Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vinsetta Garage Closes - A Sad Moment

Here is a story on the closing of Vinsetta Garage, which is only a few miles from my house.

It has been in business 91 years.  That's right - there were still brand new Model T's being built when this garage opened.  So sad!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1999 (For All Confirmands)

Here is a poem I just discovered wasting away in a metal filing cabinet in my basement.  I wrote it more than ten years ago, but just put the finishing touches on it today.

1999 (For All Confirmands)

The world is young and in her lover's hands.
She's not the aged spinster some have said.
Regeneration has released the bands
Of Lucifer, who chained her in his bed.

Another lover now caresses her,
Who found her torn and bloody and in need.
And lately he has compassed her with myrrh.
And lately, too, has given her his seed.

Another thousand years will soon be gone.
Another thousand soon to hear his mirth.
A new millennium can safely dawn
With such a lover ravishing the earth.

Come, drink, all you his holy confirmands.
The world is young and in her lover's hands.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Courting Danger

I don't really like safety.  There, I've said it.

One of the great things about hot rods (other than that they are loud, fast, and cool looking) is that they are just a tad dangerous.  That is why they draw the attention of adrenaline junkies such as myself.

I do understand both the feelings and the logic of those who are more risk-averse than myself.  I just can't seem to feel it the same way they do.  And they, in turn, do not understand the fact that I am drawn to situations in which there is an element of risk. 

Yesterday some friends, who had been without heat in their house for four days, called me with an urgent request.  The man was coming to their Hamtramck house to turn on the gas, but they were delayed while helping a relative, and were trapped out of town.  They asked me to go over to the house and let the gas man in.  "But I have no key!" I objected.  Oh, you can just climb in the front window and let yourself in that way.  This is not something I was at all comfortable doing.  So ... I did it.  Partially to help them, and partially for the thrill of it.

It is exactly as I wrote the other day, here:
I need to feel myself a rebel in some sense, and part of a conspiracy. At the same time, I need to feel that my actions are righteous, and that I am fighting on the side of the angels.
And this "mission" filled the bill quite nicely.  It was a mission to help some friends not freeze at night ("fighting on the side of the angels":  CHECK!), but at the same time it was breaking into a house in broad daylight in a not-very-nice neighborhood ("feel myself a rebel in some sense": CHECK!).
But I was supposed to be talking about hot rods, wasn't I?  One of my (and my son Eliot's) heroes is Wild Willie Borsch.  You will notice in these photographs that, though drag racing is intended to be a straight-line sport, the car is usually sideways.  Do you think Wild Willie got out of the throttle during those crazy losses of control?  Not on your life.  Then he would have been "Safe Willie" Borsch, or perhaps "Mild Willie" Borsch.

In summary, I don't want to hurt the people around me.  I don't want to die before my time.  But if you are going to be my friend, you are going to have to watch me get sidewise every now and again.  I can't live any other way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Splendid Sparsity (Part 2)

Here is another of those splendidly sparse songs.  The kind that works magic on your heart, but falls to pieces if you try to take it apart and see why it works.  Under analytical scrutiny, there doesn't seem to be any reason why this song should work so well.  But it does.

Today, I Started Loving You Again

Today I started loving you again
I'm right back where I've really always been
I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend
Then today, I started loving you again

What a fool I was to think I could get by
With only these few millions tears I cry
I should have known the worst was yet to come
And that crying time for me had just begun
Cause today I started loving you again
I'm right back where I've really always been
I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend
Then today I started loving you again
Well today I started loving you again
I'm right back where I've really always been
I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend
Then today I started loving you again
Then today I started loving you again
This song has basically two unique verses, and only one idea.  But I bow before its majesty.  My only clue is that it works by putting the hearer to work.  The listener hears what the song is about, and fills in all the voids with the sad tincture of his own sorrow.  At least, I do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Splendid Sparsity

Up until about 8 years ago, I fancied myself a songwriter.  Until that time, I was pretty happy about the songs I was writing.  They accomplished what I had intended for them to accomplish.

