Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine flu quote of the day

Meanwhile, American pork producers are gearing up to persuade the media not to call it "swine flu." It's true, you don't get it from eating pigs. Maybe if a pig breathed on you - but really, how many times has that ever happened to you in your whole life? Like, never, right? Maybe we could call it Sacramento schoolchild flu. Or, as my friend Susan McCarthy suggested, vegan death fever. That would make the pork people happy.

From the always wonderful Jon Carroll.

Response to torture update--my noodging continues

A little over a week ago, I wrote that I was going to contact the Presiding Bishop and our Diocesan Bishop to ask them to support a Commission of Inquiry into the use of torture by the United States. I've heard back from both.

I received this message from the Presiding Bishop's office today:
Bishop Katharine asked that I be in touch with you regarding your email about the NRCAT. You can find Bishop Katharine’s endorsement of a January 9 statement against torture at the following two addresses:

Thank you for your work and witness.
Miguel Angel Escobar
Office of the Presiding Bishop

If you click on those links you will find they are for statements written right around the inauguration calling for an end to torture, not for a Commission of Inquiry. Obviously, I'm pleased about what's been done, but I'll write back again asking if she would support a Commission of Inquiry as well. It may be that she doesn't think that's a good idea, but I'm going to at least ask.

Bishop Marc Andrus responded also, with this message:
Dear Laura,

I appreciate your principled stand, which is one I share and have publicly embraced. The disciplined and on-going effort of the Episcopal Diocese of California to oppose the war in Iraq includes opposition not only to the war in total, but to the many elements, including torture that lead to a judgment that this war is not a just war.

I've read the several opinions related to your letter, and I think the one that I find most compelling is that it would be best if a resolution regarding the diocese's opposition to the United States government employing torture came forward at the next diocesan convention. In this way, we can say with confidence that the diocese, including its bishops takes the stand your suggest.

Marc Andrus

I wrote him back to say that the diocese actually passed a resolution against torture back in 2005, before he arrived, but I have not heard any more since then.

Just a reminder that the National Religious Campaign Against Torture has a ton of ways you can make your feelings known, including encouraging your congregation to endorse a call for a Commission of Inquiry, or participate in Torture Awareness Month in June. And if you think this is a good idea, please pass the word along!

For the amusement of baseball and/or gardening fanatics

From The Onion, The World's Finest News Source.

Screaming Albert Pujols Warns Baserunner Not To Step On His Herb Garden

Alice Waters infiltrates the National League!

Ernie Barnes

I was very touched by the obituary this morning of Ernie Barnes who left pro football to pursue his desire to be an artist.

This was no fleeting thing. "[H]is mother, the former Fanny Mae Geer, ran the household for a prominent lawyer in whose home library young Ernest discovered paintings by the old masters. Overweight and shy as a child, he was encouraged to build his body by a junior high school teacher who caught him drawing in a notebook as he hid from bullies."

The calling came “One day on the playing field I looked up and the sun was breaking through the clouds, hitting the unmuddied areas on the uniforms, and I said, ‘That’s beautiful!’ ” he wrote on a Web site devoted to his work, “I knew then that it was all over being a player. I was more interested in art. So I traded my cleats for canvas, my bruises for brushes, and put all the violence and power I’d felt on the field into my paintings.”

There's something lovely about all of that. About the notion that violence and power are in art as well as physical aggression. That there's nothing weak about art.

From the department of "Hey! That makes sense when you think about it."

An article from the Times reports, Without cafeteria trays, colleges find savings. Apparently, a number of New York colleges (Rochester Institute of Technology among them) has eliminated cafeteria trays and found that it reduced food waste and saved costs in water and energy needed to wash them.

More dubiously,

another benefit: “preparation for the cocktail-party circuit” by having to balance dishware and cutlery. “You eventually have to learn how to hold your hors d’oeuvre and cocktail in one hand while making animated conversation with the other,” he said, “so it’s a life lesson.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A book I am actually enjoying reading!

So I put down Rabbit, Run (and it remains to be seen whether I shall ever return to it) and picked up a brand spanking new book, just published at the beginning of the month, called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark. I am loving this book! Loving it! It's one of those books where I'm having trouble not underlining every line, trying to save it for the points that really, really stick out.

Sample quote:

The summons to sacred questioning--like the call to honesty, like the call to prayer--is a call to be true and to let the chips fall where they may. This call to worship is deeper than the call to sign off on a checklist of particular tenets or beliefs. It is also more difficult.

One of the things I like about it is that it doesn't just point fingers at those fundamentalist types we're all so happy to bash for their unquestioning faith. He very aptly points out how this applies to all of us.

To keep it all simple and safe, we often become selective fundamentalists. We know where to go to have our prejudices explained as just and sensible, our convictions strengthened, our group or political party reaffirmed.

Guilty as charged.

