Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The legend of Streetcar Number 952

We went to Celebration in the Oaks at City Park just before they closed at the end of the Christmas season. One of the highlights of the walking tour is the Model Train Garden, which re-creates several historic New Orleans neighborhoods and has (I think) five train lines running, including Southern Pacific and Southern Railway passenger trains, a Union Pacific freight train, and a New Orleans Public Belt Railroad engine towing freight cars. The garden has been lovingly restored after Katrina by a group of dedicated model train enthusiasts. The floodwaters did not come up to the level of the tracks, I've been told, and the models of New Orleans houses had been brought inside before the storm came, so the garden didn't have to be completely re-created from scratch...but it was a huge job anyway.

Oh, did I mention? The garden includes three model streetcars, two of the old 1920s olive green ones (I think the designer is called Perley-Thomas) and one of the new red and yellow ones. And one of the old ones bears the number 952.

I spoke to the man who was in charge that night, and I told him, "I know the secret of number 952." He did, too. I said, "It's running on the Embarcadero line in San Francisco." Yes, he said. And then he told me something I didn't know: New Orleans traded it to San Francisco for one of their cable cars. He indicated the cable car was being stored somewhere in City Park. As for that model with the number 952, it's not in honor of the one we sent to San Francisco. That's just a coincidence. Oh well!

Now I am curious. We have a San Francisco cable car right here in New Orleans? But what on earth could we do with it? Those little cable cars that climb halfway to the stars run on cables under the street, going up and down very steep hills. It's not like we have any hills in New Orleans.

Except...we do have a hill in New Orleans. One.

Oh, I can see it now. A San Francisco cable car running up and down Monkey Hill in Audubon Park. Legend has it that Monkey Hill was created by the Works Progress Administration back in the Depression so the children of New Orleans would know what a hill is. I did my fair share of running up and down Monkey Hill when I was a child. Today, it's in the middle of the Audubon Zoological Garden. Probably not the ideal location for a cable car.

But hey, I can always dream, can't I?

I left my streetcar in San Francisco...and came home with a cable car.

December 28 sermon

A link to my December 28, 2008 sermon at the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans:

The title is "What They Lived to See."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent, 2008

The midnight uploader has been at it again.

"Promises Kept." God is in the house-building business.

There will be a Christmas Eve video, but we are planning to video the whole service, and it may be too long to upload. (It takes about an hour to upload one minute of video.) Stay tuned for further details.

May your Christmas be a blessed one, filled with hope!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The day after

The snow on the ground and rooftops was gone by late afternoon, but it turned cold during the night. In the morning, this was all that was left of my snowman. I think it now looks a little bit like a sculpture of a dove (or a hen?) sitting on a round rock. Note all the green grass around it, unscathed. It's possible some of my veggie garden survived the brief flirtation with snow, but the petunias in the urn by the front steps are definitely finished.

My neighbor's granddaughter (who like most children was in school during the two hours when the snow was coming down and thus missed all the fun) squealed with delight when she saw the snowman in my yard in the late afternoon. So hey, if he made a child laugh, his short life was worthwhile. There's a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

A friend sent me this photo of a St. Charles Avenue streetcar in the snow yesterday morning:

Now there's one for a Christmas card. And Merry Christmas to Number 952 on the Embarcadero Line in San Francisco!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow, hours

It doesn't snow very often in New Orleans...and to the best of my knowledge, it has never snowed here before Christmas. But we had one of those rare snowfalls this morning. It lasted about two hours. So here is my quick effort at a snowman, with bits of grass (from the lawn being cut a few days ago) stuck in its chest. Behind it is the garden. The fall squash plants are turning that frozen dark green color. Some of the plants bloomed but kept their buds folded shut against the not-summer temperatures, so they never bore little squash. The snap peas I planted a few weeks ago are just coming up, and I think they will survive. But the bed full of cilantro -- the plants scattered seed everywhere last year and I've got cilantro all over the place -- smells decidedly like, well, cilantro. It may be time for an emergency harvest.

It's a good day to stay indoors and write Christmas cards. This Sunday we have a service of Lessons and Carols at First Pres, so I don't have to write a sermon. And now I can even include some pretty pictures of snow in New Orleans with the cards I send out!