But then I started running into a series of songs that I perceived to be infinitely better than mine.  They were, for one thing, more general than mine.  This allows the listener to imagine that the song is about him.  But it wasn't just that.

As I began to dissect some of these songs, usually in order to learn to sing and play them, they seemed to fall apart in my hands.  When I wrote out the lyrics on a page, there seemed to be almost nothing there.  And yet, when sung, they gave me goose flesh.  They almost made my heart stand still.  I still don't really understand this type of songwriting magic very well.

But I can give you instances of it.  This is Good To See You, from Neil Young.  (I'll feature another song some other day.)

Good to see you
Good to see you again
Good to see your face again
Good to see you
I'm the suitcase in your hallway
I'm the footsteps on your floor
When I'm lookin' down on you
I feel like I know what my life is for

Good to see you
Good to see you again
Good to see your face again
Good to see you

I've been down on the endless highway
I passed on the solid line
Now at last I'm home to you
I feel like making up for lost time

Good to see you
Good to see you again
Good to see your face again
It's good to see you
Behold the economy of words used by Neil there!  My jaw just drops when I look at this.  Look how much room he leaves for the listener to do the work of putting together the story, instead of finishing every corner himself.  Here is just one phrase I love:
I passed on the solid line
Now, if I had written this line, it would have said something like: "I drove home real fast."  But look what he does:  He paints an entire picture of the driver as eager lover, taking the risk of passing when the line on the road tells him not to.  He badly wants to be back home to his beloved.  You can just see his car swerve out around a slow truck, blow past it, and fall back in line.  And Young tells us this, paints this entire scene, in six (6!) words.

And that is why I don't write songs any more.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Version of Chesterton's "Double Spiritual Need"

In the first chapter of his landmark work Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton set forth a "double spiritual need" which is common among men and which, by his reckoning, only the orthodox Christian faith can adequately answer:

I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas.  I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool.  I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales.  This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?  How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?
To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance.

Lately, it has occurred to me that I also have a dual spiritual need, which has only been adequately fulfilled, really, since I have been Anglican.  I thought at first that it was separate from and parallel to the dual need expressed by Chesterton, but now I think it is merely a specialized case of it.

It is this:  I need to feel myself a rebel in some sense, and part of a conspiracy.  At the same time, I need to feel that my actions are righteous, and that I am fighting on the side of the angels.

This need is, of course, precisely delineated and answered in our Lord's command, recorded in the 10th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel:

... be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Because the world is currently captive to a usurper and his forces, we can easily get our fill of rebellion, insurgency, and adventure.  Yet, because we fight for the true King, we can be comfortable in the knowledge that our actions (if we are good soldiers) are ratified by Heaven.

I have felt this double need, simultaneously fulfilled, many dozens of times since becoming an Anglican.  I felt it particularly when I was still organizationally linked to that great Satan, The Episcopal Church.  We traditionalists were always embattled, almost always losing, rebellious to the death (if necessary) against the Zeitgeist, but at the same time, innocent as doves regarding the commandments of God.  I don't know any other feeling which satisfies me as much.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On Being Stuck at a Local Optimum

It seems that my seven years of engineering school were not a total waste.  For they have given me ways to think about life's problems that might otherwise not have occured to me, such as the distinction between global and local optima.  ("Optima" is the plural of "optimum", which means "the best" place.)

My contention (from looking at my own life and the lives of others) is that we humans often get stuck at a local optimum, and that we lack the faith or the initiative to seek for the global optimum.  There are reasons for this.

In the accompanying plot, the vertical axis could be anything you seek in life (e.g., happiness), or anything you wish to eliminate from your life (e.g., fear).  I have drawn the curve so that the lower you are on the curve, the better things are for you.  The horizontal axis indicates things in your life over which you have direct or indirect control.

Picture yourself at the point labelled "Local Optimum".  As far as you can tell, things are going as well as can be expected.  How do you know this?  You know it by sensing the gradient (or slope) to the left and right of your position.  If you move to the left, the curve goes up (meaning: your life gets a bit worse).  If you move to the right, the curve also goes up (your life gets worse in that direction also).  So, it seems logical to stay where you are.  Right?

