Monday, June 20, 2011

June 16, 2011

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
June 16, 2011

Mixed Metaphors:

To enter the synagogue I had to cover my head with the Jewish cap called a kippah or yarmulke. Honestly, that doesn’t sound like what the woman called it but Wikipedia has never failed me before. Anyway I got to keep the hat as part of the $10 tour fee.

Nancy may turn violent and hurt someone if the AC doesn’t get fixed in our apartment. One can just imagine the headline: “Missionary Momma Slays Husband in Hot Apartment.” We have been assured that we are ‘on the list’ to get things fixed. On the roof of our apartment building there are some large refrigeration units that cool water which is then pumped through the heating system. Ours and the Elders in the apartment next door haven’t worked yet. “Da pump no worka, gotta geta new pumpa, I tella my boss,” according to Frank, the Italian maintenance man, after he bled out more buckets full of thick sludge this week. We got a couple small AC window units from the mission office but they blow the breakers if we run them together. Fortunately the weather has turned pleasant again.

We watch fireflies shoot up like tiny bottle rockets from the grass as we walk in the evenings. This is a lovely country. We continually appreciate the beautiful foliage of the trees. Everyone has trees in their yards that are gigantic by Nevada standards. The trees and thick shrubbery shield homes from the noise of traffic. Almost immediately after stepping off the busy streets it becomes quiet and pleasant.

We are looking forward to attending the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert next week. We will be taking the Elders from the apartment next door.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 7, 2011

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
June 7, 2011

This week’s journal entry is a story. It is more about “It’s not where you go so much as who you meet when you get there.”

Sister R____ and two of the Three Nephites

There is no evidence that God loves the rational person more than the rest of us. Each of us is subject to periods of varying shades of insanity during the different periods of our lives. Surely, we all have looked back over some event in our lives and thought, “What was I thinking?” A similar phrase, “What were you thinking,” was sometimes accompanied with a cuff to the side of the head when I was an errant boy. And if any of you think you have always been a perfectly rational person, your parents can probably recall periods of temporary insanity during your adolescence.

Sister R____ is in her mid-60’s. She is short and heavy. She wears a brace on one knee, and sweat band on the left wrist under her watch. Her hair, always appears freshly washed and still wet, is combed back. Her piercing eyes are a color of light gray and they seem to bore a hole through your chest when she fixes them on you. Think of a picture of Wilford Woodruff and you have a good likeness. In her younger days she drove big rig trucks. Now she totters back and forth a bit as she maneuvers her wheeled walker along the hallways at church, shoving it along in front of her. In one’s imagination it isn’t hard to replace the walker with a grocery cart to see how she looked nineteen years ago when she was a homeless person on the streets of Philadelphia. Of her faith after becoming a member, Sister R____ once said she had wanted to pay her tithing. Lord, she said, helped her remember where bits of money were hidden around the house.

Sister R____ is a woman without guile. Bluntly honest, she tells the truth with persistence that makes ‘normal’ folks squirm a little. “Dear God,” she volunteers to pray each week in Sunday School, “Bless these people to answer the teacher’s questions today so I’m not the only one” [who responds in class.] Or to Sister Blattman, “You forgot your name tag.” Sister B. mumbles something about she forgot but hoped that no one would notice. “I noticed,” said Sister R____ loudly, “You need to wear you name tag all the time.” A glance at Sister R____ ‘s quadruple scripture combination shows it to be tabbed with little pieces of tape and well-worn from frequent use. Indeed, her answers given in Sunday School class show she knows well what the scriptures say and her answers, like those who people read to learn rather than are taught, are not just the typical Mormon-speak but show a real understanding.

So, Sister R____’s story of meeting two men who she claimed may have been two of the three Nephites piqued my interest. I’ve heard and read a lot of stories over the years that left me more skeptical than Sister R____’s account. You see, her story simple: She ran into two men who said and did nothing out of the ordinary, but the encounter, she said, “Made my heart leap in my chest.” It was the same feeling she had in a similar experience near the time that she joined the church nineteen years ago.