Oh, did I mention? A mere forty-eight hours ago the afternoon temperature was well into the 70s. And it is supposed to be near 70 this weekend. I am lucky the snow lasted on the ground long enough to scrape up enough for a snowman.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And here is another sermon video...

From November 23, 2008, Christ the King Sunday:

The videos are on a brief hiatus. First Pres had a candidate for the pulpit of another congregation preaching on Dec. 7, and there will be a Lessons and Carols service on Dec. 14. Stay tuned for a new sermon on Dec. 21, God willing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How to post your sermon video, part 2

Well, Ya Ta! as Hiro on "Heroes" would say. I did it!

I don't understand all the arcane techie rules, but Blogger won't let me post a video over a certain size right here on my blog, and the maximum size they allow is nowhere near as large as the size of this sermon video. So I can give you a link to cut and paste into your browser, or hey, maybe it will go directly to the site. I've never tried this before. But here is my first effort at a sermon video on the Internet:

And if you are a techie and have any idea how to compress an MPEG video file so it doesn't take 12 to 15 hours to upload, please share that information in a comment!

How to post your sermon video on the Internet

This post is best suited for those who are interested in techie things. I am one of those people who just wanted to clear the swamp, and I became an expert on alligators.

I did a continuing education course of the independent study variety yesterday. It was called "How to post your sermon on the Internet -- and you thought it was easy, ha ha."

1. Downloaded Sunday's sermon file from the camera to a DVD on the E: drive of the computer using the USB cable. Easy.
2. Tried to post the sermon on YouTube from the DVD .dob file (I think that was the extension).
3. Found out YouTube doesn't accept that file extension, for various arcane (to me but not to you, no doubt) reasons. It has to be converted to another file format, preferably MPEG.
4. Searched my various video programs to see if I had one that would do file conversions. Nope.
5. Did a google search for file conversion programs and found one. It said, "download for free."
6. No idea who the provider of this content was. Hesitated, then downloaded.
7. Converted the video. Started to open the file in Windows Media Player. The conversion program said, "Unless you pay for this free download, it will put a message in the middle of your video, making it unviewable."
8. Ah, $%#&!
9. With fear and trembling, used credit card to charge $39 to buy a year's subscription to conversion software. Payment went through some site called WorldPay CARD, apparently in the UK. At least Visa let me sign up for something called Verified by Visa in the process.
10. Typed in license key. Converted MPEG video ran ok on Windows Media Player, although the audio isn't so great and the picture is a little on the distorted side (tall and skinny).
11. Tried to upload video to YouTube. After two hours, never got any messages as to progress, didn't know what was going on, so canceled the download.
12. Discovered that YouTube won't accept videos more than 10 minutes long anyway, and this one is 15.
13. Did a search for other sites that let you post videos on the Internet. Found Google. After searching the FAQs and user posts, it seems that Google has no limit on video length.
14. Uploaded video to Google. At least it gave me a dialog box that let me know how it was progressing.
15. File was 1034.5 MB. Upload rate was a little better than 1 MB/min. Did the math. 15 hours to upload???
16. Started upload about 5:51 p.m. About 20 minutes later something went kaflooey and it stopped and started again from the beginning. This time it kept going.
17. Went to bed. At 7 a.m. I woke up the computer with fear and trembling. The window said, "Success."
18. As Hiro on "Heroes" would say, "Ya Ta!" I did it!
19. Google is now processing the video. Keep your fingers crossed. I have no idea how long this will take. Or how I can tell people how to access it if it finally does post.

So that was my Continuing Education Monday. I think maybe I qualified for the Nerd Herd at Buy More.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just call me Rocky?

I can't say I am a huge fan of the Rocky movies, but I do know that the time between "Rocky V" and Rocky VI" was sixteen years -- 1990 to 2006. A reaaally older Rocky made a comeback in that 2006 movie. And now I have too.

While the rest of the world was out trick-or-treating or obsessing about the election, I was riding in a horse show: an out-of-town, three-day horse show. Clipper (show name "McDreamy") isn't my horse, but he's a very nice horse, although at times he mistook the show ring for the Fair Grounds race track and we had to have a little discussion about that. Amazingly, on the videos we look very collected and confident, very much on the same page. And every now and then, we actually were.

