Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Week in Britishness

As an unrepentant tea drinker I of course lean toward the Anglophilic, but even I have to concede that these two pieces take Britishness to extremes.

The first was an excerpt of a memoir called Coming Up Trumps that I have to admit sounds wonderful, written by the 90-year-old Baronness Trumpington, nee Jean Campbell-Harris, who seems to have been brought up in luxury and been willing to do pretty much anything to anyone at any time. The photo here is the time "when my good friend Tom King – Lord King of Bridgwater – commented that those people who had served in the Second World War were starting to look ‘pretty old’, it was a natural reaction to stick two fingers up at him." As one does when in the House of Lords.

In the snippet in the Daily Mail, the Baronness writes (among other things) of her time at Bletchley Park.
Although essential, the work formed a dull and exhausting routine. Whenever we could, we rushed up to London and danced all night, then ate enormous breakfasts at a Lyons Corner House, with fake scrambled eggs, fake everything. We always went to the 400, a nightclub on Leicester Square that doesn’t exist any more. We had such happy parties there. I was horrified once because I was at one table with a boyfriend and I looked round and saw my brother at another table with a girlfriend. That was bad enough. But then I looked round again and there, at a third table, was my father. With a girlfriend.
I will have to get my hand on this memoir when it comes out.

And the second moment of Extreme Britishness...well, this is where I have to admit that I regularly and very happily listen to The Deadline, the weekly obits podcast produced by the Daily Telegraph. And there is this very odd section in the middle about letters written to the Telegraph that almost makes me wonder if it's a parody of Britishness.

Take this week, for instance, in which there is a segment about letters on "the proper way to fold fitted sheets" that somehow leads us to King Alfred bowling the cakes, George II's son Fred "who was killed by a cricket ball," and Rule Britannia...I'm still not sure how that worked. You'll just have to listen to it yourself. And say no to the tyranny of hospital corners.

Now, mustache news...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The World Vision Thing

h/t to the Millennial Pastor for
the great image (& responses)
You heard about this, right?

On Monday, World Vision announced in Christianity Today that it was changing its hiring policy so that gay Christians in legal marriages could be hired. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, explained the policy change this way:
"It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," he said. "This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support." "We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," said Stearns. "This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church."
The shit immediately hit the fan with close to 5,000 people canceling their sponsorships of children. In less than 48 hours, Stearns announced that the board reversed the decision, saying it was a mistake.
"We made certainly in retrospect was a bad decision, but we did it with the right motivations. We weren’t trying to harm, or trying to find revenue, we weren’t doing it for wrong motives. We were trying to find some kind of solution to a divisive issue that would create some space of togetherness around differences within the church. Our regret is that we caused more division instead of finding a place of more unity."
So by Wednesday, I had a fair number of thoughts going through my head. Let me see if I can set them out in any sort of coherent order.

First of all, I'm hugely disappointed by how this whole thing played out. And although I'm upset at those who decided to withdraw their sponsorship of children, I have to admit I understand it. I have not been a financial supporter of World Vision in part because of its conservative Christian background (not the only reason, but one of them). So I'm certainly in the same boat as people who don't want to support an organization that they think represents values counter to their own.

I'm much more disappointed with World Vision, for a few reasons:
  • They (apparently) didn't anticipate this. Really? Knowing the political climate we live in, knowing the reactive nature of our current Christian culture, knowing that homosexuality is THE hot button topic...they hadn't thought through the plan? 
  • They didn't give this any time. Rachel Held Evans had begun rallying the troops to solicit new donors. I suspect many other church leaders would have done the same. I'd come home on Tuesday, after learning about the reaction, planning to donate to World Vision as a show of support for this change, knowing they were getting a beating. But they reversed the decision so quickly, I hadn't gotten to it yet. 
  • It seems tremendously short-sighted. They said they weren't trying to find revenue, and that may be true, but I think they lost a great deal of revenue in the long run by the reversal. Look at these charts, people! Do you see which way these lines are trending? 



  • It's inconsistent. Of course, if opposition to the marriage of same-sex couples truly were one of the fundamental principles under which World Vision operates, then looking at the approval rates would be irrelevant. However, one post I read this week noted that World Vision Canada has had a non-discriminatory hiring policy for over 15 years. Which leads me to believe
  • This is a failure of leadership, not a principled decision. Was it based on the financials? It certainly could be. Their latest 990 (financial reporting) shows that expenses were higher than income in 2011 and 2012, at an increasing rate, so there may be serious financial pressures at work. But I am reminded of Friedman's book A Failure of Nerve, which explains that leadership means holding fast in the face of conflict, rather than immediately reacting to loud and negative voices. 
I was appalled at this particular statement in Stearns' retraction: "We’re learning that a number of people are calling back since the reversal to reinstate their sponsorship. They’re forgiving; they’re saying, ‘Hey we stand with you.’” That, sir, is not forgiveness, any more a child stopping a tantrum after you buy him a toy means the child has forgiven you.

