Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Meditations on Holy Week

Warning: slightly rambling

Most people who didn't grow up in the church assume that Christmas is the biggest holiday for Christians. It's certainly the most visible and drawn out, the most easily co-opted and inviting of all our holidays (and we have a lot). It's warm and fuzzy and bright at the darkest time of year. The gift portion is certainly attractive to pretty much everyone. And it looks like our name! that's convenient.

But the reality is the Christmas is, at best, the second most important holiday. Holy Week and Easter, collectively known as Passiontide, is our most important holiday. Christmas is joyous, of course, but it's a prelude, and one that is theologically tempered. If you read through the texts of Christmas hymns and carols, you'll find that some of the less-popular-on-the-radio-station verses are rather bleak (some more modern, cheerful hymnals even leave them out). Take, for example, the second verse of "What Child is this?"
Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear: for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you;
hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the babe, the son of Mary.
The whole point of Christmas, the arrival of God-made-flesh, is so that Good Friday may take place. Good Friday is rarely a service that draws in people from the outside, even though it is as well advertised with lawn signs. Who in their right mind wants to go sit in a darkened, quiet church and contemplate on their sins, the agony of death on the cross, and the [seeming] finality of death?

Growing up, I would say that Holy Week was one of the biggest weeks of the year (I was still a kid). Partly because I grew up the child of the church organist and the person in charge of decorating the church so I was there nearly everyday starting the day before Palm Sunday to strip the palms all the way through Easter. But also because it is a compelling narrative that the Church has been telling for centuries. During Holy Week we don't just read the accounts. We re-enact them to a greater or lesser extent.

On Palm Sunday the congregation plays the part of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. We cry "Hosanna!" and sing hymns set to triumphal, often marching tunes. We wave palms and the organ plays at full blast.

But we know what is coming. Monday through Wednesday are spent in solitary preparation. There might be quiet preparations for Easter morning, but they are typically kept quiet.

Maundy Thursday exhibits the greatest variation I've seen among Churches. It commemorates the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before he was arrested and condemned to death, which became for Christians the sacrament of Communion. For some its a meditative service, with quiet hymns, prayer, perhaps a short homily, and of course communion. Others include 'maundy' or the rite of foot washing, something else Jesus gave to his disciples as a ritual that got lost (probably as it moved north where socks and boots were the norm instead of sandals). The services are beautiful, but also introspective. This is not to say that visitors aren't welcomed, but for many Christians these services are deeply personal.

Good Friday is a hard day. It's a holiday, in the sense that it is holy and in the sense that most people don't have to go to work on it, but it is also hard. Hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it in its full, raw power and hard to go through. Whether its the stations of the cross, mentally walking with Jesus to his death, or Tenebrae going through the entire passion narrative with the congregation playing the part of the crowd who cries "Crucify!", it is a strange day that we put ourselves through. We meditate on the idea that we killed God, that the second person of the Trinity willingly walked into Death, paying the price our sinfulness, our brokenness, so we never have to. We leave the church in silence and darkness, the Bible closed, a single candle burning on the altar.

Holy Saturday is the quietest day in the church. Everyone who has to go in to make preparations for Sunday whispers. You try to walk quietly. The lights stay dim. Even though we all know what happened that first Easter, that Jesus isn't in that tomb again, we are still quiet, as though we mourn with the apostles.

Easter sunrise services are the most joyful thing I know of, whatever the variation. The one I can describe best is the one I grew up with. You enter the church in darkness and silence, praying and waiting. The pastor comes in through a door by the altar, and proclaims "Why do you look for the living among the dead? I tell you he is not here. He is risen!" and the lights go up and the organ roars to life in one of the many Easter Hymns. The litany of "He is risen!" "He is risen indeed, Alleluia!" tumbles from everyone's lips. Our sin may have been atoned for on Good Friday, but the empty tomb gives us hope and therefore joy.

Does all this sound insane? Sure. There's a reason St. Paul wrote that the message of the cross was foolishness in the eyes of the world (I Corinthians 1:18)--it is. Most self-aware Christians know this. We know we sound crazy. (We also know some of our traditions are good theatre). And we're ok with that. We can give reasons and offer some sort of explanation. But at the core, we know its not rational. We don't believe because of a Pascal's wager. We believe because, at some point, we've had a moment at the well, an encounter in the garden, whether subtle or bolt out of the blue or anywhere in between. And we believe.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Windows, definitions 1 and 2

Last week has somehow ended up focused on two kinds of windows--the kind that let me see the outside world from inside my house and the kind that provides the operating system to my computers at school.

It was discovered a couple of months ago that one of our windows, one in my home office to be specific, was rotting out. Shortly after that I discovered one of our bedroom windows was rotting out. It looked like someone had just painted over existing wood rot instead of replacing the sills, leading the the entire thing rotting. Because both culprits are in bays, we were looking at least 6 windows needing replacement.

So we called the local Anderson windows dealer, who discovered two more heavily rotting windows. These are windows that we never look out of since they just look into our neighbors windows and we can't easily see from the ground, but even we could see (when the blinds were drawn) that they looked like they belonged in a haunted mansion.

Hello custom, rot-proof windows. Goodbye nice vacation.

At school/work, IT is going crazy about replacing XP computers with Windows 7 computers. Yes, they are replacing the incredibly out of date operating system with a slightly less out of date operating system.

For most people, this is good news. Faster computers. New monitors, etc.

This is horrible for any sort of researcher. Custom software. Very expensive proprietary software that only allows one installation and is necessary to run a very expensive piece of equipment. Data that you don't want to run even the slightest chance of losing because that there's 4 years worth of work. For a theoretician, everything applies except the equipment.

Needless to say, most of us were trying hard to hide our computers and ignoring emails and personal inspections by the department IT guy.