The upshot of it: we were in four classes over those three days and took ribbons in all of them. And even a little prize money! (Trust me...a very little.)

When I got home, I pulled out my old horse show ribbons from the days that Cinder and I were showing -- and by the way, we always showed at our home barn and never went on the road to a show. (This out-of-town show was a really big deal for me.) With a shock, I discovered that our last show was April 14, 1991. That's seventeen years. Yo, Rocky!

When Cinder died in May 2007, I never thought I'd be showing again, much less just a year and a half later. I had actually stopped riding for six years when his legs and feet got to the point that he was no longer sound to ride. It was hard to go on without my beloved partner of twenty years, but I'm glad I did. It's good to be back in the world of horses and barns and horse shows again.

By the grace of God, I hooked up with an excellent trainer. Couldn't have done it without her. We've been drilling, drilling, drilling in our lessons. She would take away my reins, so I wouldn't balance myself on them. She would take away my stirrups, so I would strengthen my legs and get them in the right place. Two-point. Trot. Canter. Transition. Walk, now! I think I'm as good a rider today as I was way back yonder with all that training -- but my days of flying over fences are over. I'm passionate about riding, but I'm not crazy.

Alas, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into my tall field boots. Seventeen years and a lot of good South Louisiana cooking have taken their toll. As far as I can tell, no one in this part of the world sells English riding boots, and getting a pair that fits the foot and calf is far too tricky to go the mail order route. So I rode in my short paddock boots, a big no-no that probably cost me some points with the judge, but so it goes. Next trip to Atlanta, I go boot shopping.

When I started riding again as an adult, many years ago, I was an anomaly. Often I had to show against little kids. (Trust me, a judge will never give a blue ribbon to an adult over a child in a horse show. As it should be.) Now there are lots of adult riders and lots of classes for adults at the shows. And, dare I say it, some of those adult riders are even older than me!

It's not as easy as it was when I was a kid. One of my favorite phrases is "Advil. It's not just for breakfast anymore." But I'm having just as much fun now as I was when I first hopped on a school horse at age eight.

Find your passion. Follow it. And remember Rocky!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I left my streetcar in San Francisco

Dateline...the City by the Bay.

Playing tourist before going to a meeting in Monterey later in the week. It's a tough gig, but somebody's got to do it. With the world's economy going to hell in a handbag, quite literally, at the moment, this may be my last trip to my favorite city to visit as a tourist for quite awhile.

For the record, I consider San Francisco to be a sister city to New Orleans. I think of it as New Orleans with hills. The same laid-back ambiance, the same love of things maritime, of a melting pot of cultures, of food and music and literature and...well, romance, however you wish to define it. I love this place. We have hurricanes, they have earthquakes, and the chief difference is we get about 48 hours notice and they get none. So it goes.

Yesterday morning I took the California Street cable car down from my hotel to the end of the line at the Embarcadero and took a stroll through the Ferry Building. At ten in the morning, the air was redolent with the scent of sauteed bell peppers and onions and steak, and if you've not been to the Ferry Building, well, the place is foodie heaven. There are all sorts of stalls and shops selling produce and meat and pastries and grocery items and wine and flowers and all sorts of things. A wonderful shop of kitchen thingies called Sur le Table. And all kinds of food-to-go, and I don't mean McDonald's and Burger King. It was Tuesday morning, and I wasn't at my usual haunt, the Crescent City Farmer's Market at Uptown Square, but I was at a kind of farmer's market anyway. And I mourned that I couldn't buy stuff to bring home and cook. Can't do that when you're staying in a hotel. Can't stash those lovely strawberries in a suitcase to take home.

I left the Ferry Building to catch a streetcar to Fisherman's Wharf. Did I just say streetcar? Yes! On my last trip out here four years ago, I discovered that San Francisco had put in a streetcar line along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. What a concept! Streetcars! What will they think of next? (For the record, this route is flat. The cable cars still tackle the steep hills of the city.)

The streetcars have been obtained from all over the world. Each one has information inside it on its history and where it came from -- I remember riding one from Milan. Some look like 1950s-era buses, two-tone cream and green, on tracks with overhead wires.

And then, I saw it, down at the end of the line, its profile unmistakable. It was a New Orleans streetcar, circa 1920.