I suppose I shouldn't recommend a book when I'm only on page 60, but I have high hopes the rest of the book will turn out to be as valuable. I'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Reading John Updike

Way back in January, I wrote about John Updike after his death, that I had never read him after being assigned The Centaur in high school. I put Rabbit, Run on hold at the library and finally last week it arrived. I started it last night. I don't think Updike is for me.

I can see it's brilliant and beautifully written. I can see that; it's obvious. I mean, look at this sentence:

His downstairs neighbor's door across the hall is shut like a hurt face.

Is that not an amazing sentence? The specificity of not just a downstairs neighbor, but across the hall, and what that conveys about Rabbit's living quarters. It says nothing about the neighbor, but in conveying information about the door, it says volumes about the neighbor. And the simile! "shut like a hurt face." So unexpected and again conveying so much about the situation. It blows me away how much this sentence communicates.

A page later, Rabbit hangs up his coat and Updike is careful to tell you it's a wire hanger. Again: volumes in a word. I can see that objectively.

The problem is: I don't care. I found myself skimming, ignoring reams of information. Then flipping ahead to see how long the chapter was.

I'm just not worthy of this type of capital-L Litra-chure, I'm afraid. For example, Rabbit spends four pages walking to his mother's house:

As he walks along Potter Avenue the wires at their silent height strike into and through the crowns of the breathing maples. At the next corner, where the water from the ice plant used to come down, sob into a drain, and reappear on the other side of the street, Rabbit crosses over and walks beside the gutter where the water used to run, coating the shallow side of its course with ribbons of green slime waving and waiting to slip under your feet and dunk you if you dared walk on them.

And I'm thinking, "Oh, for God's sake, man! Ask me if I care about where the slime used to be. Just get on with it!"

I fear I am a cretin.

Quote of the Day

When our presiding bishop implies she's more concerned about hunger, primary education, and AIDS and issues like that, then it's clear that she doesn't have her mind on the primary objectives the church ought to be following -- which are the presentation of the gospel.

William Murchison, author of Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity

The NY Times had an obituary this morning for the Rev. Donald Jones who was Hillary Clinton's youth minister. They don't put it that way. They say he was "a professor and a Methodist minister who was spiritual mentor to a young Hillary Rodham Clinton." Looking further in, though, "Dr. Jones met Hillary Rodham while leading a youth group at the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, Ill." He wasn't Dr. Jones at the time; he was fresh out of seminary in his first job.

He did things like take the youth to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak. "Dr. Jones’s methods proved controversial in Park Ridge, and he resigned his minister’s post after two years." I can just imagine what that was about. Oh, what the church does to its own people. It really does boggle the mind.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On partisanship

I think one of the things that most saddens me in the ongoing discussions in the news about torture is that there are any ongoing discussions at all.

Do we think for one blind minute that any conservative commentators would be justifying torture, or memos authorizing the use of torture, or calling them "enhanced interrogation techniques" if they had been employed by a Democratic administration? And I would hate to think that Democratic commentators would be doing the same kind of mental gymnastics that Republican commentators are currently doing had the situation been reversed, but I fear it might be so. Because the rule of the day seems to be Party Uber Alles. And it is amazing to me how few people seem willing to say "This is wrong" simply because it's wrong rather than because it's a chance to win.

This morning I read a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace (given at Kenyon College, actually), recommended by someone I follow on Twitter, that really hits its stride toward the end.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

I suspect that's what we're seeing: partisanship as unconscious worship, as default settings. How far do that road do we have to go before we snap ourselves out of it?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More on Mark

I was dashing out the door yesterday when I wrote that post on Mark. Since then I've been pondering him a bit more--or more precisely the people around him.

There's Paul who doesn't want to be slowed down by Mark when he might be a liability.

There's Barnabas who takes Mark under his wing and gives Mark another opportunity to make an impact.

And there's the Christian community that thought enough of him to attribute a gospel to him.

Obviously, I sympathize more with the Barnabas-type person in this regard, but only in the abstract, I fear. I tend to be more of an "It would just be easier for me to do it myself" type of person rather than spend the time it would take to bring someone else up to speed. Especially someone who had blown it previously.

And I think there is a balance, here. I think Paul and Paul-types have some reasonable arguments to make against investing vast amounts of time in people who simply turn out to be duds.

But Mark, evidently, wasn't a dud. Barnabas (one of my favorite Bible characters) seems particularly apt at picking the good 'uns out of unlikely material, Paul being one of them himself.

I read a story recently (all right, it was in The Interpreters Bible (1952), if you must know) which I would like to be true:

In World War I a fine lad in the battalion with which I was serving failed through illness in face of the enemy and was court-martialed and punished. All that the colonel said to me was, "We must show him that we still trust him, or the lad will go to pieces." And not once did he allude to the unhappy incident, but not only treated the boy with the old friendliness, but a few weeks later in a particularly tight corner put him in command of the very company with whom he had been when he made his slip. In a few days' grim fighting the lad won honor after honor, and promotion for gallantry in the field. "What else could I do?" he said to me. "I failed him; and he trusted me."