It was the morning of the Broad Street Run, and annual event. The North Philly church where Nancy and I attend is on Wyoming (Wyoming is a Pennsylvania name by the way) and Broad Street. We had to park on the wrong side of Broad Street and wait while 30,000+ people ran past, or most of them anyway, so we could at last thread our way between the less fit and gasping lagging runners without fear of being trampled. That morning, Sister R____ said she had to take three different busses to get to church -a considerable struggle to negotiate with her walker and bad knee. At one bus stop, two men approached her and asked, “Sister, what church do you attend?” She replied, “The Broad and Wyoming Chapel.” The men kindly wished her well. She labored onto the bus. When she turned back they were gone. That’s it! These were her angelic visitors.

She described the men as very old, dressed in heavy old coats, and they both had deeply lined faces. “But their eyes!,” she said, “Their eyes were bright! And when I looked into them my heart leaped in my chest. I knew they were messengers from God!” She needed no more affirmation, she simply knew who they were.

An old woman was moved to grateful tears by kindly passing remarks made by two old men at a bus stop in inner city North Philadelphia. North Philly is a place where as Nancy and I drive along and gape at so many disheveled persons hobbling along the sidewalks, we often remark about how many people we see limping. It is a place of row houses, asphalt, and trash; of poor people, people with canes, walkers, wheel chairs, and what looks like an abundance of hopelessness. What more likely place would angels come to lighten the heart of a faithful old woman?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

May 28, 2011

Elder and Sister Blattman’s Missionary Weekly Journal
May 28, 2011

After working at the library we walked on down the road past our apartment building to the Beth Shalom Synagogue. The admission was $10 each but, hey! you only live once! So, after watching a film that we were told that everyone wants a copy of after viewing we were taken on a fascinating tour of the only synagogue designed by Frank Loyd Wright. The building is an amazing combination of triangles built over a floor that simulates great cupping hands holding the congregation of about 1000. We were told that one could also imagine a great tent over gently sloping sand dunes. The sand colored carpet gives an additional effect of the Tabernacle carried by the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert.

When Dan & Kim were here we looked through the window and wondered at the red lights. Those red lights are the perpetual flames over the ark of the covenants (center of photo on right) where their Torah scrolls are stored. At the end of our tour conducted by one of the rabbis we got to see and even touch a Torah scroll. The velum that the Torah was written on was bright white and soft like thick paper The lettering, all hand done, was perfect. They were each wrapped in velvet and covered with a silver breastplate. We were as impressed with the Torah scrolls as with the building.
Saturday evening we went to see The Damnation of Faust, by Hector Berlioz in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in downtown Philly. Thanks Joe & Negin for the tickets. It was really something. The music was beautiful. In addition to the Philadelphia Orchestra there was a big choir and at the end even a boys choir that filed in to sing the finale. As you may have guessed, we borrowed both the photos of the Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Kimmel Center from the internet.
Just before the program started a short and plump little man came rushing in and sat beside us. He threw his cane down across two seats and tossed his canvas purse onto one of them and plopped his ample backside into the other. Starting from his feet, he was wearing tan and red saddle shoes, stripped stockings the color of Neapolitan ice cream, bright blue and white striped trousers, a black vest, pink shirt, and purple tie. The conductor (a rather odd man himself) turned to him and smiled before the performance. Nancy thought he might have been a music critic. If so, I hope his taste in music is more discriminating than his taste in clothing.

And today, (you all probably are thinking that we goofing around all the time and aren’t doing any missionary work), our director took us to the museum of the Academy of Fine Arts. Our director did his graduate work there and taught classes so he was still on the faculty there and he got us in free. It was a treat to go to a great museum of fine art with an art history professor as a guide. A fair amount of it went right over our heads but we did get to appreciate some beautiful paintings. Again, thanks to Google, I’ve clipped a couple some the great works there that we saw. I thought these were interesting because I’ve seen some of them in history books. The first is Walt Whitman, the second is called Hailing a Ferry, and then Ben Franklin and George Washington.