Now, for those of you who don't know, a short time before Katrina, the city purchased 26 (I think) red-and-yellow, custom built, air conditioned streetcars to run on the Canal Street and Riverfront lines. And it lost every one of them in the flood, at a million dollars apiece to replace. The old 1920s-era cars were in a different car barn, probably the Willow Street barn in Carrollton, which didn't flood. So they were saved. But over the years, the owners of the transit lines (first New Orleans Public Service Inc., later the Regional Transit Authority) had sold or otherwise disposed of a lot of the old streetcars. So it didn't have enough streetcars to run all its lines. And the St. Charles line had a lot of damage from oak trees falling on the metal stanchions (technically called catenaries, as I recall) that held up the power lines. So it wasn't until a few months ago that we had the whole St. Charles line up and running again.

I live a block and a half from St. Charles Avenue. I can't begin to describe my sorrow at not having those streetcars running for years after Katrina. Before you-know, if I woke in the middle of the night, I could hear them running, rrrrrrrr-CLACK! And I knew someone else was out there in the night, awake and on the job, literally on track. The silence of the streetcars was a deep grief.

But they are back. And I do hear them late at night. And it is such a comfort to have them again.

So, here I was in San Francisco, outside the Ferry Building with the Oakland Bay Bridge in the distance, and here was number 952, with the RTA emblem on the side. I snapped photos as I walked up, and I got on board and announced myself to some San Francisco Muni employees eating lunch on the old wooden seats: "I'm from New Orleans! What's our streetcar doing here? We lost so many in Katrina -- we need it back!"

One of the Muni employees told me he had once lived in New Orleans and in fact had a sister who lives in Marrero. Yes, he knew we had gotten torn up badly. (For the record, I've seen some red-and-yellow streetcars out there, so we must have been able to replace at least some of the ones we lost; I gather the federal government has funds to pay for public transit, especially transit that doesn't pollute -- and streetcars run on clean electricity. On the other hand, the money may have come from FEMA. I'm not really that up on it.) But the folks in San Francisco are honoring our streetcar. The inside has the area for ad placards filled with stories about us and our streetcars. It was heartening. I took pictures.

And when I saw the photos later, I was astonished. If I showed them to someone from New Orleans, they'd probably think I took them on Canal Street, somewhere between Carondelet and St. Charles. Concrete pavement, palm trees in the background. Only the Oakland Bay Bridge in the background tips you off that you're not where you think you are. That and the sign on the front of the streetcar that says it's going to Fisherman's Wharf by way of the Embarcadero.

We are, indeed, sister cities. New Orleans and San Francisco. I'll take French bread over sourdough any day, but I do love this City by the Bay.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Not quite deja vu all over again

We survived Gustav. The city pretty much cleared out this time. No Superdome or Convention Center full of trapped people waiting in the heat to get out, waiting for the buses that never came -- or came too late. No levee breaches in New Orleans, although at least one (private) levee in a coastal area did breach. The coastal areas, of course, caught the brunt of it: Morgan City, Thibodaux, Grand Isle, to name a few. Baton Rouge got hammered: the storm passed right over the city and there's quite a bit of damage there. Now we're just waiting for services to be restored so we can get back to what passes for normal in South Louisiana. And watching the three storms still parading across the Atlantic: Hannah, Ike, and Josephine.

This time, I got out with the cats. It was a hellacious 17 1/2 hour trip to Atlanta, but we made it with only minimal kitty opera coming from the cat carriers in the back of the air-conditioned Evacumobile. I am over my guilt trip about owning a gas guzzler -- an eight-cylinder Tahoe that gets 15 miles to the gallon. I saw lots and lots of people towing/driving RVs in that crawl-and-stop traffic jam up Interstate 59. Makes my Evacumobile look like an economy car.

Suburban Atlanta is a shock to the system when you've been living in New Orleans. Where do people get all that money? The locals must be quite prosperous, or the retailers wouldn't come in and build all these stores. (Yesterday I spent a substantial sum in an electronics store in Alpharetta that didn't exist two years ago. We don't have any stores in that chain in Louisiana.) One shopping center after another, some built since I was last here the week after Christmas last year. Many rural roads I no longer recognize, because they aren't rural any more. That part is very sad to me. So many of the beautiful country roads I used to drive on my way to the farms where Cinder lived are now clogged with strip malls and walled subdivisions, er, communities, I guess they call them now.

