You guys! Uncle Phil–known off the Jenn Stories as Phil Madeira, who has been pretty busy with some other awesome musical projects since I last regularly blogged here–you should google–is coming out with an instrumental CD. Sounds pretty good so far! Like…not crickets. You might want to be a part of it:


Who Knew The Last Day of July Was So Momentous?

According to Facebook Memories, a lot of things happen (to or around me, anyway) on this day of the year. Observe:

Last year I was in Minnesota.
minneapolis art

Visit Or just visit the sculpture garden.

Three years ago I completed my first of four units of CPE.
And ten years ago, evidently, I took a nap. Which I probably need to do again from the sound of things.


Sometimes you just gotta get back to your roots, I guess.

This morning, after having Uncle Phil and the Girl Cousins–as well as Mom and Dad–over last evening, my Paul and I went to Mom and Dad’s to join the whole crew for plätter (Swedish pancakes) for breakfast. Grandma was always the extended-family-gathering plätter maker, but she’s not doing as well as she used to, so Mom’s carrying on the tradition, much to our delight.

Grandma can still play the piano and sing, though, as you can plainly see. This hymn is one to which Uncle Phil wrote the words.

Now we know where he got it in the first place. (Grandpa could also sing.)

Grandma was pretty happy to have her youngest son and all her granddaughters with her today.

Grandmother and granddaughters

Grandmother and granddaughters

She kept saying what a nice surprise it was. “This might be the best time I’ve ever had in my whole life,” she said. “Except, I suppose, the day I got married.” Let’s admit that her memory isn’t the best anymore, but still–she didn’t even say one word about having been to Sweden, so it must have been a pretty good day.

It WAS a good day.

It WAS a good day.


Afterwards I went back to my usual environs and had supper with five of my classmates from my Small Christian School. Some of us have not seen each other for (ahem!) 24 years. We are planning our first class reunion ever for, you know, next year when the length of time we haven’t seen each other is more five-ish.

Because it was a Small Christian School, we share a lot of memories, and some of them go back long before high school. It was fun blending stories of things we all remembered (or had forgotten we remembered) with stories of things we’re doing now. It seemed inordinately wonderful to see each other again. Our graduating class only had 24 kids in it, and it seems like we’ve all been through kind of a lot, but that things are settling down for most of us these days. We laughed a lot.

Impromptu reunion "committee."

Impromptu reunion “committee.”

Sometimes, I guess, you just gotta get back to your roots.

Family Friday

Family Friday

Today is kind of a big deal. Today Uncle Phil and the Girl Cousins, and Mom and Dad, were here for dinner. Uncle Phil and his daughters live many states away, and the other Girl Cousin on Mom’s side of the family (a.k.a. Travel Cousin) lives a few states away, and Mom and Dad only live 15 minutes away, but it’s astounding how comparatively little we see them, so having all of them here was pretty exciting.

So exciting that I took this barely-blue milk of magnesia bottle that my Paul pulled out of the ground the other day, and put some marigolds in it in front of the fire pit for a decoration. I'm not sure anyone saw it before we had to move them so we could put a fire in the fire pit, though.

So exciting that I took this barely-blue milk of magnesia bottle that my Paul pulled out of the ground the other day, and put some marigolds in it in front of the fire pit for a decoration. I’m not sure anyone saw it before we had to move them so we could put a fire in the fire pit, though.

We had supper on the boat.

Uncle Phil and the Girl Cousins...would make a good name for a band? Well, at least these three would make a good band.

Uncle Phil and the Girl Cousins…would make a good name for a band? Well, at least these three would make a good band.

Then we had dessert around the bonfire.

The bonfire which looks like an Adventure Time character.

The bonfire which looks like an Adventure Time character.

We talked a lot–mostly about things rarely talked about in our family. Like farting. It was a good time. I’m gonna go now, so I can rest up and hang out more with these awesome relatives tomorrow. G’night!


Theology Thursday

I have a confession to make. Ever since we moved back to the USA from Honduras when I was eight and I discovered that it wasn’t, in fact, Heaven, I have been one of the less patriotic Americans you could ever hope to meet. I guess I’ve spent just enough time in other locales, and made just enough friends from other places, not to want to blindly pledge my allegiance to a country which isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven and about which I have some misgivings.

My Paul has done a pretty good job (although he may not know it) of helping me appreciate the things about this country that make it unique in a positive way. I will also say I’ve been aware for quite some time that it’s a blessing to be able to say things like I just said above, and not have my door beaten down–yet. Hey there, President Obama! My Paul and I just had a lovely Independence Day celebration with our two dogs, about which I hope to tell you more on Saturday, and, particularly in light of what’s going on in Egypt, I do hope you know I don’t take my liberties for granted.