I wish them the best, but I continue to believe this was a huge mistake.

***
FWIW, here are some of the international aid organizations to which I contribute, in case you're looking for other organizations to support:

Against Malaria Foundation: www.againstmalaria.com
CA Bikes: cabikes.org
Evidence Action: www.evidenceaction.org
Kiva: www.kiva.org
Partners in Health: www.pih.org

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Twenty Feet from Stardom

I remember thinking when it came out that I'd wanted to see this, but it wasn't until it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature that I finally got around to watching Twenty Feet from Stardom.

This film literally shines the spotlight on the back-up singers of the hits for the past 50 years, and it's revelatory. You will not believe how many of these voices you know intimately from songs fronted by performers ranging from Gene Autry to the Rolling Stones to Sting to Nine Inch Nails.

I don't think it escapes anyone's notice that the primary front-line vocalists are white men and the back-up singers are black women. One of the wonderful choices the director made at the beginning of the film is to blot out the faces of the stars on the album covers so we finally take the time to notice the various "ettes" behind them. What makes it clear is these women aren't diminutive. They are divas and forces to be reckoned with.

The story of the vocals on Gimme Shelter is particularly eye-opening. Merry Clayton, pregnant and home asleep, is awakened and told she needs to come to the studio to do some vocals for "The Rolling Somethings." She shows up in curlers, as both she and Mick Jagger remember, and in three takes, screams out "Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away." Then goes home to bed. In this great video interview in the NY Times, Clayton explains that she was just looking to go back to sleep. She also prods the director to reveal the real reason the producer wanted to make the film.

Another of the featured singers, Lisa Fischer, has been touring with the Rolling Stones since 1989, doing this very vocal. Although she has won a Grammy for a solo R&B performance, the solo career never really came to fruition, and she seems at peace with her role in the background.

It's much harder for others, and neither peace nor success is easy to come by. Darlene Love, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 ("And about time, too," Bette Midler says, introducing her), was royally screwed over by Phil Spector as she sought to be recognized as a performer in her own right. Watching the film gave new insight into her performance accepting the Oscar, as she sang "I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He's watching me." He's not the only one at this point. And about time, too.

I can't recommend this film highly enough.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nairobi Blue and beauty

Somewhere between being introduced to Peacebang's Beauty Tips for Ministers, watching Project Runway and the September Issue, following Tom and Lorenzo's blog, and reading Grace Coddington's memoir, I find that I've become interested in fashion. Who knew that would happen?

So I watched the red carpet coverage of the Oscars in part because I was dying to see what Lupita Nyong'o was going to wear. As what's-his-face interviewed her about who she was wearing (Prada, and again, who is this person who remembers that?), she explained that the color was "Nairobi blue" because it reminded her of the sky in Kenya.

And I thought to myself, We have just seen a new color name be born. 

Sure enough, moments later on Twitter and in news reports that followed, people were writing about her Nairobi blue dress.

And I thought, how fabulous that from now on the name Nairobi will be connected in people's minds to beauty.

That wasn't the first wonderful gift to beauty that Lupita had offered. Aside from the way she carried herself throughout the awards season, she also gave an amazing speech at the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Do read the whole thing, but this is the part that grabbed me hard:
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: "Dear Lupita," it reads, "I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me."
One of the things I have been learning is that how we appear is not frivolous. How we present ourselves is not a mere outward show. It's a form of communication, and the messages it sends can be very powerful.

Again, do read the whole speech, but she ends with this:
What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
Just beautiful.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

We're finally getting some rain!

We also got this:

What? Where?

Oh, you mean this?

And I'd do it again!
We should have named him YOLO.*

(*note for my parents: this is internet for You Only Live Once)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lent Madness is coming!

Yesterday may have marked 3 weeks until the beginning of Lent, but more importantly today marks 3 weeks until the beginning of Lent Madness. Yes, indeed, the saintly contest begins again. And here's the official info from the Lent Madness Supreme Executive Committee:

Lent Madness 2012
Lent Madness 2014

The Saintly Smack Down!


Grit, determination, perseverance. These are the traits, along with the obvious one — holiness — that will be needed to win the 2014 Lent Madness Golden Halo. Based loosely on the NCAA basketball tournament, Lent Madness pits 32 saints against one another in a single-elimination bracket. It is also a wildly popular online devotional designed to help people learn about saints.

Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of the Rev. Tim Schenck, an Episcopal priest and rector of St. John’s Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women who make up the church’s calendar of saints, Schenck came up with this unique Lenten devotion. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints, Lent Madness was born on his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”

Starting in 2012, Schenck partnered with Forward Movement (the same folks that publish Forward Day by Day) executive director the Rev. Scott Gunn, and Lent Madness went viral, reaching over 50,000 people and getting mentioned in everything from the Washington Post to USA Today, to Sports Illustrated (seriously).

Here’s how it works: on the weekdays of Lent information is posted at www.lentmadness.org about two different saints. Each pairing remains open for 24 hours as participants read about and then vote to determine which saint moves on to the next round. Sixteen saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo.

The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch. It’s fun, it’s informative, it’s the saintly smack down!

This year Lent Madness features an intriguing slate of saints ancient and modern, Biblical and ecclesiastical. The 2014 heavyweights include Thomas Merton, Catherine of Siena, J.S. Bach, David of Wales, John Wesley [ed. note: one of mine], Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Joseph of Arimathaea [ed. note: also one of mine]. The full bracket is online at the Lent Madness website.

New this year is the publication of the Saintly Scorecard — The Definitive Guide to Lent Madness 2014. Available through Forward Movement, it contains biographies of all 32 saints to assist those who like to fill out their brackets in advance, in addition to a full-color pull-out bracket.

This all kicks off on “Ash Thursday,” March 6. To participate, visit www.lentmadness.org, where you can also print out a bracket for free to see how you fare or “compete” against friends and family members. Like that other March tournament, there will be drama and intrigue, upsets and thrashings, last-minute victories and Cinderellas.

Ten “celebrity bloggers” from across the country have been tapped to write for the project including the Rev. Laurie Brock of Lexington, KY; the Rev. Penny Nash of Williamsburg, VA; Dr. David Creech of Morehead, MN; the Rev. Megan Castellan of Kansas City, MO; Canon Heidi Shott of Newcastle, ME; the Rev. David Hendrickson of Denver, CO; the Rev. Amber Belldene of San Francisco, CA; the Rev. David Sibley of Brooklyn, NY; the Rev. Laura Darling of Oakland, CA [ed. note: close enough]; and the Rev. Maria Kane of Houston, TX. Information about each of the celebrity bloggers is available on the Lent Madness website.

If you’re looking for a Lenten discipline that is fun, educational, occasionally goofy, and always joyful, join the Lent Madness journey. Lent needn’t be all doom and gloom. After all, what could be more joyful than a season specifically set aside to get closer to God?

Forward Movement is a ministry of The Episcopal Church dedicated to making disciples and sharing the Good News. With offices in Cincinnati, Ohio, Forward Movement has worked since 1935 to reinvigorate the life of the church.

***
So there you go. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

World In Prayer prayers

World in Prayer has a spiffy new website!

It was my week to write the prayers and I simply didn't have the time I would have liked to give to them. The salt of the earth, light of the world reading from the lectionary this morning was a natural jumping off point, but my reading of the news was more of a skim of the headlines. I found myself thinking, "Blah blah blah, Syria, Russia, drought. Isn't there anything new and interesting going on?" I feel like I didn't do justice to any of the things in the news, and so I am grateful to other people for holding the prayers for me this week.

The other piece I added was about how we can be salt and light in our local situations. With all my blah-de-blah attitude, one thing I pondered was how we need to be salt and light right where we are, and that there is so much that needs salt and light that will never make it in the papers. So I wanted to bring that out. 

But as I said, these prayers were quite rushed and I feel I didn't hit the mark I would have liked. Still...here they are.


World News This Week in Prayer – Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jesus, you call us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. May we shine the light of your peace and love to its farthest corners as we remember your world in our prayers.

We pray for Russia as it hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi, for the athletes who have come to compete, and for those displaced from their homes to make way for the sporting venues.

We pray for North Carolina (USA) where tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River have affected the area’s drinking water.

We pray for Pakistan and the Taliban as they enter into peace talks.

We pray for Syria where the government has reached a deal allowing civilians to leave the besieged city of Homs.

We pray for the more than 1,100 African migrants rescued by the Italian navy, and for all those fleeing their home due to conflict or lack of resources.

We pray for California (USA) as it suffers from severe drought and for other parts of the US experiencing extreme cold, and for those affected by these conditions.

We pray for women throughout the world, especially for the women of Iraq, thousands of whom are detained illegally and subject to abuse.

And we pray for those needs close to home and close to our hearts.

We pray for those areas of pain and conflict that never reach the headlines and yet are still of immense importance to us and to you, O Lord.

We pray for strength and courage to be salt, to be light, to be peace, to be love to our neighbors here at home and to our neighbors throughout the world. Amen.