It is quite an eye opener to see how the rest of the world lives. When your part of the world is still obsessing over whether the rebuilt levees will hold and fretting about crime and corruption, not to mention the issue of people leaving or just not returning after Katrina, it's a bit of a shock to discover that there are other places where the rate of growth is exponential, even in a supposedly poor economy.

But it is good to be here. I am so grateful for kind friends here, especially the friend who took us all in. The cats are still spooked out to be in this strange place, but they're well and getting everything they need. As soon as the word comes that the power is back on at my house, we'll head home. And hope that we're not evacuating again a week from now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On a summer evening...

On a summer evening in late July, we gathered upstairs to share a meal and to share memories. As the twilight faded into night outside the tall, narrow windows of the fellowship hall, we got up from the table, one by one, and told our favorite stories of Cliff. It could have been his retirement dinner. It should have been his retirement dinner. Nieta had arranged a collection of photos from his life and career up on the stage. His son Bruce came from Dallas to hear all the tributes. A longtime church member returned from Arkansas to be there with us.

Some of the memories were funny. Some were poignant. Most of them were post-Katrina stories, or, as we like to say around here these days, after the Federal flood. (New friends in Iowa are starting to understand what that's like this summer, as we trade stories of FEMA and other disaster assistance. But that's another blog.) There was a great one about Cliff and another man heaving a huge flooded desk through a bay window somewhere in Lakeview. Another great one about his test drive of a new riding lawnmower for the church that nearly took out the salesman's truck. My story about Cliff and I (me?) taking one of my seminary professors to lunch at a local bar, which so delighted the professor that he bought us all Powerball tickets, and we all vowed that if we won the Powerball, we would give the money to the church. (None of us won the Powerball jackpot, so we never got to put those vows to the test.)

At the end of the evening, the jazz pianist Peter Cho and one of our former organists, Greg Nussel, went downstairs to the sanctuary to see the ultimate tribute to Cliff. Yes, we got the grand piano. It arrived early in July. It's a Yamaha and it's gorgeous. It belonged to a professional musician who clearly took very, very good care of it, and according to Peter, it's probably no more than ten years old. (The beloved Steinway grand that we lost in the flood was a historic piano from the estate of Mrs. Katie Patterson, dating from sometime around 1909.) Both Peter and Greg took turns trying out the Yamaha. Oh my. Words fail me. I'll just say the acoustics in the sanctuary are wonderful, and in the evening dusk, with the beautiful old chandeliers glowing gold in that Gothic room, it felt as if we were somewhere in England, if England were hot and humid (the a/c was off).

Doggone it, I wish Cliff had been there. He would have loved the whole evening. And with his great love for music and singing, he really would have loved the piano.

Above all else, Cliff loved life. That was the quality in him that came out in all the stories: his boundless energy when it came to doing something for someone else, his childlike curiosity and eagerness to explore, his genuine sense of happiness in life.

When I worked with him as a seminary intern ten years ago, I remember that the homeless people who used to come by the church to see Cliff would ask for "Father Nunn." This is a Catholic city, and I suppose if you are a male religious figure, people will address you as "Father." But as I listened to all those stories last night, I realized that in many ways Cliff was like a father to all of us -- always there, always ready to help, always ready to listen and to give you advice if you needed it. God blessed all of us who had the great privilege of knowing him.

And every time I hear that Yamaha grand piano, I'll think of him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agents and Editors Day

This morning the men in black were gone, and so were the big black SUVs parked at the side of the lobby entrance. So I guess the McCain entourage is on its way to its next stop. They were here not much more than 12 hours. Such is life on the campaign trail, I guess.

Today is Agents and Editors Day at the writers' conference. We were invited to sign up online for meetings with up to three agents, for a modest fee. I figured if I was spending this much money to come all the way to California, might as well. It was worth it. I met with three agents. I pitched a nonfiction spiritual memoir about Katrina to two of them, and it received mixed reactions. To a third agent I pitched a fiction proposal for a quirky love story, and she received it favorably. All of them gave me their cards and invited me to email them and send them proposals and sample chapters. I was quite pleased.