Well, perhaps not.  There may be some much better point (the Global Optimum) where your life would be much happier.  But there are two problems:

(1)  You probably cannot see the Global Optimum.  You may only be able to see for a short distance in either direction from your present location.

(2)  Even if you know it is there, your life has to get worse (or at least, harder) before it gets better.  There will be sacrifice (moving far up on the curve) before things begin to improve.

Of these two problems, I think that the first is by far the worse.  Without a vision of a better place, it is not easy (and, perhaps, not advisable) to set off to find it.  This calls for faith, and for the vision of another, who can see both your position and the Global Optimum.  The second problem is still daunting for some.  One knows of and believes in the existence of the Global Optimum (or even some better Local Optimum), but one seems unable to gather the required strength to climb the hills necessary to reach it.  This part calls for courage.

Maybe you fancy yourself to be at your life's Global Optimum; I do not.  Today, let us catch a vision of how our lives could be better, more glorifying to God.  And let us start climbing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reimagining Ezekiel's Wheels

I was driving down 8 Mile Road, which I do every weekday afternoon, and I saw one of these very popular "donk" vehicles:

You see them all the time in Detroit, of course, but this time something was sparked in my mind, because it had that kind of "spinner" wheel, the kind that looks stationary even when the car is moving.

I was suddenly reminded of this passage from the 1st Chapter of Ezekiel:

This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel.  As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
So, clearly, what Ezekiel seems to have (fore)seen is one of these donk cars with 22" or 24" rims.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Battle of The Rowans.

I wanted to do an experiment to determine who has had more impact on the world:  Rowan Atkinson (probably known to you as "Mr. Bean"), or Rowan Williams (the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury).

So, I went to Google, and typed "rowan" into the search field.  The "suggestions" that Google automatically displays are arrayed in order of popularity, with the most popular searches first.

These are the results:

rowan atkinson
rowan university
rowan miranda
rowan tree
rowan williams

The implications are clear:  People deem Rowan Atkinson to be of more importance than Rowan Williams.  Why is this?

I'm sure that there are several reasons, but one of them may be this:  That Rowan Atkinson, the comic, stands for something clear and definite, while Rowan Williams does not.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Rowan Atkinson:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Anti-Serenity Prayer

You all have heard of the Serenity Prayer, the short form of which is:

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
But looking at the Psalms of David, I have to believe that God wants us to say what we really feel when we pray.

Therefore, I have composed my own Anti-Serenity Prayer:
God, I find that almost everything needs change.
I confess that I find much in Your world to be intolerably bad.
Therefore, grant that today I can be such a badass (God being my helper) that I can change anything and everything.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Other Poems of Mine

These poems are three years old.  I hadn't published them on this blog before, however.

Adam's Joy

Our protoplastic parents ventured east,
And said farewell to Eden at the gate,
With fresh-named animals in vast array
(Those newly undomesticated beasts).
They wondered at this young world's future fate,
And Eve and her mourning were the ninth day.

Though outwardly his brow was dewed with sweat,
Young Adam's visage shone with inner light,
Because the very God who bade him leave
(Whose property is never to forget)
Remembered his petition in the night:
Take Eden, gracious Lord, but leave me Eve.

© 2007, Paul Erlandson

This one, I wrote for my wife:


When other poets (e.g., Shakespeare, Donne)
Compare their brilliant lovers to the sun,
'Tis heat they feel and blinding light they see.
But I would praise my lover's gravity.

A foolish planet wandering away
I've traced unruly orbits of decay.
But even when my homing sense is dull,
No other star can lure me by her pull.

I strain her faithful satellite to be,
Though every planet has his apogee.
But perigee returns, her strength still there.
I find it to be more than inverse square,

Rewarding always my proximity
With body fixed and fair and heavenly.

© 2007, Paul Erlandson

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A New Poem - Homing

I just put the finishing touches on this poem, which I dedicate to my wife Cindy.


In the purple evening,
In the gloaming:
Cease my restless ravening,
Bind my roaming,

Lest I stray from my true
Course, confuted,
And by devils' ague
Be deluded.

