Unexpectedly Elvee

30 June 2002

Well, I can FTP in, but I can't get my webpage to come up. David says he can't, either. If you can read this, obviously you can, and probably I can, too. I'll probably wait until after Mark and I get back from church to post anything, though, just because, well, I can't see it once it's up.

I finished The Secret History yesterday, and wow, was it depressing. I don't know if I was reading it at the wrong time or if it's just not the book for me or both, but I found the ending totally unsatisfying and the whole thing nihilistic. I ended up reading Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke just to have a worldview that made some sense to me -- and I really disagree with Philip Pullman on many issues. Luckily, The Ruby in the Smoke had approximately two lines of preaching, in contrast to the His Dark Materials trilogy. I can find the exact line where I became disappointed with The Golden Compass. It's where he first makes the very clear message explicit. I was all right with it until he wrote it down in black and white: This is what I'm doing! I will hit you with The Message Stick! Rrah! I just couldn't believe he had the chutzpah to say that C.S. Lewis was preachy. To quote Michael (at least, the way he used to say it): "Um, hello, Mr. Pot? This is the Kettle...you're black." (It just doesn't come out the same without Michael using his extra-special snooty voice. Ah well.)

So. Now I'm reading a book called The Symbolic Species, about the human brain and language. Unfortunately, I'm still pretty skeptical of the theses. It sounds to me like the author worked around his preconceptions to form a theory of neurolinguistics, rather than using data as the first line of input. It doesn't necessarily make him wrong, but it doesn't give him an excellent foundation for being right, and I find myself reading with a skeptical scowl. Also, in many cases he presents things in ways that seem backwards to me, giving information that I feel is prerequisite to the point he's making, four or five pages later.

Anyway.... I went out to get the mail yesterday, and what did I find? No, not a book contract. No, not an acceptance letter, either, although Mark thought when I came in grinning that it was something like that. Nope. I got...a bag of suckies! Aunt Ellen and Uncle Phil sent an "Uncle Phil Sampler" with the bumpy blue candies and all sorts of other suckies. Now that I'm back from church and the page is up, I can tell you I brought along one of the green ones for during the sermon. Sermon suckies are not just for the little ones. And, oh, it was a classic Elvee sermon even without Elvee there. I deserved that sucky.

For those of you who didn't go to Gustavus, Chaplain Elvee was the chaplain at Gustavus' Christ Chapel for years and years. He's retired now, but he terrorized -- er, ministered to -- us for most of my college years. Elvee was A Character. I bet he still goes back to play dress-up, because they have the biggest collection of capes for him to play in. One of them is really cool with stars on it and another has bunnies and birdies and other happy woodland creatures...Elvee was rather High Church, you see, and I am Not. I often end up telling people the story of when Elvee rang the bell and dropped to his knees the first time I was in Chapel. He was preparing for Communion, and High Church people (who are almost always transubstantiation people) sometimes ring a little bell and go down on their knees at the moment they believe transubstantiation occurs. Well, I had heard of this, but I'd never seen it before, and it didn't occur to me that a pastor at a Lutheran college would be doing it. (Lutherans are not big on transubstantiation, generally. Or on bunny capes for anyone over the age of 7, but that's another thing entirely.) So when Elvee rang the bell and dropped to his knees, there I was standing in the front pew, absolutely certain that he'd lost a contact. I didn't even connect the bell to the kneeling. If he hadn't bobbed right back up again, I'd have been up there helping him look. It took me until halfway through brunch to get what he had been up to.

Elvee had a theology all his own, and his sermon style was...well, his singing voice sounded like Kermit The Frog, and his speaking voice sounded like Paul Harvey. And his sermons twisted, turned, and rambled, and they always touched on his time in rehab, and I always expected them to end with, "And that poor man, that down-on-his-luck fry cook from Paducah, Kentucky? Turned out to be Mother Theresa in disguise. And now you know...the rest of the story."

So. Today's sermon touched upon the pastor's alcoholic father, which was as close as he seemed likely to get to rehab, and he didn't sound a thing like Paul Harvey, but he closed with that story about Abraham Lincoln and what a failure he was. The story that everybody knows. Everybody. If you are an American and don't know this story, e-mail me. I won't tell it to you. I will just be astonished at your good luck. It's the story that people always want to use to motivate people to try, try again. Sometimes they use the story of Einstein being a patent clerk who was no good at math, instead. Same story, essentially. "People said it couldn't be done!" Etc. But do you know what I think would be a more interesting part of each of those stories? Continuing the list of failures. Having the point be that you don't get to some point of Greatness at the end of a road of Failures -- you have points of greatness and points of failures. I suspect they don't find that nearly so motivational, though.

Ah well. Despite all that it was a pretty good church service, and I certainly didn't mean to get off on an Elvee-tangent. I've roasted some red peppers to put in David's quesadilla recipe, and Mark is now cooking the quesadillas on the stove. Yum. And there will be pesto pizza for dinner and much lazing around the house...well...some lazing around the house perhaps...well, I'll try to work some lazing in between 3:00 and 3:15 if my folks don't call then....

Back to Morphism.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.