I don't think Barnabas is just being nice. I don't think we're asked to be nice. It's something far more challenging than that. I haven't put a finger on what to call this kind of love, but some kind of love it must be.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

I learned this morning that St. Mark is invoked against insect bites, which seems appropriate on this World Malaria Day. WHY he is invoked against insect bites, I have not yet been able to discern.

I also love his iconography: the lion, but I can't explain why that is either.

He's probably also not the author of the gospel of Mark.

Instead, the guy we know for sure is this scared kid that bailed on Paul in the middle of a journey so when Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance, Paul said, no way.

But he did get a second chance, thanks to Barnabas. I still remember a sermon I heard long, long ago wondering if the "beloved son Mark" mentioned in 1 Peter is this same Mark who started out so weak and so green. Possibly. Possibly.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I want to make it clear I'm not promoting this...

So here I am, innocently watching HGTV -- The Home and Garden Network, people! -- when on comes this ad:

What the heck is this? It's just what you thought it was: "the world's largest infidelity dating site."

If you're looking to have a Discreet Affair use Ashley Madison - the ONLY certified Married Dating service that' s been featured on Oprah, Larry King, FOX News, 20/20, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil and Howard Stern.

Question: Who certifies Married Dating services? know what? I don't really want to know.

Which didn't stop me from looking at their press materials in amazement. For additional stunners, check out this email to Eliot Spitzer and this press release for Ashley Madison Mobile (TM).

I just had to share. I'm going back to my mint tea now.

Afterthought: So, remind me again why it is that we think gay people shouldn't be allowed to get married?

Good news for World Malaria Day

Did you know tomorrow is World Malaria Day? I only know it from listening to the BBC's Africa Today podcast which has been doing lots of lead-up stories on malaria and where things stand today.

There are some amazingly good stories, actually. One I heard yesterday is that Zambia has reduced the rate of malaria deaths 66 percent since the year 2000, exceeding the goal of 50 percent that had been set. The interviewer asked the representative from Roll Back Malaria how they accomplished this. She said it was a combination of factors, including money from foreign donors, such as the Gates Foundation, and the commitment on the part of the Zambian government. (To the right, there, you can see where the country of Zambia is located.)

One of the things I learned about malaria during my brief trip to Uganda was that it couldn't be solved just with treated nets. I came back rather disenchanted with agencies such as Nothing But Nets because "they weren't going to solve the problem." But that was short-sighted of me. The truth is they aren't going to solve the problem alone. They're one part of the puzzle, which includes insecticides, medicines, education and prevention. And the truth is I as an individual really can't do much about malaria in Africa, but the good news is it's not entirely up to me. Zambia seems to be doing pretty well without my help at all. I think it's good for me to realize that my help, though welcome, is only a small part of the whole.

Here's Roll Back Malaria's Action Page, including other organizations that are making a big impact on eradicating malaria.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Feast of St. George

He's not an official saint, which I think is a really rotten deal. I mean, just because you're fictional doesn't mean you can't be revered.

Not that he's totally fictional. Probably. ("notes about your extended family in heaven") writes of St. George, "Soldier. Martyr. That’s all we know for sure."

Maybe that's a healthy way to approach all of the saints--and each other, actually. How little we know for sure. Who knows what kind of dragons people are facing every day?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

For Earth Day

Another reading from John Muir:

No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste; everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests Him may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow-mountaineers. Nature as a poet, an enthusiastic workingman, becomes more and more visible the farther and higher we go; for the mountains are fountains--beginning places, however related to sources beyond mortal ken.

From My First Summer in the Sierra, chapter 6

Also, Ansel Adams died 25 years ago today. I think this makes him an honorary Earth Day saint.

Happy Earth Day! And happy feast of Ansel Adams.

Tea makes headlines again

From this morning's SFGate:

Tempest in a teacup?
Tea lovers steamed at politically charged "Tea Parties"

Yeah, you tell 'em!

Also, there's news about the World Tea Expo in Vegas, May 2-4. I am so there!

And now I'm going to have another cup of English breakfast.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On the laity

Meanwhile, in the convoluted world that is Anglican politics, various people are perusing the third draft of the Anglican Covenant, aka the Ridley Cambridge draft. (What is the Anglican Covenant, you ask? You really don't want to go there.)

Mark Harris over at Preludium is doing a mighty fine job of reviewing this document in detail, and in his latest analysis drew my attention to section 3.1.3.