Make me drive unhindered
To that haven
Where true love on kindred
Hearts is graven.

With wife and children ring
Me all around
With mirth and angel wing
And merry sound.

Put to rest my mind's
chaotic foaming.
Give me following winds
And happy homing.

© 2010, Paul Erlandson

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bob Weir!

Today is the 63rd birthday of Bob Weir, one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead.  For those who don't know, I have become quite a Deadhead lately.  It all started when I had Sirius radio for a few months in a lease car, and discovered the Grateful Dead Channel.

It started with Scarlet Begonias, and just blossomed on out from there.  I discovered so many great Dead songs that I never knew existed!

So, anyway, Happy Birthday to Bob Weir!  I thought I would celebrate by posting this excellent version of him and the band singing Rev. Gary Davis' song, Samson & Delilah:

I just love that song. Here is a painting I did of Reverend Gary Davis, who wrote the song:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Passion for Distinction

John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, once wrote:
"I believe there is no one principle, which predominates in human nature so much in every stage of life, from the cradle to the grave, in males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this Passion for Superiority … Every human being compares itself in its own imagination, with every other round about it, and will find some superiority over every other real or imaginary, or it will die of grief and vexation.  I have seen it among boys and girls in school, among lads at college, among practicers at the bar, among the clergy in their associations, among clubs of friends, among the people in town meetings, among members of the House of Representatives, among the grave councilors, on the more solemn Bench of Justice, and in that awfully august body of the Congress, and on many of its committees – and among ladies every where – but I never saw it operate with such keenness, ferocity and fury, as among military officers.  They will go terrible lengths, in their emulations, their envy and revenge, in consequence of it."
 In that passage, Adams calls this particular drive the "Passion for Superiority".  But sometimes he also referred to it as the "Passion for Distinction":
"There is none among them [the passions] more essential or remarkable, than the passion for distinction."
According to Adams, this passion for distinction was,
"a desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows."
 I think that not only was Adams correct, but that this principle explains nearly all of the odd and unusual actions I have taken throughout my whole life.  The flavour of the word "distinction" which Adams used is pretty clear:  it means essentially the same as "superiority".  But I would add another layer of meaning to that.  For me the "passion for distinction" is about being intentionally and decidedly different from all other men.  As the Chocolate Watch Band put it, I'm Not Like Everybody Else:

It explains so much.  It explains why I put those J. C. Whitney torpedo lamps on the C-pillar of my 1972 Dodge Veg-O-Matic.  It explains why, as a public school math teacher, I once swallowed a cricket in class.  It explains why my musical taste runs to obscure psychedelic and garage bands from the 1960s, bands almost nobody knows about.  It may even explain my undying devoted to that quirky branch of Christ's church known as Anglicanism.

I do these things, in large measure, because others do not.

When I am honest about it, I think that I have a huge fear of being ordinary, average, or normal.  I don't think that this is altogether healthy.  But, it does give me a certain drive or resolve, without which much of what I have achieved would have been left undone.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

God as Kosmic Kustomizer

After 52 years on God's green earth, I have finally come up with a rational explanation as to why I prefer women to men.

But, first, we have to begin with Sam Barris, who bought a brand-new 1949 Mercury at the close of 1948.  He drove the car around stock as his daily driver, until he figured out how to chop the top on it.  That was in 1949.  His modifications to the '49 Merc hit such a sweet spot that they have been replicated hundreds (if not thousands) of times since then.

There is a saying on my "side of the tracks" in the car hobby.  It goes:
Anyone can restore an old car; it takes a real man to cut one up!
And so I think of Adam and Eve.  Adam, being created first, was the "stock" model.  I picture God looking at Adam and scratching His head, and thinking:  Hmmm ... I wonder ... if I ... flared out the rear fenders a bit, shaved that annoying hood ornament, and put a couple of Gurney bubbles on the torso ... maybe slim down the jaw line a bit.

Voilà!  Presenting ... Woman ... the Kustomized Man!

I'm just the kind of guy who can never leave a car alone.  There is always room for improvement, whether radical or subtle.  I will always pick the kustomized ride over the stock one.