However, although I am grateful for these liberties and I know that who I am is affected by my nationality, I can’t say that that nationality has ever–at least, since I was nine years old–been the primary way I identify or define myself. I think the reason for this is that there was always a higher identifier–a higher priority.

When I was in high school, Uncle Phil came out with a CCM album called Citizen of Heaven. As I understand it, he’s a little embarrassed by this album nowadays, maybe because it was CCM, or because it was done in the 80’s, or because he’s more of a universalist now than he was when he wrote and performed those songs.

I wish I knew where my copy was . . .

I wish I knew where my copy was . . .

I’m sorry he’s embarrassed, because CCM and 80’s and non-universalist or not, it’s a pretty good album. And at the time it made me aware of a Bible verse I had not yet encountered that resonated with me in such a way that it’s still how I think of myself–not (I hope) in an arrogant way, but just in the sense that this is what’s important:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ 

(Philippians 3.20, ESV)

I don’t know or remember what it was like to be a British colony. Frankly, I’ve spent much of my life wishing I were British and either living in London or trying to get back there. But I can tell you right now, without a shadow of a doubt, that I know what it’s like to be “occupied” by sin–to be a slave to it, where it’s not even a choice but I’m going to do something against God or my neighbour one way or another. And, freakish and imaginary-friendish as it may sound, I’ve met Jesus, and I know that He is God, and that He came into this sin-occupied world and submitted to it–not that He sinned Himself, but that He let it do its worst to Him so He could win my independence. I know that He emerged triumphant, because–hey look! I live on this side of that historical event, and like I said, I’ve met Him. I know I still screw up–multiple times a day–but I know I’m not a slave to it anymore. Jesus paid the penalty for what I’ve done, once for all, and I’m free–but also He liberates me progressively over time. I know this because in many ways I’m the same person I was as a four-year-old telling my mother I wanted to write stories, but in other ways I’m not the person who defaulted to abject apologies when people were proud of her, and I didn’t make either of those two things (or many many other things) happen by myself.

This independence is vital for me–even when I forget (like I sometimes forget about my American independence) that I have it–but it’s also important to me because it doesn’t have anything to do with my nationality. Or yours, either. Sometimes you have to choose your citizenship, but citizenship in Heaven is open to anyone. Jesus is the validator.

I’m okay with being an American. But that’s not really where my independence comes from.

Crucifixion, by Nikolai Ge

Crucifixion, by Nikolai Ge

The Search

A number of years ago, Uncle Phil put out a CD named after a British pub in, of all places, Britain, called Three Horseshoes. On it was a song called “Ain’t Comin’ Home for Christmas This Year.” I myself lived out of the country for a number of Christmases, so I can’t be sure of it, but I’m not sure he ever did come back to New England for Christmas after that, until this year. True, it’s not quite Christmas, but this week he brought his two daughters (i.e., my cousins) up to New England and made the family rounds.

photo by Jim Grosser 2012

The family round . . . the table, for example.

It turns out that Uncle Phil is good for my blog, by which I mean the fact that he works for Emmylou Harris is. Apparently a lot of people out in the webi-verse are looking for Emmylou Harris. Like, today, for example–three times. If I look at search terms people used which landed them here (which I did look at yesterday), Emmylou Harris tops the chart, by a lot. And then apparently sometimes people don’t want to find just plain Emmylou Harris, so they search things like Emmylou Harris jeans, Emmylou Harris hot, Emmylou Harris grandmother and, um . . . Emmylou Harris promiscuous. Sorry, Emmylou Harris. Then there are the other Uncle Phil connexions which also often lead here: anything with Elvis Costello or Shaun Mullins, for example, and even Phil Madeira universalist. Apparently people are concerned about that. Anyway, I guess it’s kind of cool that all these famous musicians indirectly benefit my blog, but I kind of wish some people ended up here for me.

Which I guess they do sometimes, because it’s a jenn story has turned up once or twice, and one time just “jenn”. Considering all the Jenns in the world, it’s kind of chuff-worthy to know that a simple jenn in quotation marks sent someone right to this blog. There are also search terms about snake skeletons, children’s book characters made of trash, hippie grandmas, jenn grosser, and wold Jesus have gone out dancing? I want to know the answer to that last question, too. Is there a wold Jesus? Does he dance on the wolds? What is a wold, anyway?