3.1 Each Church affirms:

(3.1.3) the central role of bishops as guardians and teachers of faith, as leaders in mission, and as a visible sign of unity, representing the universal Church to the local, and the local Church to the universal and the local Churches to one another. This ministry is exercised personally, collegially and within and for the eucharistic community. We receive and maintain the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, ordained for service in the Church of God, as they call all the baptised into the mission of Christ.
(emphasis mine)

Please note that in the Episcopal Church, we talk about a fourfold order of ministry, as found in the catechism:

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.

so already we have a difference of opinion.

One thing I find objectionable in this draft of the covenant is the idea that it's only the ordained ministers who call the baptized into the mission of Christ. Personally, I think it's Christ's job to call the baptized; that would be rather more biblical, don't you think?

A while back I interviewed Louis Weil, my liturgics professor at CDSP, to ask about confirmation. One of the things he said is that he feels his primary ministry is as a baptized person; how he happens to live that out is as a priest. I really like that. And I also think it's true: that our call to ministry comes from being baptized, not from being ordained.

I think this document, in a rather minor provision, has revealed a profound theological difference between the Episcopal Church and a great deal of the rest of the Anglican communion. There's no doubt in my mind that lay people do the bulk of the ministry in the church. To not think of them as part of the church's ministry seems ludicrous to me.

Gardening quote of the day

Mulch covers up a multitude of sins

From a wonderful blog entry (as so many of hers are) by Jan Edmiston at A Church for Starving Artists.

The photo is from the wonderful Sunset magazine which has an article on mulching here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

After the torture memos: next steps

I went to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture's website today to get their reaction to the release of the torture memos last week.

In response to these events, NRCAT has reiterated and strengthened its call for a Commission of Inquiry....“We must, as a nation, address the fact that high-ranking officials in our government authorized torture and that agents representing our country carried out acts of torture in our name,” [NRCAT president Linda] Gustitus said. "A Commission of Inquiry is critical to develop the complete picture of what the United States did, how many people were involved and affected, and how such a heinous policy was approved. Without that record, we have no guarantee we can prevent it from happening in the future."

Lots of information on what the Commission of Inquiry is and what it will do and how to endorse it is here.

I was disappointed to see that the Episcopal Church is not listed anywhere among the faith groups that have endorse the Commission of Inquiry. I plan to write a letter to my bishop and to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asking them to do so. If you want to join me, here's the contact information:

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
815 Second Avenue
New York City, NY 10017
(212) 716-6273 • (800) 334-7626

Taking a step at a time, I hope justice will be done.

Waterboarding someone 183 times in a month! It is beyond appalling.

P.S. I also just saw this article that claims "U.S. Provided Torture Training To Uganda." Goody. What an export.

California Tea Rooms

It is my duty to direct you to this article in the Chronicle describing five California tea rooms. I believe it will also be my duty to visit these tea rooms and ensure their quality and gentility for you, the Infusion reader. Such is my devotion to your well-being.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sermon for Easter 2

Abridged for blog readers, who got a lot of this thinking along the way. I didn't know that one handy thing about this blog was that it helps for sermon prep.

As you well know, I am an obituary fan. And as you may recall, at Easter I was reminded of an obituary for a theologian named Nancy Eiesland who wrote a book called The Disabled God.

In the book, as referenced by the obituary, Eiesland writes about the gospel we hear today.

“In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God,” she wrote. God remains a God the disabled can identify with, she argued — he is not cured and made whole; his injury is part of him, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for healing.

I suspect that many of us would like to get rid of our bodies – the actual physical parts of them. The parts that ache or leak or don’t look “right” or don’t work the way they should. I find it surprising that it’s here in the resurrection, the very part when I thought Jesus would be most spiritual and least fleshy, that I am finding him to be at his most physical, thanks to Nancy Eiesland.

I looked around and found another quote from her that I liked very much:

“Resurrection is not about the negation or erasure of our disabled bodies in hopes of perfect images, untouched by physical disability; rather Christ’s resurrection offers hope that our nonconventional and sometimes difficult bodies participate fully in the [image of God] and that God whose nature is love and who is on the side of justice and solidarity is touched by our experience.”

There are two very difficult things to believe in this:
1) that our non-conventional and sometimes difficult bodies participate fully in the image of God.

and, 2) that God is touched by our experience.

But these two things remind me of Susan Boyle. And though I'm still trying to figure out why she has had such an impact, I think in part it is because she very much embodies these two things.

I was reminded of this quotation from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Maybe you are a doubting Thomas on this point. Maybe you don't think that your non-conventional and sometimes difficult body has anything glorious and radiant about it. And that is all right. There’s a solution for that. It’s in seeing other scarred and risen people show forth the glory of God that we begin to believe that we can do so ourselves.

Christ is risen, and we are set free. Christ shows us through his scars that our bodies are not the miserable husks we might think they are, that the body is not something to get rid of in exchange for radiant perfection. Instead, he shows us that “our non-conventional and sometimes difficult bodies participate fully in the image of God.” You, in the flesh, in your body, are witnesses to the risen Christ. Truly. Believe it.