One might even be tempted to say:
Any deity can make a man in his own image.  It takes a real God to cut one up!

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Own Muse Poem

I wanted a Muse poem of my own, so I wrote this yesterday morning.

I feel a little bad about the in-your-face tone of this poem.  I hardly ever adopt that pose except when trying to psyche myself up to lift heavy weights ... or when dealing with other alpha-male drivers on Detroit's freeways.

But I like it because I cannot recall having seen anything else like it.

My Muse Can Beat Up Your Muse

My muse can beat up yours – don't even try her.
She's armed with wit and sense and holy fire.
Unparalleled in her alacrity,
She will not sanction mediocrity.
Her frightening aesthetic probity
Eschews the common for the rarity.
At home with pen or brush, with harp or lyre,
Her beauty doth continually inspire.

Your muse, I'm sad to say, is often slow.
She's tardy to arrive, but quick to go.
Your muse plants only barren things and plain
Within the convolutions of your brain.
While my muse grants me victory again,
You cannot yet complete your first quatrain.
Your paper fallow, not a word will grow.
Your pen will never reap if she won't sow.

But let us pass from talking of her ways,
And turn again my worthy muse to praise.
In speed and grace she never fails to please,
Likewise in balancing asymmetries.
To discipline and form she holds the keys.
Yet wild she is, untamed as any breeze.
I will not fail to heed her piercing gaze,
Nor fail to thank God for her all my days.

© 2010, Paul Erlandson

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Requiem - New Poem from Cynthia Erlandson

This is a poem my wife recently completed. I hope you like it.


Three headstones: one marked “Love,” one “Everlove,”
And one – cathedralesque in ancient time,
Now cracked and leaning as if it would fall,
Marked “England” – cast their autumn evening’s pall
Of blended shadow shaped into a spire.
It pierces like an arrow of desire
That only heaven ever will remove.

Fast falls the eventide; now rings the chime
Heard by the faithful as a worship call;
But by those deaf to truth as just the fall
Of one more hour of climbing Babel’s tower,
Or one more vacant night to strive to fill
With empty-minded acts of bland good will
Which time will terminate, and death devour.

Unconscious of the evening clouds that lower
While autumn sunset burns the sky with gold,
The commerce-kings rush past at Vespers’ hour,
As if life’s meaning might be bought and sold.
Blind to the churchyard’s sure and certain sign,
They miss the sun’s last, horizontal ray
That shines on granite stones, foreshadowing
The lightened darkness of that final Day
For which the remnant worshippers still pray.

And do our hearts in modern times incline
To bury ancient landmarks, crumple creeds?
Yet True Jerusalem still intercedes
Amidst the clouded hills of God’s design.
Thus hinges history on pew and quire,
Surviving on the embers of her fire.

© 2010, Cynthia Erlandson

Monday, October 4, 2010

3rd Annual Hot Rod Anglican CafePress Awards

October has snuck up on us again, so it is time for the 3rd Annual Hot Rod Anglican CafePress Awards.

How it works:  I go to CafePress, and type the word "Anglican" into the search field.  This year, I also typed "Episcopal", to see what that would turn up.

For you newcomers, here are links to the last 2 HRA CafePress Awards blogs:

1st Annual
2nd Annual 

Okay, here we go with the 2010 winners!

In the "T-shirt most likely to cause people to squint" category, we have this fine Thirty-Nine Articles T-shirt.  I'm not sure how many people would stop to read it, considering how few can even find it in the BCP.

In the "Remaking God in our own image" category, it was a 3-way tie!

In the "Suffer the little children ... NOT!" category, the result was unanimous:

These fuchsia girls shorts won the "Superfluity of Naughtiness" division:

This mug won the "Best Beer Stein" category:

In the brand new "Coffee Mug I Will Actually Order" category, how could I not pick thisTe lucis ante terminum mug?

The "Tell It Like It Is" award goes to the Youth Group of St. James, Bozeman:

We take a pause in the action to note that when you search CafePress for "Episcopal", you turn up "lesbian" and "gay" as related searches.

