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Sunday Sermonette: Sins of the Fathers

Last week, I wrote about my former Vicar’s posting a link to a Christian essay on the importance of dragging your children to church every Sunday. Some folks criticized my apparent belief that religion is passed on by mere early training.

Saying that people are religious because they were taught to by their parents is simplistic, I’m told. Religion is far more complicated and believers far more sophisticated than that. Such a glib explanation is only to be expected from someone without a degree in theology, divinity, or philosophy.

I’ll admit it. I’m not the brightest bulb in the knife drawer. I don’t have a degree in God, religion, or deep thought. My career was in systems administration, working with the various flavors of Unix. It’s like being an auto mechanic, but with less grease under the fingernails. I was just a lay person in the pews, I was never ordained.

Nevertheless, I do think the chief reason why we believe is because we were taught to by our parents at an age when we were still learning how to think. This lesson was reinforced by virtually every adult we encountered in our early days, especially if our parents were churchgoers. A Pew study shows that most children brought up without religion do not become religiously affiliated as adults.

Yes, early parental indoctrination is supported and buttressed by indoctrination from peers, sermons from clergy, books by apologists, and the general tendency of humans toward intuitive rather than analytical thinking, confirmation bias, and a general discomfort with rocking the boat. All your friends are in church on Sunday morning. Why aren’t you? (Or worse, “Who do you think you are? You don’t have a degree in theology, divinity, or philosophy. Do you think you’re smarter than everyone else?”)

Yes, atheists do sometimes find something in religion and convert. Take Leah Libresco, a Catholic blogger on Patheos. She’s certainly educated and sophisticated. She grew up in a non-religious household. She studied philosophy at Yale… where she met a boyfriend who happened to be Catholic. We knew that religion could be a pretty big impediment to our relationship (the title of this blog comes 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers”). So, I made my Catholic boyfriend a deal: I’d go to Mass with him every week that he went to ballroom dance class with me.

She eventually converted to Catholicism. I don’t find her arguments persuasive, or I would convert too, but I respect her intellect. She is, however, an outlier. You won’t find many like her in the pews. Most religious people had religious parents, and seldom stray far from their early training. (I moved from the Catholic to the Episcopal church when I was 18. I defy anyone not a member of those two groups to tell me the difference. The Sunday worship service is almost word-for-word identical.)

The big thing that has changed in the last decade or two, and the biggest reason the non-religious are unlikely to become religious is that religion can no longer silence all other voices in the public square.

We’re told that so-called “New Atheism,” which grew in the aftermath of the religiously-inspired 9/11 terrorist attacks, is somehow nastier and meaner than “Old Atheism,” which we’re told was more intellectual and less confrontational. The only real difference between New and Old is that the Old Atheists didn’t have access to the Internet. If you wanted to read Epicurus or Lucretius or Voltaire or Diderot or Ingersoll, you had to hunt them down from your local library, which may or may not have held such heretical and immoral books. When I was a kid, the Roman Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the list of forbidden books, was still in effect. The Church didn’t stop trying to ban books until 1966, when Cardinal Ottaviano of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Inquisition) said there were just too many contemporary books for the the Vatican to keep up with them all.

It is possible to shake early childhood indoctrination. Some people have an easier time of it than others. For myself, I’ve already said I’m not particularly bright. It took me until I was 50. That doesn’t keep churches from trying, however, as last week’s Sermonette pointed out.

My friend DantheRed posted a creepy little example of indoctrination below.


Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

Last night the Unindicted Co-Conspirator and I got home from choir practice before the rain started. We hopped upstairs and watched an episode of Longmire (so few left), and thence to the arms of Morpheus.

At 11 I woke with an odd sense of foreboding. The rain was coming hard against the skylight, but that’s not a problem. I got up and walked down the hall. From the empty first floor there came a rhythmic tapping as of some one gently rapping, rapping on my brand new floor. Only this and nothing more.

I went downstairs to find a big puddle in the corner where the fireplace used to be, and more water dripping down to join it.

I grabbed some towels and mopped up the floor, and placed an empty wastebasket under the drip. Then I fetched my phone and a flashlight.

High above me was a perfectly dry piece of plywood. Our contractors had capped the chase earlier in the day and covered it with and ice-and-water-proof sheet. No, the water wasn’t coming from there, it was coming from the base of the chase, where there should be (but probably isn’t) flashing between the roof and the chase. I took a picture, then annotated it with a red arrow clearly showing the source of the leak, and sent it to the property manager. This falls neatly into the category of a Condo Association Problem, not mine.