A sermon I thought about giving

Yesterday was the diocesan confirmations at Grace Cathedral. I went as part of the St. John's contingent, but three of the parishes presenting youth were using Confirm not Conform which emphasizes hugely that youth need to make up their own mind about whether or not to be confirmed. In fact, that's main premise of CnC: that youth choose to be confirmed for themselves rather than conform to other people's (particularly parents') expectations.

So it's a bit unfortunate that the bishop began his remarks to the confirmands before the service with, "Some of you are here because your parents want you to be confirmed. And that's a good reason, because you are honoring your mother and father." Ummm...oh dear. Dearie dearie dear. Given that, oh, 2/3 of the confirmands had been through CnC where they were told over and over (as were their parents) that they should NOT be confirmed just because their parents wanted them to, this was...unfortunate.

I have to give the disciples a big thumbs up for how they dealt with Thomas--Thomas included. One of the things today's gospel reading suggests to me is that you can't force someone to believe something if they don't believe it. You just can't. And you can't force yourself to believe something if you don't believe it either. And each person has different experiences that make believing possible or not possible. And that it's OK to be in fellowship with someone who believes something different from you. They may change. They may not. But belief is a mysterious thing that cannot be dictated. And I think it's dangerous and potentially damaging when we think we can.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sermon Prep Quote of the Day

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Confessedly the church has stumbled disastrously in these matters, mistaking prejudice for principle and mere human whims and preferences for the eternal will of God. All that often and scandalously. they look back, subsequent ages watch with amazement and awe how the church has found its way through difficulties that seemed inescapable and problems that could not apparently be solved. In very truth a pillar of fire has led Christ's blundering people through the darkness of the night.

The Interpreter's Bible, 1952 (the good one)
Exposition on the Gospel of John
by Arthur John Gossip

Happy 75 birthday, East Bay Regional Parks!

No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. Acts 4:32

I am mighty grateful for the farsighted folks who came up with the idea of a Regional Park District back in the 1930's. Keeper is even more grateful, what with all the off-leash trails. And cow pies.

I'm particularly mindful of this as Earth Day approaches next Wednesday. The thing I was thinking about Earth Day is that we tend to get all woo-woo about the beauties of the earth as if that was separate from the way that we use, manage, and take care of it. Yes, the earth is beautiful on its own. Yes, nature is powerful and dynamic.

But it's also clear to me that we need to think about taking care of the earth for the long haul, not just about what's pretty and useful today. And not just for us. Which is one reason why I think this 75th anniversary is so wonderful, is to see how the foresight of these folks during the depression have enriched my life so much. (And Keeper's life, he wishes me to add.)

Check out their schedule of activities here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More on Susan Boyle

Yesterday, I posted a very brief entry on Susan Boyle whose performance on Britains Got Talent is absolutely everywhere. I, like a number of other people, have been trying to figure out what this means, if anything. Why is this such an incredible flash point? Is it because she's plain? Is it because she's older? Is it because it shows life is sometimes fair? All of those are true. For me, though, there are a couple of other things.

First of all, one of the things that got me was that solitary splendor. She was all alone on that stage and completely won over a huge crowd that started out against her. And she won them over, not with looks or guile or even talent, though she does have talent. I think she won them (and me) over with generosity, with a selfless sharing of the gifts that she has. And with incredible courage. The guts it took to walk out there and face the potential mockery and scorn is remarkable.

Secondly, there was something humble about it. Not humble as in the cringing, I'm-not-worthy style of humility. More like Marianne Williamson's often-quoted statement, "We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world." She wasn't playing small when everyone there thought she ought to. Nor was she self-aggrandizing. She was who she is (as if I knew); she did what she does; she took a risk; and she won the day.

My mom's emails end with the line, "There came a time when the risk to remain right in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." The other joy, of course, is seeing her bloom right in front of our eyes. I hope she does all right under all this scrutiny.

Tannins make you tough

Headline: Miss. woman survives being shot in head, makes tea

Got this link from a friend who sent it with a message, saying, "Who knew tea drinkers were so freakin' tough?"

Oh, yeah, baby. Don't be messin' with no tea drinkers.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

That's the democracy I'm talking about!

President Obama released the memos on torture I wrote about yesterday. You can read his statement on why he is releasing them here, ending with, "The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again."

Amen to that.

Quote of the Day

Modern society is too quick to judge people on their appearances. There is not much you can do about it; it is the way they think; it is the way they are. But maybe this could teach them a lesson, or set an example.

Susan Boyle, quoted in the Washington Post. I think she's set an example for sure.

Just in case you haven't seen and heard her, do go here. Have Kleenex handy.