Mind you, all three of them are "hungry" for new business. One started her business this year; she is more into helping writers in the editing and packaging of their work and recommending them to other agents. Another has been in business 15 months. The third just changed jobs in the last couple of months, but she has gone from one established agency to another, which is a good thing as far as stability of the agency is concerned.

There are a lot of good writers here, mostly women in the workshops I've attended. I've been favorably impressed with the quality of the writing they are reading in these sessions. There are probably 200 or 300 people here, and just about every one I've heard has material that is good enough for publication. I don't find that intimidating; I find it affirming. This is a place for people who are serious about their craft. I know quite a few of them will, indeed, get published. I hope one of them is me.

Want to know more about this conference?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Santa Barbara, again

After an absence of ten years, I've returned to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference this week to learn what's new in the publishing industry and to pitch an idea for a book that's been percolating in me for the last, oh, two years, ten months, don't know how many days. (You guessed it, it's a Katrina book.) Tomorrow I have three ten-minute interviews with three agents to pitch, yes, just like writers in Hollywood pitch screenplays for movies. I keep telling myself this is just to get my feet wet, as I've never done this before. Kind of like preaching those first sermons.

Santa Barbara, in case you didn't know, is one of the country's top writers' conferences. For the last 36 years, Ray Bradbury has been the keynote speaker. He was here Saturday night, opening the conference. He is 88 now and partially paralyzed from a stroke he had some years ago, and his speech is a little slurred. But he's still the master, and we gave him a standing ovation. His message, applicable to more than just writers: "Do what you love, and love what you do." Amen!

You may think this is a strange place for a minister to be, but this morning I was in a nonfiction workshop with about 20 participants, and three of us were pastors. We who preach, write. I love to tell people from my former profession, the magazine industry, "When you're the preacher, you can't tell the congregation, "The sermon's not quite done yet, but I'll get it to you tomorrow." The editors all laugh. There is no winging it on Sunday morning. Whether it's good or bad, the sermon's got to be done, and you get up there with a smile and preach it, even if you think it's a dog. One of my seminary professors told us in preaching class, "Sometimes you have to walk the dog." Yeah, but don't do it too often. But I digress.

This week many of my Presbyterian colleagues are at the denominational General Assembly in San Jose. If you're geographically challenged as far as California is concerned, San Jose is just south of San Francisco in the northern part of the state. Santa Barbara is 90 miles north of the Los Angeles airport in the southern part of the state. Thoroughly confused? Just remember, San Jose and Santa Barbara are probably close to 400 miles apart. Have fun at the General Assembly, friends.

I spent a little time reading the local Sunday paper yesterday, the Santa Barbara News-Press. I had been told that Santa Barbara is fairly conservative, and every column I read in the paper seemed to support that view. This afternoon as I walked across the grounds of my hotel -- it's actually a resort, Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort, just across the road from the ocean, and yes, I was tempted to sing the Davy Crockett theme song when I walked in the lobby but didn't -- at any rate, I noticed a couple of California Highway Patrol cars (wasn't there a TV show once called CHiPS about them? The patrol, not the cars) parked in the driveway by the lobby and some guys in black suits and dark sunglasses standing around -- yes, it really looked like Men in Black. Hmm, well, when you're only 90 miles from L.A. and you're at a resort, it's not unusual to get a celebrity or two in the area. This evening I asked someone if they knew who it was. I was told it was John McCain. This person seemed to think that he and his entourage probably had a block of about 100 rooms in the main part of the hotel. (I am staying in a building at the far end of the property. I am nowhere near the action. I actually find this comforting. If somebody starts shooting around here, I want to be as far away as possible.)

Well, conservative Santa Barbara would probably welcome John McCain. We in New Orleans aren't particularly happy with Republicans since Katrina, but that's a long story and I really, really don't want to write a political blog. My friend Ethel says if I get to meet McCain (not likely!), to tell him on behalf of her and all the other mothers of our service people that if he gets elected president, he should bring our children home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Me, I'm here to learn more about writing. So far I've learned that I need to keep this blog going and get more people to read it. If you are one of my three readers, please tell a friend about it. As the Gallo wine guys used to say, thank you for your support.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer evening

Dare I say it? It's a sultry summer evening in New Orleans. I mean hot and humid. Just like all those bad pulp novels describe it. I've been sitting on the front porch with the cats (this IS Cattown, after all). Somewhere down the block, someone is playing a clarinet. Slow, easy blues.

