location for the 2008 games.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I've never had so many people vote for me, or against me for that matter

One of the events at the 218th General Assembly that affected me directly was my election to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. I had been appointed to fill a mid-term vacancy on this committee, subject to election by the next meeting of the General Assembly. This is an unpaid, volunteer position working in an area where I have some applicable expertise.

Early in the meeting I learned that there was going to be a challenge nomination from the floor. Having worked at getting up to speed with the committee's work, and having contributed some of what I had to offer during that time, I discovered that I now had feelings of investment in that committee. Being elected mattered to me in a new way.

The General Assembly has procedures for handling challenge nominations, and I learned a few weeks after the Assembly that some photographs had been taken of the proceedings that I had merely watched with great interest.

The following photographs were taken by Harry Young, the stated Clerk of Utica Presbytery (the same presbytery that ordained me 28 years ago). I am posting these photos on my blog with his permission.

On Thursday morning, June 26, the General Assembly Nominating Committee began presenting the nominations that were to be challenged by other nominations from the floor. My nomination was the first to be presented. The above slide was shown to the commissioners, giving them some demographic information about me and the challenger.

"WMC" = White Male Clergy. "46-55" is my age bracket. "Pittsburgh" identifies me as a member of Pittsburgh Presbytery. "TRI"=Synod of the Trinity (where Pittsburgh Presbytery is located). I was being nominated for an At-Large position; all of the positions on the Advisory Committee on the Constitution are "at-large" because they are not tied to representing particular governing bodies or categories.

My challenger was White Female Clergy, in the "56-65" age bracket, from the Presbytery of Nevada, in the Synod of the Pacific.

Under the rules of the General Assembly, the commissioner making the challenge nomination was to make a nominating speech of up to three minutes.

Then a representative of the General Assembly Nominating Committee was allowed to make a three minute speech in support of their nominee (me).

Those two speeches and the demographic information above were the only pieces of information formally presented to the assembly before it went through its voting procedure. But before the commissioners voted, the Assembly polled various categories of Advisory Delegates for their advice (the Assembly followed this procedure on most items of business when the voting pads were going to be used).

Each of the slides showing the advisory polls had two categories of advisory delegates. The Youth Advisory Delegates were 68% in favor of me (with 95 of them indicating a choice). The second category on that slide showed the poll of the Theological Student Advisory Delegates. That one was much closer, but with a lot of the TSAD's not supporting either nominee.

The next slide showed the poll of the Missionary Advisory Delegates. There were a total of eight delegates in this category, and the seven that indicated a preference all supported me.

Also on this slide were the Ecumenical Advisory Delegates. Only a little over a third of these delegates indicated any preference at all. In that category I got three votes and the challenger got two.

After the Assembly had received the advice of its advisory delegates, the commissioners voted. There were a total of 752 commissioners at the Assembly and I received 67% of the votes, so I was elected.

In retrospect, I realized that because most of my ministry has been in small presbyteries and in small to medium-sized congregations, this was the largest group of people to vote on me in my life. Even the raw number of people voting against me in this election was larger than the number of votes I had received in any previous election.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Visual impressions of General Assembly in San Jose

It has been almost two months since I was in San Jose for the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). There has been a lot going on, and I am not back up to speed with my blogging, but I wanted to share some of the things I saw while in San Jose.

photograph of crape-myrtle blooms in San Jose

When I arrived in San Jose one of the first things that caught my eye was the crape-myrtle that was blooming everywhere. These trees with beautiful purple flowers lined the streets throughout the city and especially in the area around the convention center.

photograph of empty meeting hall for 218th General Assembly of PCUSA

One of the first things I did after checking into my hotel and registering at the Assembly was to visit the meeting hall and find my assigned seat. As a corresponding member of the General Assembly my seat was about twenty rows ahead of the place where I used to sit, but still behind the black curtain that separated the voting commissioners and advisory delegates from the rest of us. There was a lot still being set up in the meeting hall. A few commissioners had found their seats and were doing some meeting preparation. The photo of the empty hall above was taken from the spot where I would sit during the meetings of the Assembly.