Here are some more of my favourites:

how can i name my hippie bridal shower album – I have no idea what that means, although I guess I can see how those terms conspired to get you here. How can you name it? Or what? Could you just name it “Hippie Bridal Shower Album”?

capybara demotivator – Once I posted a picture of a capybara, but I’m a little unclear about the demotivating bit. Is this blog really that undermining that even capybaras are demotivated by it? Man. That’s a bummer.

i did wear a sari until i went to a wedding – And then . . . it was your wedding, and . . . hopefully the until was actually after? Or weddings somehow put you off saris? In that case, I’d kind of like to know how.

guys i’m dating leaving the country for good – That stinks. Sorry about that.

something like what goes around, comes around like – Filler words in search terms are, like, hilarious.

early christological controversies everyone behaved badly chadwick – Is Chadwick someone who wrote a book you were looking for, or are you speaking to this Chadwick person . . . through search terms. It sounds inefficient, but it could be sneaky. Go for it.


i want a steampunk boyfriend

This isn’t a very original question, but what are some of your own favourite search terms? What kinds of random things lead people to your blog?

Hearing Voices

Uncle Phil’s beloved’s book

Within the last two days I’ve written two blogposts which cannot be posted. One is simply pending one of its subjects’ go-ahead, and the delay is about timing. The other is one of those that’s just not fair to post on a “nonymous” (opposite of “anonymous,” right?) blog, but which I needed to write for my own sanity. Neither of those do you any good, though, if you came over here looking for reading material.

So here’s this: reading material and more reading material. Uncle Phil has a beloved, whom I’ve met once but don’t really know at all. Evidently she’s multifaceted–artist, therapist, writer, mother, etc–and she’s just come out with a book. Which I received in the mail from Uncle Phil yesterday. I read it all at once. Well, it’s not very long, but still. It’s a series of dramatic readings based on stories in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, and meant to be read over blues music. It’s called, not coincidentally, Jezebel’s Got the Blues. Evidently it’s going to be performed in New York City this summer, which is cool, and if summers weren’t so absurdly hectic for me, I’d try to get down there and see it and drag my Paul with me. But they are, so . . . I’ve got the book, I guess. The mono/dialogues are spoken from the point of view of Biblical characters, but more often of personified objects in the Biblical stories. Like the rouge on Jezebel’s cheeks, for example. Or the mark of Cain or the harp of David (those two were my favourites). I’m a fan, and I know this because, as I said, I’ve read it all, already.

It’s not quite the same as, but somewhat similar to, what I used to do in London when I put myself in the shoes of a Biblical character and wrote a short vignette about a Bible story from that character’s point of view. It’s just that my characters were always people, and most of Uncle Phil’s beloved’s aren’t. It’s also kind of like the extended experiment I performed on the Gospels to write Favored One, which, as you know, is a difficult-to-classify novel about Miryam, mother of Yeshua. That one that you’re going to buy after I figure out if I’m going to self-publish it or if someone else is. Right? (*Smarmy grin.*)

Anyway, I was kind of thinking that maybe I’d once a week post one of those old vignettes. Keep in mind that I wrote them when I was about fifteen years younger than I am now, but if you’re trying to understand what I’m talking about regarding the whole fictionalising-a-Bible-story thing, well, check it out. First one? Will be the next post. Mostly because it took me way too long to lead into this.

Give God the Blue(s) Like Jazz – Part 2

Broken-winged bird

During the time that all this Blue Like Jazz Kickstarter stuff was going on, Uncle Phil, who is (maybe confusingly if you don’t know the story) my actual uncle and the “reason” Uncle Steve is my “uncle,” was working on his own project. He was getting frustrated with conservative Christian political rhetoric and had recently started touring with Emmylou Harris and the Red Dirt Boys, and he had this idea of creating a collaborative album which focused on the love of God for all. Evidently at least a few other musicians had a similar hankering, because at least from this vantage point, it doesn’t seem like he had any trouble finding contributors and coming up with quite an illustrious line-up. Inspired, in part, I think, by the success of Blue Like Jazz‘s Kickstarter foray, he put Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us on there, too, and suddenly I’m a two-time official patron of the arts. (The fact that this is even possible is somewhat mind-boggling–and also a little comical–to me.)

This project is less definitively a “Christian” one than the aforementioned movie. Neither all (any of?) the actors in the movie nor all the musicians on Uncle Phil’s CD are professing Christians, but it seems like music about faith which is not specifically “CCM” has been around longer, so it doesn’t feel like it has to try so hard just to be music, the way so far movies made by Christians have to try just to be movies.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that Uncle Phil’s approach to the whole God thing is not only a little more universalist than mine, but also than Uncle Steve and Donald Miller’s. (Although I’m not positive about that last part.) Still, I love this CD. I’m not really one of those people who can talk intelligently about music, but in my opinion, musically, it’s fantastic. Lyrically, it’s beautiful and/or thought-provoking. And I think at base, both the aforementioned movie and the CD, releasing within about a week of each other, are kind of about the same thing. They’re about not demonising, and reminding that, as Shawn Mullins sings in the album’s “Give God the Blues,” “God’s gone fishing for the soul of every man.”