With this in mind, a new category,  "Shameless Plug for Anglican Heterosexuality", has been approved.  Here is the winner:

In the "T-Shirts Many Anglicans Actually Need" category, it was not even close.  Sometimes, I wish I had this shirt:

And, last but not least, for the "Mouse Pad Most Likely to Defend the Faith", we have this lovely Quicunque vult (Athanasian Creed) mouse pad.  Obviously, there was not room for the entire text!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A New Guitar: Hallmark Swept Wing

I bought this guitar earlier in the year, and have been really happy with it.  It's a Hallmark Swept Wing, which I purchased directly from Hallmark Guitars.

I first learned about this model from Rick, one of the guitar players from the Detroit-based surf instrumental group, the Volcanos.  I heard him play it at the Detroit Autorama in early 2009, and had wanted one ever since.  I love not only the sound of the thing, but its wacked out body shape.

Here is a video of the "Orange Crush" Swept Wing in action.  It is my band, Chrome Folk Bar-B-Q performing the traditional Spiritual, Elijah Rock.

And here are the Volcanos, with Rick wielding his Swept Wing on the song Beatnik Bandit:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mariska Veres Tribute

I meant to have posted this yesterday, because October 1 was the birthday of Mariska Veres, lead singer of the Dutch pop/rock band Shocking Blue.

So, I am a day late.

This is a little music video I put together for the 40th Anniversary of the release of the Shocking Blue record Send Me a Postcard.  Shocking Blue did so much more than Venus, which is what everyone remembers them for.

The "ning" website advertised in the video is no longer active. Instead, go to THE NEW SHOCKING BLUE MEMORIAL WEBSITE.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Faceless Charity vs The Good Samaritan

We all know the story, I think, from St. Luke, the 10th Chapter:
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.   A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.   So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.   But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.   He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.   The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
What strikes me today about this passage is how sharply it contrasts with the most common modern ways of practicing Charity.  It seems to me that, ideally, Charity should be:

1.  Without coercion.
2.  Cheerfully practiced.
3.  Personal (intimate).
4.  Sacrificial (it should cost the giver something).
5.  Particular as opposed to general.

All of these elements are present in the story of the Good Samaritan.  Few are present (perhaps only the Sacrificial element) in the most common forms of Charity practiced these days.

The government coerces me to help other people through taxes.  This makes me an involuntary participant in Charity and, therefore, not all that cheerful.

One rarely sees the face of the recipients of his charitable acts these days.  And it is generic as can be.  To give to the United Way is to cast a limp, pallid economic vote for an inchoate and indistinct "good" as over against a nondescript "evil".  It carries none of the power, none of the emotional intimacy of the Good Samaritan story: 

"He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him."
"I paid my United Way pledge" is weak sauce by comparison.

I had rather give money to a stranger in obvious need than to write a generic check to a meta-charity.  Of course, I can't claim that as a tax deduction.  It is okay; it is supposed to cost me (Point 4, above).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Buy Reproductions of my Paintings

Alright, dear readers.  I know that this question has been burning in your minds for years now:  "How can I get hold of reproductions of Paul Erlandson's art?"

This video helps  explain what sorts of items are available:

Here are links to my galleries at the two sites mentioned:



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Muse Poems & Photos

Obviously, I am thinking a lot these days about the concept of the Muse.  Today, in addition to the Betjeman post (see below), I have two more Muse-related poems.

This first poet is fairly well-known, I think:

Sonnet 78:   by William Shakespeare
So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use,
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learnèd's wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee.
In others' works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces gracèd be.
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.
(Notes with paraphrase of the above, for modern readers, is to be found here.)

And this poet is not quite so well-known  (from here):
FOOLISH MUSE - by Anne Johnson
I fear she must have wandered far away;
I've looked most everywhere, she can't be found.
I find myself adrift; I can't convey
those thoughts and feelings locked within my mind.
Fey little sprite, she spoke to me alone;
Her magic something only I could know.
She'd made the tree outside my door her home
and played beneath where fragrant flowers grow.
I cannot comprehend why she would leave
for lacking me she'll have no way to spread
to human folk the poetry she weaves;
euphonic verses sadly left unsaid.
For none but I can realize her words
that tell of things that only she can see.
She needs my hands and voice so she'll be heard;
for mankind sees and hears her via me
That foolish little maid has strayed too long;
Her image fading more each day I wait.
I pray for her return each day she's gone.
Without each other we cannot create.