I finally had to give in because the XP computers were going to be cut off from internet, and the program I depend on to produce graphs requires an internet connection, the stupid thing. But I'm keeping my old one, off network, lest I lose anything.

I was really excited to have two monitors at last. If only the new one actually worked.

Oh well, maybe I can get graphs in less than 2 hours computation time now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Comfort Food: Pierogies, Sausage and Peppers

Here's something you'll rarely see anywhere: I've been trying to recreate a dish from the college cafeteria for years.

And yes, I mean a dining hall, not a fancified food court like some schools have. Over cooked vegetables, lots of things deep fried or baked within  an inch of their lives. Most days the only truly edible thing in the dining hall was the pizza, unless you arrived in time for the special, which was usually pretty good, but limited in quantity.

But there was one thing that the ladies in the dining hall kitchen did really really well--pierogies, sausage and peppers. I have a few theories why, but this is one of the few dishes I really looked forward to when it popped up in the menu rotation. Puffy, golden potato and onion filled dumplings, thin strips of red bell peppers sauteed until they were soft and sweet and just barely carmelized at the ends and perfectly fried sausage. It was an island of semi-home-cooked-ness in a sea of industrial, mass-prepared food.

I have been trying to replicated this ever since I left college. The timing of it all has always eluded me. Last night, I think I got it down method-wise, and next time I think I can even make it a one-sheet-pan meal to boot!

Start with some thinly sliced bell peppers

Toss with some olive oil and spread in a (roughly) single layer on a baking sheet.

Now, if you want to do everything in the oven, take a lovely pack of sausages

Cut them in halves or quarters and put them on the tray as well. Bake at 350 until the sausages are brown, the peppers are soft and starting to caramelize at the edges.

Now, if I had thought a little more, I would have taken the sausage and peppers off the tray and just tossed on some lightly oiled frozen pierogies. As it was, I did those mostly in a skillet, which was silly. But it did lead to this amusing series of pictures by Dear Husband. 

 He didn't quite hold it still, or activate the digital compensation.

I learned that I apparently stand with my legs crossed, for no obvious reason...

 Why is this picture at a 60 degree tilt? no idea

This could be really adorable if it weren't quite so blurry.

In any event, it was delicious, and very close to what I remember. 

Over all, a great sucess!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cute Dog, Weird Dog.

Penny is quirky. A lot of her quirks line up pretty well with ours (strict adherence to schedule, love of cuddling and watching tv in the evening) and some of them are just weird.

Especially for a dog.

Seriously, what self-respecting dog sleeps on their back?

Or worse, uses their paws as hands to play with a toy while on their back?

Did not notice when I took the video, but my husband was unintentionally providing background music

What dog does this? I have never seen or heard of this. And she doesn't just do it will nice floppy toys like this beaver/squirrel thing that once squeaked. She also does it with her ropes, her rawhides, and her bouncy Kong snowman thing


Note, right around the two second mark how she drops it, and bats it back into her mouth.

This cannot be considered normal behavior right? Kinda cool, but really? What dog does this?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Crazy Ice

So, a strange thing occurred this afternoon as I made some ice cubes, thinking I might want them now that the weather is warmer.

This is normally a very boring thing. Fill ice cube tray, stick in freezer, ice cubes produced in an hour or two.

Today, this happened.

Zoomed in:

What the what? It would be (slightly) more understandable if *all* of them did this. But nope. Just this one and a little frost around a few others. I can only surmise it is a related phenomena to this, and that I happened to place the tray in just the right place for it to be vibrated by the motor. 

Either that, or Elsa from Frozen has taken residence in my freezer. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Final stretch of the semester, running on fumes

It happens pretty much every semester, as Dear Husband pointed out to me this morning when I said I just wanted the semester to be over already. I start out the semester with plenty of energy to form new minds, until we reach the last few weeks when I start to feel depressed about their lack of commitment to learning, their lack of understanding, and how utterly horrible it is to grade 3000 final exams written by undergrads who may or may not understand that physics requires math, and therefore can't be fluffed out of.

Basically, I feel like this:
Can we be done now?

It's not a place I like to be. And usually, this feeling occurs between teaching. Once I'm actually in the classroom, the students  remind me why I love teaching, I get in the zone and I will happily teach for the hour+ that I'm given. 

But this semester, three out of four of my classes are duds.  The students are disengaged with learning. They don't ask questions. Lower admissions requirements on the part of the university mean that the level of mathematical literacy is astoundingly lower than I'm used to. Because we reinstated weekly in-class paper quizzes instead of online weekly quizzes we did last semester, I have to deal with a whole crop of students who never learned the importance of drawing diagrams for every problem, even if they can solve it without, and who fight me constantly for the 2-3 points I dock if they don't draw one. In the past, students have looked at it as "woohoo, 2-3 free points, yeah!"; this semester, I was told I was "teaching my philosophy, not physics". Nevermind that this is standard and still required of problems well into grad school. 

One class is not like this. One class is wonderful and a joy to teach.

But it's hard to make up for the three classes where I walk in and get less energized because the students just aren't there, mentally. 

In short, I can't wait for the semester to be over. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Still Alive...

Not much to say at the moment, other than I am still here, and planning a few more optics posts and a couple of theology posts in the nearish future. My mother-in-law visited last week, and while it is wonderful to see her, the intense, condense family time didn't leave much room for writing. Or anything else. Dear Husband and I spent the weekend recuperating, watching  the shows that we missed while she was here, and I am desperately trying to keep my teaching duties together for the last few weeks of the semester.

In other news, it is GORGEOUSLY warm and sunny here in the Carolinas, and I am loving every minute of it, except for the part where the bugs come out of hibernation. Blech.

We will shortly return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Enjoy the spring!