Updates to the blog roll

OK! So I've made some changes to the lists over to the left, there, of blogs that I look at. I cleared out a couple that haven't made any changes for a while and added in some new ones. I also changed it from 'Episcopal' and 'Non-Episcopal' to (basically) 'Religious' and 'Not Religious.'

On the religious side, I've added (among others) Leave it Lay where Jesus flang it, which is a fantastic name and I would steal it if I could. But that would be a mite obvious even aside from the moral implications of stealing. Margaret, who writes it, is also big on saints which is one of the many things I like about her blog.

I also added Andrew Plus who wrote the Proper Liturgy for Opening Day. Episcopal priest and baseball fan! My kind of guy!

Also new to the religious list are Acts of Hope by fellow Oberlin grad Jane Redmont, The Ground is Lava, "Political analysis and syllogisms, with a dash of heretical Christianity," and The Lutheran Zephyr, my first foray into the world of the Lutheran blogosphere (also a baseball fan).

And now to the not-necessarily-religious blogs.

Dave Dickerson has moved from the ranks of the blogspot blog to the Big Name Author blog. Hence, Bourbon Cowboy is no more; welcome! And I'm looking forward to his memoir coming out.

A blog with another great blog name that I would steal is Get Your Adverbs Here by Stephy who also does Stuff Christian Culture Likes and who I am honored to have comment here from time to time. Hi, Stephy!

Check 'em out. And enjoy!

On teabags and innocence

I have a lot of sympathy for the organizers of yesterday's tax protests, the "teabagging parties" -- not for the protests themselves, but for finding they were being snickered at by a great deal of the population and not knowing why. I am still embarrassed that the address for this blog contains the word "teabag," but I claim complete innocence in choosing that name. How was I supposed to know that it had an entirely different connotation?

And yet everyone seemed to know. I lead a very innocent life, what can I say? I know more about the word teabag now than I really want to.

Oh, that language. It's not under control. Who knows what next lovely or simple word will be changed without warning?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On the torture front

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture is making it very easy to send a message to President Obama and to Congress regarding creating a Commission of Inquiry. This comes up today because President Obama has yet to release the Bush administration's memos regarding torture. I hope he will. It occurred to me that perhaps I should say so. You can do so too, here.

Also I'd like to point out that NRCAT is encouraging congregations to take the opportunity in June to observe Torture Awareness Month. Please do pass that information on to your congregation, if you wish.

Boy, that was fervent, wasn't it?

Update: Just got this email from NRCAT

Dear Friends:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the Obama White House might continue the Bush Administration policy of concealing key details about the CIA's use of torture. Please call President Obama immediately to tell him that he should not act to conceal our country's use of torture!

On Thursday, the Obama White House is expected to release a series of three 2005 legal memos that authorized the use of torture as an interrogation technique. These memos are crucial in order to understand exactly what torture techniques were used and how they were approved. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that these memos may be released in a redacted form - that parts of the memos may not be made public.

This is unacceptable! Our nation's use of torture cannot remain hidden. The American people need to know exactly what was done, how it was approved, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Please call President Obama TODAY at 202-456-1111, and tell his staff that you think that the legal memos authorizing the use of torture should be released in their full, unredacted form. Tell President Obama that you expect him to put an end to Bush Administration secrecy.

Thank you for your help,


Rev. Richard Killmer
Executive Director

The Evangelical Bubble

I just finished reading The Fall of the Evangelical Nation last night -- very interesting. As I was reading, I kept thinking that what it reminded me of was the housing bubble, "it" being the supposed success of evangelical churches, especially megachurches.

I love data and this book contains a lot of it: convincing (to me) survey data that suggests the evangelical movement isn't nearly as strong as it makes it out to be and is declining all the time.

One of the things that was most convincing to me was the section on child-rearing: that evangelicals tend to raise their children using a "strong-father" model, while most of the rest of the U.S. uses a "nurturant" model.

So the kind of God evangelicals worship is devalued by children raised in the nurturant model because they don't think of themselves as sinful or even as particularly disempowered. The leap of faith and the unquestioning obedience to biblical rules that evangelical faith rests on are also devalued -- replaced by questioning, self-scrutiny, logic, and reasoning...Parents are the first gods in our lives. When they say from our earliest memories, "You're right. It is more complicated," in response to our scrutiny of the rules, it's impossible to respect or love a God who would do less.

Maybe not impossible, but certainly far, far more difficult for a vast majority of people.

It's a fascinating book; if this kind of thing interests you, I highly recommend it.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was dreadful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On blaming the victim (a long one)

I adore Jenny, aka the Bloggess, who has an incredibly warped view of the world, but that's why I love her. Recently she got an advice column which is just about the best news ever. "Even Less Qualified than Dr. Phil," she says, and in her first column she showed how different from Dr. Phil she is.

A few examples of Dr. Phil's advice vs. my advice:

Dr. Phil: The world in which you live depends on the world you choose to see and the values you choose to express!