John Betjeman's Muse

Although I am 2.5 years late in finding it, fans of John Betjeman's poetry should love this story!

Most people thought that Joan Hunter Dunn, who died earlier this month, was a product of John Betjeman’s vivid poetic imagination. Then, in 1965, The Sunday Times Magazine revealed that she was real and had lived exactly the kind of home counties life Betjeman fantasised about in his famous poem A Subaltern’s Love Song.


Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father’s euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summerhouse, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

She went, unnoticed, to the memorial service for the poet laureate at Westminster Abbey in 1984 and shed a few tears for the man she had described to me as a good character and a religious man: “They say that God has his agents on this planet and I am sure that John Betjeman is one of them.”

I recommend this volume of Betjeman's poems, from Amazon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Finding One's Muse

Nobody depends on the Muse like a poet.  And, therefore, there exist quite a few good poems dedicated to the poets' Muses.  Here are two:

Muse (by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

In my youth's years, she loved me, I am sure.
The flute of seven pipes she gave in my tenure
And harked to me with smile -- without speed,
Along the ringing holes of the reed,
I got to play with my non-artful fingers
The peaceful songs of Phrygian village singers,
And the important hymns, that gods to mortals bade.
From morn till night in oaks' silent shade
I diligently harked to the mysterious virgin;
Rewarding me, by chance, for any good decision,
And taking locks aside of the enchanting face,
She sometimes took from me the flute, such commonplace.
The reed became alive in consecrated breathing
And filled the heart with holiness unceasing.

When I Met My Muse (by William Stafford)

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off--they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Of Race Car Drivers and Nuns

I think I had something of an epiphany this morning during my cardio session.  When I say "cardio", I usually mean walking rapidly uphill for 30 or 45 minutes on a treadmill.  The treadmills at my new gym have little TVs built into them.  Usually during a morning cardio session I can only find infomercials, but this morning was different.

This morning, one station was playing the magnificent film Le Mans (1971), starring Steve McQueen.  This kind of film always makes you work harder at the cardio, and it sure seems to make the time go by faster.

Everyone these days is talking about their "bucket lists".  You know, a list of things they want to do before they "kick the bucket".  As I watched this car go around the circuit, I realized that "Drive Porsche 917 at Someplace Like Road America" needs to be on my bucket list.  And almost as soon as I thought it, I had another thought:  Given my driving skills, it would be prudent to make sure everything else on the list is already crossed off before I attempt this!  Anyhow, the intensity of this film made my cardio session much more enjoyable.

But if the film improved my cardio, the endorphin-laden cardio trance also enhanced the film for me.  Because I noticed a scene, just a few seconds long, in a way I had never noticed it before.  It is about 3/4 of the way through the film, and McQueen has just wrecked his beautiful #20 Gulf Porsche 917.  He is taken to the track hospital in a funky little red medical van, with a shape vaguely resembling a VW microbus.  When he gets to the hospital, he hobbles out of the ambulance and into the arms of a waiting nun.  She is a nurse at the hospital, and greets him with two simple words:

This way.

Now, to my way of thinking, race car drivers have about the sexiest job on the planet.  And, while I know others disagree, the vocation of being a nun is kind of at the opposite end of the excitement spectrum.  This is, no doubt, due to my lamentable worldliness.  Probably through God's eyes it is quite the other way round.

And then, the epiphany hit me!

For I saw that here in this two-second scene, Steve McQueen is the world, and the nun is the church.  Bam!  And what is the first thing the church does for the world?

It proclaims:  This way!  And then it begins to lead the world upwards, just as the nun in Le Mans leads McQueen up a set of stairs to the hospital.