Would this have happened in my old neighborhood in suburban Atlanta? I think not.

I love this town. Hurricane season and all.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Celebration of a Life

We said goodbye to Cliff yesterday in a service that packed the sanctuary and balcony of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans...restored after Katrina in no small part thanks to Cliff's tireless efforts. Many tributes were made, many words were said. But the most eloquent tribute to Cliff was not in words. It was in music.

There is an elder in the church named Peter Cho who is a jazz musician. He's seldom in church on Sundays because he plays with a group called James Rivers at the jazz brunch at the Hilton downtown. After Katrina, of course, there was no jazz brunch for quite awhile, and we had the joy of hearing Peter sit down at the piano in the upstairs fellowship hall (because the church had been flooded with almost three feet of water) and play to the glory of God. People are still talking about the morning he did a jazz rendition of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," which at that point in our lives, as we were all returning from exile, was about as sacred a piece of music as you can imagine. Grown men wept.

What Peter did yesterday morning -- wittingly or unwittingly -- was set Cliff's life to music. He started out slowly, doodling a little bit here and a little bit there, until I wondered if he was playing his own original composition. And then a recognizable melody began to emergy. It was the old gospel song "Amen, Amen." But he wasn't playing it as gospel. He was playing it as jazz. It was energized. It was like fireworks. It was joyous. It was an "Amen!" of thanks to God for Cliff's life. For his energy and his passion and his joy in living, his curiosity and his willingness to explore new ideas...and his complete lack of any need to control situations (that's a big part of jazz -- it goes all over the place!). It was all there, in that piece of music.

Cliff's life started out with a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a degree in this area, a degree in that area, and then he focused in on ministry. And it was in the days, months, and years after Katrina that Cliff's ministry came into its own, as he tirelessly worked for the rebuilding of the church, the neighborhood, and the city.

And then slowly Peter wound it down, ending with a few notes that might have been a little sad, and then it was quiet. Like Cliff's end. Not a lot of fuss, just a slowing and a stop.

For someone who has always lived by the power of words, this summation of a life in a piece of music took my breath away. Thank you, Peter! Thank you, God, for Cliff's life and for Peter's great gift of music!

The church lost its 1909 Steinway grand piano in the flood. Peter did this awesome piece of music on a secondhand upright the church got for the sanctuary after the storm. (I had no idea that old piano had that kind of music in it!) Before Cliff died, the church had established a fund to purchase a new grand piano. It is now Cliff's memorial fund. If you love music and would like to contribute, you can send a check to First Presbyterian Church, 5401 S. Claiborne Ave., New Orleans, LA 70125 and mark it "piano fund."

And if you're ever visiting New Orleans on a Sunday, you can go (after church!) to the jazz brunch at the Hilton and hear Peter play.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aslan's Country

"And what happened then?" said Jill.

"Well, it's not very easy to describe, is it, Edmund?" said the High King.

"Not very," said Edmund. "It wasn't at all like that other time when we were pulled out of our own world by Magic. There was a frightful roar and something hit me with a bang, but it didn't hurt. And I felt not so much scared as -- well, excited. Oh -- and this is one queer thing. I'd had a rather sore knee, from a hack at rugger. I noticed it had suddenly gone. And I felt very light. And then -- here we were."

(From The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, Book Seven in the Chronicles of Narnia.)

And a few pages later, a Talking Mouse says:
"Welcome, in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in."

And finally, the great Lion Aslan, the son of the Emperor-over-Sea, says:
"The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended; this is the morning."

Early Sunday morning, my friend, colleague and mentor, Cliff Nunn, was taken to Aslan's country, quite unexpectedly. I'd like to think it was a little bit like C.S. Lewis' description of the railway accident that took the human characters from the series into the new Narnia: something hit him, but it didn't hurt. And he has been welcomed in the Lion's name to this wonderful place where mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Okay, I just shifted to another book. Revelation 21:4b, if you'd like to look it up.)

We who are still on this side of the door are filled with grief at losing him so suddenly. There were so many things we still wanted to say to him, so many things we wanted to share with him. But we trust that he is safe, and one day we will be with Aslan's country.