photograph of 218th General Assembly at worship in meeting hall

Of course, when the hall was full of people the view would be very different, such as when the Assembly was at worship.

photograph of Committee 06 at work during 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

On Sunday evening, Monday, and Tuesday I sat with Committee 06, the Form of Government Revision Committee. A Task Force had prepared a proposed revision to the Form of Government (part of our Church's Constitution). I was with this Committee to give them the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Many presbyteries had sent overtures to the Assembly asking for different things to be done with the so-called FOG Report.

On Monday morning I gave this committee a twenty-minute presentation with PowerPoint, helping them to understand the options they had. The Committee (and I) made the news.

In the end, this committee recommended that the report be referred to an augmented Task Force to report back to the next General Assembly.

The photo above was taken from my assigned seat when the committee was meeting. Far away at the front of the room (and to the left of the projection screen) the woman in the white sweater was Carol Hunley, an elder commissioner from Pittsburgh Presbytery. A recent news story this week announced that Carol is one of the members who were added to the Task Force to prepare the FOG report for the next Assembly.

photograph of past moderator Jack Rogers participating in debate

During the meetings of the Assembly there was a camera crew ready to focus a camera on members of the Assembly when they were speaking at microphones. The images of the speakers would appear on one of the large projection screens at the front of the meeting hall. I got used to paying attention to the pictures of speakers, and the amplified sound of what they were saying. At one point in a debate, I noticed that I was hearing an odd echo. Past Moderator Jack Rogers was speaking to the Assembly. I realized then that Microphone 10 was about fifteen feet to my right and that what I was hearing were his spoken words followed after a very short delay by the amplified version of what he was saying.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Topix has partnered with eventful

It has been a busy summer for me and I got so far away from blogging that I was taken by surprise when I noticed the redesign of pages on Topix. I had barely begun to assimilate that piece of information when I noticed something even newer than the overall redesign -- Topix has partnered with eventful to provide information about upcoming events.

The other day I noticed the events tab on the of of the Topix page for Tarentum, and when I clicked to see what events they had to offer I saw a number of events that I knew I had earlier uploaded to eventful. Then, when I checked the links, I saw that all of the events linked directly back to eventful's pages about those events.

I am somewhat gratified by this development. A couple years ago I had started using eventful to publicize various events, and I have been getting increasingly comfortable with how their website works. Eventful is good at providing its information on to other event services. For Topix to partner with eventful seems a particularly good match.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Grand Opening for Aresto Comics

photo of grand opening banner outside Aresto Comics storeOn Monday, August 4, a new business opened its doors in Lower Burrell.

Aresto Comics, having existed for a number of years as an eBay store, now also has a physical location at 2785 Leechburg Road Suite C, Lower Burrell, where customers can come and browse and receive personal service.

photo of Tom Aresto, owner of Aresto Comics in Lower Burrell, PAThe small store is neat and well-lit. The owner, Tom Aresto, offers a subscription service, and will have special evening hours on Wednesdays, the days when the new issues come out.

When I visited for the grand opening, I admitted that I had not really followed comic books since my childhood, but that in recent years I had seen that the quality of the printing and artwork had improved enormously. Tom pointed out that the quality of the writing has also improved. That explains to me why so many of the recent movies that I have enjoyed have been based on comics or graphic novels I had not seen.

It is an interesting store. Its location on the well-travelled Leechburg Road is an easy walk from my home. I'll probably be checking out new developments around the store as they happen.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Proud to be an American

"Did you have your TV on last night?"

"No," was my reply.

"Do you know who won on American Gladiator?"

My reply was still "No."

Someone who came to church tonight explained that his television completely lost its signal in the middle of American Gladiator and he did not know how the show turned out.

I must be doing something wrong that I am so easily mistaken for someone who would care about the outcome of a prime time game show.

So I made what I thought was a reasonable guess about the script for an unreality show I don't follow, and offered, "I think it was the American."