I know I'm the Hot Rod Anglican and everything, but maybe I'm too much "hot rod" and not enough "Anglican" ... for, as I watched this clip, I was the injured, limping McQueen, out in the world and getting in trouble, getting banged up.  Maybe, just maybe, I ought to take a little more time to meditate on myself in that other role, leading the world upward to healing, to God, and proclaiming the great "this way" of the Gospel.

For those interested in seeing the scene in its entirety, it occurs around the 2 minute mark of this clip:

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Visit to Grace Church, Mt. Washington

I usually travel to a few bodybuilding contests each year, which generally have me in some unfamiliar town from early afternoon on a Friday until late Saturday evening.  It is usually too long a drive to get back home for church on Sunday morning, and so I have to seek out an Anglican parish at which to worship in whatever city I'm in.

Back in March, I found a very good parish in Columbus, Ohio, after attending the Arnold Classic.

This past weekend took me and my family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the NPC Teen, Collegiate, and Masters National Championships.  And, although it was a spectacular bodybuilding contest, the parish we visited on Sunday morning was far more spectacular.

I hardly know where to begin.  Like the famous passage in Chesterton, where he imagines being asked why he prefers civilisation to savagery.  We just liked everything about Grace Church, Mt. Washington, so it is very hard to know where to begin.

The lady out in on the porch in the next photo was the first to greet us, followed by Fr. Ira Houck, who gave us a short tour of the church building.  We met a few other parishioners, too.  I would have to say that nearly every parishioner we came across not only greeted us, but really engaged us in meaningful conversation.  The funny thing is that my wife and I usually don't like that.  It usually seems like going to a big shopping mall during a very dead hour of the afternoon, when all the bored salespeople pace back and forth in the portals of their shops, waiting to pounce on you.  But, somehow, it was not at all like this at Grace.  I cannot explain it.

I wish I had been paying better attention, but somehow it came to light that my 16-year-old son Eliot is an acolyte, and would be glad to lend a hand, in case they were short.  I honestly would never have expected them to take us up on this offer, but they did.  It was a remarkable gesture of trust, and Eliot did not disappoint.  He got to be crucifer and acolyte, and even rang the sanctus bells (though I did not realize it at the time).

The next thing to mention might be the organist.  He was quite good, and while there was no choir (probably due to it being summer) the congregational singing was robust and harmonious.

But perhaps what impacted me even before all of this, and this will sound trivial, was the smell of the church.  To an "olfactory learner" like myself, there is just a certain way a church should smell, and it should smell exactly like Grace Church, Mt. Washington of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Church in North America!  Doubtless the beautiful aroma comes from dark wood absorbing large doses of incense over a period of several decades, but I somehow think that the prayers of the saints who have worshipped there over the same decades, ascending along with the incense, also play a part.

When visiting any unknown Anglican parish, I always set my expectations low for the sermon or homily.  In this case, that was totally unnecessary.  Fr. Ira Houck preached a fine sermon, which touched very nicely on the subjects of friendship and ultimately friendship with God in prayer.  But, more than that, it touched me personally.  Or, rather, God touched me through it.

Fr. Ira got to a certain part of his sermon where he described what it is like to be with friends after a long absence, and how one feels once again centered and grounded.  One remembers who one is, and what one's mission is, what it is that makes him himself.  And I got the shivers.  Goosebumps all up and down my arms, because this had just happened to me, doubly.  Once, at the two-day bodybuilding competition, where I met old friends (and formerly unmet internet friends), and remembered (at long last!) that I am called to be a bodybuilder.  And a second time, right at that instant, by virtue of feeling so incredibly at home among formerly unmet Anglican brothers and sisters.  It was like waking up from a long slumber, after which everything is clear, and one knows exactly what to do next.

Cindy loved the fact that one of the hymns we sung used the hymn tune Aberystwyth, one of her absolute favourites (and mine).

We got tripped up just one or two times, where Rite I differs slightly from the 1928 BCP, which we know from memory.  But the entire service felt like being instantly at home in a "strange" city, and being instant friends with those who we would have expected to treat us like strangers.

To anyone visiting the city of Pittsburgh, I give this parish my highest recommendation, and I myself plan to visit it again next July!