Me: The world in which you live depends on where you were born and if you have access to clean drinking water. Otherwise you are in for a lot of diarrhea.
Dr. Phil: Anything the mind can conceive & believe, it can acheive.

Me: Where's my fire-breathing unicorn?
Dr. Phil: Everything in ur world begins w/ a thought.

Me: Huh. Who’s the asshole who thought up tornadoes and lava?
Dr. Phil: Ultimately the only thing that really holds u back is ur belief that u cant move fwd.

Me: Look behind you. Are your arms tied to the chair? You've probably just been robbed.

That's about the most sensible advice I've heard and the best response to the "You can make your life better" school of thought I've heard yet.


There's been some talk on the blogosphere about a book called Crazy Love, Leslie Morgan Steiner's memoir of being in an abusive relationship; namely why she stayed, and that "the current love affair with understanding stops feminists from calling victims on taking responsibility for their own well-being."

A blogger named Hilzoy has an absolutely stunning response to this question here. It's long, but it's worth the read. In particular, she has the best exposition on the difference between "taking responsibility" and "blaming the victim" that I have ever seen.

As an analogy, consider a math test. Any wrong answer on a math test is, well, wrong. Any wrong answer that the person taking the test could have gotten right (in some sense in which a ten year old couldn't prove Fermat's last theorem) reveals something non-optimal about that person's math skills. But not every wrong answer should make you blame that person. Getting a question wrong that was genuinely at the limit of that person's capabilities might not. Failing to get every single answer right on a test with a million questions might not. Even mistakes that that person would never normally make look different if she was drugged or badly sleep-deprived while taking it.

This is only the beginning of the argument. To get the full understanding, you really do need to read the whole thing.


Last week a friend of mine sent me the link to a new brochure produced by the Episcopal Church called "Finding Hope in Hard Times: Seven Spiritual Practices: A Faithful Steward's Guide" and asked me what I thought. My first reaction is not publishable on this blog.

They lost me with Spiritual Practice #1: Count your Blessings. The rest of it is equally pull-yourself-up-by-your-spiritual-bootstrap-py.

So someone comes to me and says, "I've lost my job and my dog just died," and I'm supposed to give them this brochure that tells them to count their blessings??? I don't think so. I was reminded of the book of James: "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"

In certain contexts, telling someone to count their blessings is just a subtle way of blaming the victim. I expected better of the Episcopal Church.

Read more: Askthebloggess on PNN -

Equal time: Happy Passover!

From the fabulous Cake Wrecks where there were also some pretty amazing and pretty scary Easter cakes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus emerging from the 7 layer cake of hell!

I love this!

from Jamie Brouwer via Get Your Adverbs Here.

Freedom to Read

The founder of Banned Book Week, Judith Krug, died on Saturday.

Can I just say God bless the American Library Association? And Judith Krug, too. I did not know the ALA had an Office for Intellectual Freedom, but Judith Krug had been heading it since it was established in 1967. I also didn't know about the Freedom to Read Foundation, but Judith Krug has been its executive director since it was founded in 1969.

I was astonished by the list of the top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2007. Harry Potter I knew (#1); also Huckleberry Finn (#11). But Bridge to Terebithia? (#20) John Grisham's A Time to Kill? (#60) I don't get it. Who objects to these? And why?

And here's wishing the ALA all the best in finding someone to fill these shoes. Evidently, it's still necessary.

Important news for female baseball fans

At least in New York. Because of recently enacted "potty parity" laws, both of the new stadia (sorry!) in New York will have more toilets for women!

Did you know there were organizations called the American Restroom Association? And the World Toilet Organization? It sounds funny, but my goodness, I'm glad they're doing the job.

No more lines! No more lines! Three cheers for the ARA!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Thoughts

I don't really have any. I used 'em all up on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I skipped the Vigil and went to the early service this morning, which seemed just right for me.

So here's a round-up of some other people's Easter thoughts that I liked quite a bit.

Mark Harris, in his Easter Vigil reflection writes, "This Holy Night is not a time to explain the Resurrection. This is a night to celebrate the Resurrection. There will be plenty of time to reflect on it, think on it, attempt to understand the mystery of it...We celebrate now, and we celebrate always, by living a Christian life of every moment awareness of Resurrection as irrepressible."

Jane Redmont quotes from an obituary!

"In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God,” [Nancy Eieslund] wrote. God remains a God the disabled can identify with, she argued — he is not cured and made whole; his injury is part of him, neither a divine punishment nor an opportunity for healing.
Jane goes on to ponder more on the resurrection.

And the Lady of Silences has a lovely meditation which was a guest editorial in the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

I'll stop there. I hope you are having a lovely Easter.

Happy Easter!