Was I wrong?

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Modeling the benefit shirt

Today I received my "Run, Tom, Run" shirt — the one I described in the previous post.

So I'm not the greatest shirt model ... but CafePress makes good shirts with a high quality printing process.

The link for the shirts again:

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Run, Tom, Run!

A Tarentum resident and artist had a serious stroke on May 15 while working out of state. He is now back in the Alle-Kiski Valley and making a recovery. His family is using a piece of his artwork to raise funds to pay for his uncovered medical expenses.

If you'd like to encourage Thomas to get back on his feet and moving so that he can put down the next robot uprising, consider buying a t-shirt or other item at

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Changes in the wind

This has been a busy week so far. The major events for my week have involved informing the congregation of my decision to resign as the pastor at Central.

Sunday morning during worship I told the congregation about my decision. Following the service people responded with expressions of wishing me well and about how much I will be missed.

Tuesday evening at our Meal and Ministry, I informed a mixed group of church members and neighbors of the church what was happening. I am always amused when people ask me whether this or that event will interfere with our meeting for supper and Bible Study. I don't know how many times I've explained that I do plan to eat supper on Tuesday, so we will continue with it through the summer.

Last night I formally informed the Session, and presented my letter of resignation. They started the process of finishing up the formalities by accepting my letter and calling a congregational meeting for July 27, at which the congregation will concur with my request. Presbytery representatives were present at the Session meeting to help the Session know what their options would be in moving ahead once I finish.

My plans are to finish work at Central on August 31, and then to use my left over study leave and vacation starting September 1. I am thinking about getting the official interim pastor training and then doing some interim pastor work. I plan to stay in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

I am confident that God is calling me to resign from this position, and I am equally confident that God has something else for me to do. I am looking forward to having that next step become clear to me.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blown right into the middle of things

Portion of painting by Maritza Morgan showing personified wind blowing the arkIt has been really windy the last few days. The winds banging on my window and pushing my car when I drive around the area seem as forceful as the winds blowing in other areas of my life.

Ever since I first started to get involved with the ACC back in October, I have felt like something much bigger than me has picked me up and put me into this new situation.

Yesterday I got the final confirmation that my ACC assignment at the General Assembly will be to give the ACC's advice to Committee 06, dealing with the Form of Government Revision.

If you are interested in seeing the business that will be before that committee you can look it up on PC-Biz. Or you can use that site to look at everything else the Presbyterian General Assembly will be doing in San Jose.

And with all the attention being given to the so-called "FOG Report", I'll be somewhere in the thick of it.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reimagining the Bible in Pittsburgh

What are you dealing with when you are invited to participate in a "Bible distribution project" that has no plans to distribute Bibles? Before jumping to the uncharitable conclusion that someone is trying to deceive you, it might be worthwhile to consider the possibilities that words have meanings that shift or that some people are simply imprecise in their use of language.

CityReachers (R) Pittsburgh at times bills itself as a Bible distribution project (see this page for example) and at other times states very clearly that its plan is to distribute New Testaments. And therein is the space left for confusion. At last night's session meeting, for example, I learned that our elder commissioner came home from last month's meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery with the mistaken impression that CityReachers (R) was going to distribute "a whole new Bible."

I am all for distributing Scripture whether in whole or in part. But I have to wonder how it happens that an organization that knows how to describe accurately its distribution of scripture portions would now produce so many publicity pieces that describe their version of the New Testament as a "Bible."

The most surprising to me was the letter signed by seven leaders of Christian bodies in the Pittsburgh area (even including Pittsburgh Presbytery). I know that at least some of those bodies have clear standards that recognize the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments as authoritative. But now their names appear on an endorsing letter that uses the word "Bible" interchangeably with "New Testament" or "book".

And the odd result is that the "Bible" to be distributed will not include the very scriptures the Risen Christ used when he interpreted to his disciples what was said about him in all the scriptures beginning with Moses and the prophets. (Luke 24:27)

In Pittsburgh it appears that "the Bible" has a whole new meaning.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

That's why the fans go to the games early

I mentioned last month this photograph of the Steelers that is going to be distributed with part of a Bible. Now it is making the news.