The trouble is, it’s been raining all day. Even if the roofing contractors were on site (they don’t stir from their base on the other side of the Cape Cod Canal when there’s rain in the offing), they wouldn’t be able to get up on the roof to fix it.

Tomorrow is even worse - snow is forecast. Could be several inches, depending on where the storm tracks. Monday and Tuesday are iffy - one forecast calls for snow, another for partly cloudy.

Our condo maintenance guy came up with a temporary mitigation, what in my industry we call a kludge. He went and bought some foam fish-pond sealant, then wiggled up the chase on the inside and attacked the leak from within. Who knows - it might work.

But even if it does work, it’s not enough for us to go forward with plastering. We’ll need a much more reliable fix before we close up the ceiling and walls. On the bright side, we have some wiggle room since the finish flooring delivery was delayed. This shouldn’t throw the project schedule off much, I hope…

And the new stove, never fitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
Near the pallid lumber sitting just outside my chamber door
And the deadline that is nipping still is slipping, still is slipping
And the rain-drops o’er us dripping throw a puddle on the floor

And my soul from out that puddle that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!


Demolition is done! We now have a solid subfloor!

Every joist has been sistered and leveled, a three-quarter inch subfloor has been laid down and solidly attached, and all is well. Also done is the removal of the old chimney and capping of the chase. Electrical and plumbing rough-in has already been done. Electrical inspection is done, building inspection is on Friday.

We should be done with the Unexpected Lurking Horrors portion of the reno. We’ve seen this a million times on HGTV shows.
impressive new designs are imperiled by lead carpenter’s discovery of improper drains / leaky foundations / knob and tube wiring / creeping black mold / asbestos / thriving colony of rodents / termite and carpenter ant infestation / ancient Indian burial ground / FEMA Superfund Site in the basement …

But the walls have been opened and the floors are all fixed, so now there’s nothing left but plastering, painting, installing the new wood flooring, installing the cabinets, installing the new sinks and toilet, hooking up the new appliances, installing the new countertops, finishing the electrics, and bringing back the furniture we moved into storage.

Nothing to it. Well, nothing for me except writing checks, which I’ve gotten quite good at. Still on schedule to finish by the end of March, if the Lord is willin’ and the crick don’t rise.

Renovation Continues

The hallway and kitchen are now open to the basement as new joists are being sistered into place to make the floor level and sound.

Electrical rough-in was completed yesterday. Some lovely new LED cans will illumine the kitchen and living room, the horrible fluorescent light is gone from over the sink, wiring is in place for the new bathroom and dining room fixtures, new holes that now contain wires but will contain switches and outlets litter the walls. The town electrical inspector has inspected and approved the work with flying colors.

The galvanized chimney is coming down and the chase will be capped tomorrow. A stud will be removed and headed so that there’s spot to install the vent for the Jøtul stove out the back wall.

In other words, the work progresses, but there’s an awful lot of it. Still, the project planner is on top of everything and I continue to be impressed by the timeliness and hard work of all of the workers we’ve had on site. To quote Cheops, It’s going to cost my eye teeth and my other shirt, but it will be beautiful.

Sunday Sermonette: Suffer the Children

The Vicar of my former church posted a link yesterday to a Christian blogger’s essay on the necessity of dragging your children to church whether they want to go or not.  Analogies were made to the folly of letting your child play in traffic and respecting a child’s choice to only eat cake and not vegetables.  But the heart of the essay was this: Church is non-negotiable because what we teach (or fail to teach) our children about Jesus has eternal consequences.

We teach them how God created this world perfectly. We teach them how the world became broken through that first sin of Adam and Eve. When their own brokenness shows itself, we point it out, and then we point to the One who came to heal that brokenness; Jesus. And they are never too young to begin learning these things. Each of our children learned to pray while still in highchairs.
So when we come together as the body of Christ, the church, we confess our sins. Then, having confessed our brokenness and need, we hear those great and unfathomable words of forgiveness. We hear that, though our sins are many, and we in no way deserve grace, that God in Jesus has forgiven us.

In other words, you indoctrinate your children that they are broken and unworthy and in desperate need of something for which no evidence exists.  And unless they regularly perform religious rituals and believe according to the dictates of your religion, they will be tormented forever. 

That’s what I was taught before I could even question.  That’s what many of you were taught, too.  Why were such terrible things drummed into our dear little ears? Because that’s what our parents were taught while they were still in highchairs. And so on, back through the generations.

There’s something else we were all taught, too.  You must never question these teachings.  Questioning these teachings leads to loss of faith, which leads to an eternity in Hell.  Hell, we were taught, is a horrible place of perfectly imaginable torment populated by all the people who lived from the dawn of the our species 100,000 years ago until God decided on a plan of salvation to be carried out in a backwater Roman province 2000 year ago, as well as all the people who didn’t hear the message until much later, as well as all of the people who heard the message and demanded evidence of its authenticity, or who disagreed about the importance of certain rituals and doctrines.  (On this date in 1550, four Anabaptists were burned at the stake in Lier, Belgium for believing the right thing in the wrong way.)  

The vast majority of God’s beloved children, for whom he created the universe 13.8 billion years ago and this planet 4.54 billion years ago, are roasting in Hell. And you want your children to worship this monster?

Fortunately, as I mentioned before, there’s no evidence that the things you and I were taught in childhood are true and a great deal of evidence that they are not. Parents are not always wise, they just do the best they can which is usually imitating what their parents did. They taught us about Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and ghosts and unicorns and wizards and fairies "an’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you ef you don’t watch out.” Just how is the God of Christianity any different?




So we’re moving right along. The carpenters are still working on the subfloor, the electricians are roughing in the new lighting fixtures, and progress is being made.

And then we learned that the wood flooring, scheduled to arrive on February 10th, won’t be here until the end of the month. Whoops!

Like Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

The contractor is rescheduling stuff. We’ll now plaster and paint before the floor goes in. Maybe we’ll be done before Memorial Day…

Here’s a little picture of what the subfloor look like, looking up from the basement. These are all 2 x 6 joists. The darker ones on the left are the old ones. The lighter ones on the right are sistered in to the correct height, so that the subfloor above is perfectly level. You can see how far out of level the old ones were.

We can now play marbles! (Except that I lost mine a long time ago.)

Cheap, Quick, and Good

Pick any two.

We’re falling behind schedule. First we discovered the subfloor was poorly installed and uneven. Then we found that the joists were not exactly according to code - not enough overlap, and not enough nails securing one to another. Then we discovered that the level of the floor varied by as much as an inch, and it’s not due to the building settling (there are no cracks in the basement), it’s that the place was built quick and cheap. There was a condo boom in this town about 30 years ago, and there just aren’t that many professional carpenters on the Cape. (I should note that most of the units in this development are built on slabs. Only a few buildings have basements.)

So all plans of shaving and shimming went out the window, and now they’re sistering new joists to the old ones, then putting proper three-quarter-inch plywood on top. If Ringling Brothers still brought elephants on the road, we could host the center ring in our living room - the floor is that solid. They’re about two-thirds done right now.

We’re down one carpenter at the moment, but he should be back soon. They’ll be working around the electrician tomorrow as he comes in to start roughing in the wiring. Should be fun.

In the meantime, the cabinetry has been ordered, as have the appliances. We just picked out the bathroom fixtures for the powder room, which we’re building for a very nice elderly couple. The towel rod and toilet paper roll holder will both be grab bars, capable of supporting us in the event we develop balance issues later in life.

Hopefully the floor will be finished by then…


Nailed It!

Renovation, Day 3.

Sometimes it’s simpler just to do it right than to do it over. The contractors are sistering new joists to the old, using the proper number of nails and making sure they’re all even and level. It’s simpler and quicker than planing and shimming. Except…

Even the professionals make mistakes. Even the best lion tamers occasionally get mauled. The concertmaster of the symphony sometimes hits a wrong note. All it takes is a moment’s inattention.

In ye olde days, an inattentive carpenter might hammer his thumb. Now they use nail guns…

Anyway, the crew sawed off the piece of joist that had become firmly attached to the foreman’s thumb and ran him down to the urgent care center which is only about three miles away.

He was back in about an hour sporting a big bandage, but by then one of the owners of the company had arrived on site, and advised him to take the rest of the day off. We quite agreed. He’s bound to be shaky after the adrenaline rush, and when the novocaine wears off, it’s going to hurt like the dickens. The other two guys on the crew just went back to work while the owner drove the foreman home.