The photo explains why the fans go early to the Steeler games.

They must want to be sure they see the Steelers out-pray the other team during the pre-game prayer meeting.

That's why, isn't it?

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Fast work

Yesterday afternoon I noticed that equipment had been moved into position near the old Second Ward School to get ready to demolish the empty green house beside it on Second Avenue.

demolition site on 2nd Ave in TarentumThis morning I saw that the house had already been brought down.

This is part of a very positive development for Tarentum. The former school building was sold last month to Rabkin Dermatopathology Laboratory.

The vacant house was purchased for demolition so that the laboratory would have adequate parking, always at a premium in Tarentum.

So Tarentum has a new business coming to town, and one that may generate some medical synergy with the presence of Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy. Tarentum is not just a town with a number of doctor's offices, but it is a town to which doctors look for a number of needed services.

And there is now one less vacant house in town.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

2008 Tarentum Skatepark closure

I am feeling very disappointed right now. On Saturday, Tarentum's Earth Day Cleanup went so well, with about 80 volunteers helping to clean up the litter in town.

Then on Tuesday someone told me that he had seen a lot of litter around the skatepark and had told the young people inside that they needed to get the mess cleaned up.

Yesterday afternoon I had some time to check out what was happening at the park, and was very dismayed by what I found. There was litter inside and outside the park. Even before I got out of my car I could see that there had been damage to the fence. When I walked over to the gate I saw the sign that the park was closed.


I started picking up some of the litter outside the park. A few minutes later some young people arrived, hoping to use the park, and they were disappointed to see that the park was closed. Against my advice a couple of the young children climbed over the fence to clean up the litter that was inside the park. In their minds they were doing a good thing by picking up the litter (which they were), but eventually I convinced them that they were also trespassing and needed to get out of the park.

I learned from a groundskeeper at Dreshar Stadium that "men in suits" had gone to the park that morning and were upset about what they found, and that the lockout had begun that morning.

No one seems to know who did the damage or spread the litter. Perhaps the cameras on the park will show something.

It saddens me that the local young people will be without a decent recreational facility because of the actions of unknown persons.

photo of damage to the fence at the Tarentum Skateboard Park

photo of damage to the fence at the Tarentum Skateboard Park

photo of damage to the fence at the Tarentum Skateboard Park

photo of graffiti on the sign at the Tarentum Skateboard Park

photo of graffiti on the sign at the Tarentum Skateboard Park

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Life without Florida tomatoes

I'm giving some consideration to this statement from Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il)
"If Florida tomato growers can't live with workers being paid a decent wage, then I can live without tomatoes from Florida on my hamburgers."
Except I have been thinking about all the ways in which I consume tomatoes beyond using them as a condiment on hamburgers.

And I do think that I can live without Florida tomatoes.

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What the USDA won't tell you

USDA does not endorse any products, services, or organizations.

So the USDA won't tell you that the ham loaf dinner at Central Presbyterian Church is delicious, or that eating ham loaf is the patriotic thing to do, or that with an appropriate level of activity and the right dietary choices a ham loaf dinner can be among the steps for a healthier you.

The USDA has developed twelve different personalized food pyramids depending on your age and level of activity. Visit and find the pyramid that is right for you.
Then make your plans to attend the Ham Loaf Dinner at Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday, May 3, from 4:00 PM until 6:00 PM.

Based on your food pyramid, plan your exercise and diet for May 3 so that you can enjoy the delicious ham loaf.

The second ham loaf dinner of the year at Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum will feature the traditional menu of ham loaf, parsley potatoes, green beans, cole slaw, apple sauce, and an array of cakes and pies. $7.50 for adults and $3.75 for children 12 and under. Take-out and delivery are available.

Advance tickets sold by April 26 will be $6 for adults and $3 for children under 12. Call (724) 224-9220 if you want to purchace advance tickets.