He’s a great guy, and I was impressed by his knowledge and his professionalism, but like I said, even the best of us sometimes make misteakz.


Holey Smokestack, Batman!

Renovation, Day 2: The Destruction Continues.

The morning began with a 7:30 email from the project manager. We called him back, and he explained what we already knew: the floor is in terrible shape and is going to require more work. Not only is the subfloor wrong - it’s half-inch sheathing, not three-quarter plywood, but the joists underneath were done incorrectly. The joists were green when installed, and where they overlap, there’s only one nail securing one to another. This effectively acted like a hinge. As the wood dried, it twisted up or down just a bit - half an inch or so. You can’t lay a floor on those bumps.

So everything has to come up, and the joists need to be either planed down or shimmed, so that a proper three-quarter inch tongue and groove subfloor can be installed on a solid flat surface. And yes, it’s going to cost more, but we were pretty sure this was coming. It also solves the hole in the floor where the unit had serious water incursion for nearly 30 years.

Then the plumber arrived. After removing part of the ceiling and scoping out the situation, he confirmed that the plumbing installed around the passthrough made it impractical to widen it. Rerouting all the plumbing would add time and money to the project, and not give us much in the end. The passthrough stays as is.

The view through the passthrough

The plumber then went to work on capping the gas pipe to the gas fireplace so that the crew could haul it out. We left them to it. Next time we looked out the window, a Brewster police officer was coming up the walk.

Turns out that the plumber found a brown bat in the basement joists. He quickly popped it into a bucket and covered it, then called Animal Control. Officer Lynda Brogden-Burns, who we regularly read about online, showed up to take possession and insure that no one had been bitten. The bat had come all the way down the chimney to our nice warm and sheltered basement. She took it to the local wildlife rescue center.

One of our condo maintenance people popped by to check out why the chimney is leaking, and has tentatively identified it as badly done flashing on the chase, which has led to rot. (If you’re getting the impression that these condos were thrown up in the mid eighties by crews of dubious competence and sobriety, you’re probably right.) Fortunately for us, we’re in line to have our roof replaced this year, so maintenance may be able to throw in a temporary patch until the whole thing can be done right later this Spring. Since we’re replacing the fireplace with a standing gas Jøtul stove, we may be able to remove the chimney and chase altogether and just vent through the wall. The guy from the stove place (that’s its name, Stove Place) will be by on Monday morning to check out the placement.

So, all told, the cost went up, but we anticipated it, and it could have gone up more if our hearts were really set on a wider passthrough. As the Unindicted Co-Conspirator put it, it just means that only two side dishes can be passed to the Thanksgiving table, not four. And we met one of our online heroes, the local Animal Control officer.

Tomorrow - more flooring coming up, more joists sanded down.


Destruction, Devestation, Demolition

Our long-awaited renovation began today. It’s pretty extensive. We are gutting our first floor, removing some walls, ripping up the floor, removing all of the appliances, et cetera. When done in two months, (insh’Allah), there will be a new kitchen with new cabinetry and appliances, a new bathroom, wood flooring throughout, a Jøtul gas stove, new LED lighting. new under-cabinet-mounted heating, and a new boat in our contractor’s yard.

Seriously, this is something I promised the Unindicted Co-Conspirator years ago, and was never able to deliver in the ante-diluvian house.

The electricians showed up before 8 to start turning off power in walls and to appliances slated for destruction. Before 9, the demo crew arrived with implements of destruction and a big zippered plastic panel that keeps the dust out of our living area on the second floor. It’s like living in a Hot Zone.

Really, it’s kind of amazing. They wear dust masks, have a big air cleaner running. and when they were done for the day, the place was almost as clean as when they came in this morning.

We have hit a couple snags. The pass-through from the kitchen turns out to be bordered by drain pipes from the upstairs bathroom, which may put a crimp in our plans to significantly widen it. We’ll discuss it with the plumber tomorrow. The subfloor is in worse shape than we thought, especially over by the sliding door to the back deck. We knew this would be an issue when the guy who installed that slider discovered that one it replaced was installed without sill pan flashing, meaning years of water incursion rotting the floor. Sure enough, in one spot, the only thing holding us up was the carpet itself - underneath had rotted away. But there was also water around the fireplace, meaning a leak somewhere in the chimney, the roof, or the chase. That’s going to require the condo maintenance guy to check out before we can even think about putting down a new underfloor.

But so far, so good. We’re in good hands.