Central Presbyterian Church is located at 305 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The week that was

The past week turned out to be a very busy one, with major events that included Tarentum's first Earth Day Clean-up, and a presbytery meeting.

A major accomplishment of the week for me was mastering the route between Tarentum and the part of Verona where the Seneca Place Nursing Home is located. The trip is supposed to be only 12 miles, but there are some tricky opportunities to make wrong turns that can add 5 to 10 miles to the trip. What a sense of accomplishment I had when I finally figured it out and could make the trip without getting lost! And then Janet K- was transferred back to a hospital that I already knew how to find perfectly well.

Local Obama headquarters in the center of TarentumWith the Pennsylvania Primary coming Tuesday the 22nd I've had to deal with an increasing number of political telemarketers calling me at home to promote their candidates. (Who hasn't?) But a neat discovery I made on Thursday morning explained the appearance of numerous Obama signs in the neighborhood around the church. It seems that the local Obama headquarters is right across Third Avenue from Central Presbyterian Church.

I think they made a good choice of location in the town that is the crossroads of the Alle-Kiski Valley. Their HQ is only a block and a half from a Port Authority bus stop at the corner of Corbet and Fourth. As I have gone to and from the church over the last few days I've seen volunteers carrying campaign materials as they prepare to take the bus to other nearby areas. I don't know if Hillary even has a local headquarters. Maybe she thinks she doesn't need one now that she has the endorsement of Tarentum Mayor James E. Wolfe and Lower Burrell Mayor Donald L. Kinosz.

The meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on Thursday felt long even though it actually got out almost on time. A major item of business was the settlement with the Memorial Park Presbyterian Church. Although some in the presbytery felt we should continue to defend ourselves in civil court against MP's lawsuit, in the end the presbytery voted to allow Memorial Park to withdraw their "clear title" suit and be dismissed.

We also learned that a local group is going to distribute a photograph of the Steelers praying, with a scripture portion attached. It'll be a true collectible for all the local fans.

The Earth Day Cleanup in Tarentum on Saturday was a great success. Tarentum had never before held a day when the borough encouraged everybody to get out and clean up the litter in town. The weather cooperated and volunteers (some of whom were from outside Tarentum) turned out all over town. The presence of so many volunteers helping with the litter was an extra motivation to residents to take a little extra care of the places where they lived.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My quandary about Burger King and tomatoes

I didn't participate in the Taco Bell boycott.

I didn't threaten to boycott McDonald's.

Now that the Campaign for Fair Food is focusing its attention on Burger King, I would be likely to act as I have in the past, except for one fact: Burger King doesn't want my business.

Screenshot from Burger King website showing no Burger King Restaurants at this addressBurker King has closed its stores in the area so threats to boycott would be especially empty.

The dispute between the Campaign for Fair Food and the fast food chains has always struck me as highly triangulated. The actual parties (at least in my understanding) are the tomato pickers and their employers, but the Campaign's strategy has been to threaten boycotts against the restaurant chains that purchase the tomatoes.

It would be hypocrisy for me to go to economic war against the corporate purchasers of tomatoes when I make my own small-scale purchasing decisions in the same way they make their large-scale decisions.

When the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was putting pressure on Taco Bell, I continued to eat there, and I communicated with the chain as a customer to tell them that if they reached an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, that would enhance the value to me of patronizing their restaurants.

When McDonald's was in the cross-hairs of the Campaign, I made the same kind of communication, while continuing to patronize their restaurants.

But now that I am living where Burger King has closed their restaurants, I have no standing as a loyal customer. What am I to do?

The recent dealings with Burger King have brought to light new information about the actual parties to the dispute. It seems that there is an organization of tomato growers called the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. This cartel (they call themselves a "cooperative") has an amazing amount of power over the wages the growers in Florida are allowed to pay. It has even interfered with the fair agreements that Yum Corporation and McDonald's reached with the CIW.

Is there any reason why I should not simply boycott Florida tomatoes?

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