And congratulations to Melissa Harvey who won this year's Washington Post Peep Diorama contest!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday thoughts, #1

Good Friday (at least the service) didn't catch me like Maundy Thursday did. In fact, I arrived late for the concert of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater and left early, just after the Passion Narrative, and was squirming throughout. I think that was my own stuff and not sympathy squirming with the toddler in front of me. She was exceedingly good, given the circumstances. Not many toddlers would put up with Pergolesi.

Oh, it's good to be an adult and to be able to leave a service when you want to. I left as furtively as I could, but I imagine that little girl playing with her ladybug barrette and thinking, "Why does SHE get to leave and I have to sit here through all these tedious prayers?" Probably the priest was thinking the same.

Good Friday thoughts, #2

I appreciated the Passion Narrative, which surprised me. Again, I keep thinking I'm not going to hear anything new and then I do. This time it was the line, "They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover." And a smidge later when they say, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death."

And I thought, this is all about loopholes, isn't it? This is all about technically obeying the law so you can say you're innocent when someone subpoenas you. So that you can look at others and sneer at how they are impure while washing your hands of the affair.

I admit it made me think of our previous administration, not torturing people, oh no. We're just interrogating them. It made me think especially of Extraordinary Rendition, when we would ship prisoners off to other countries where torture is legal.

How nice to have the authority to get other people to take Jesus in to Pilate so you can celebrate the Passover with a clear conscience, knowing you have broken no commandments.

Good Friday/Easter thought, #3

Doing the usual blog rounds this morning, I read Brian Appleyard's lovely post on Unintended Consequences. "It's a two word autobiography of everybody who has ever lived. Ask anybody how they would summarise their life and 'unintended consequences' is the complete answer."

But boy howdy is the resurrection the ultimate in unintended consequences.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday thoughts, #1

I really didn't expect to get much out of the Maundy Thursday service last night. I didn't even plan to go until the last minute. But it kept getting to me again and again and again. I'll take it when I can get it.

The foot washing is always the tricky part, but last night I was reminded of Alex, my servant (which is the only honest way to put it) in Kampala last year.

When I would get home after a rainy day walking on dirt roads, he would take my shoes, take out the shoelaces, and scrub my shoes until the red dirt and mud were as gone as they could be. He would sit on the steps in the front of my apartment with a cloth and scrub the tops, and pick the dirt and mud out of the treads. I would never have bothered to do that (and haven't since). It was an incredible gift.

I realized, too, that one thing Jesus was doing in washing his disciples' feet was making the invisible visible. How many times had the disciples had their feet washed? How many times had they actually noticed the person doing it? Perhaps one thing Jesus was doing was making his disciples see the poor and the lowly all around them. Perhaps that footwashing is an invitation to do the same. Perhaps it would make more sense if it looked like this:

or like this:

Pedicures and shoe shines aren't really in my repertoire, but it made me ask myself, Where are the invisible people in my life? The people who help me that I never even notice, much less thank.

Maundy Thursday thoughts, #2

For some reason, in last night's reading from Corinthians in which Paul relates the words of institution, I was really struck by the line, "This is my body that is for you." The "blood" line is much more metaphysical ("This cup is the new covenant in my blood"), but the "body" line is so concrete, so physical. The actual flesh and blood, the efforts of the living body are for you. Not in theory, not in spirit, but in the flesh.

Maundy Thursday thoughts, #3

"I give you a new commandment," says Jesus to his disciples. And it suddenly hit me that the commandment wasn't to love him, to believe him, to worship him. It didn't have anything to do with him. It was to love one another. You could do a lot worse in this life than to follow that commandment exclusively.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nick Adenhart

This is just plain rotten. This 22-year-old kid killed by a drunk driver, also 22. There's nothing else to say, really. Nothing profound about it.

Quote of the Day

"If you can't find common ground, that doesn't mean you're partisan," she said. "It just means you believe two different things."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, quoted in an editorial by E.J. Dionne. Substitute "heretical" for "partisan" and I think that helps explain the prior post in which I am labeled a heretic.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Quote of the Day

"He loved his work," his wife said, "but he told me it doesn't challenge the mind a great deal."

From the fabulous obituary of Gerald Cook, Union Square traffic warden. "To keep motor traffic motoring on Stockton (ever southbound) and O'Farrell (always eastbound), Mr. Cook would dress in costumes, wear tap shoes, wave maniacally, hop like a bunny and, on occasion, drop to his knees and plead with slowpoke drivers to get on with it already."

That sounds like the way to do it. Especially in San Francisco.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

5 suggestions for Holy Week

It’s kind of fun to be a non-parochial priest during Holy Week. No bulletins to proofread. No sermons to write. I don’t even have to go to the services if I don’t want to. Last week during announcements, the rector talked about how Holy Week is like a book and you don’t want to miss any of the chapters. I leaned to the woman next to me and said, “I’ve read this book before; I know what happens.”

But I’ve also been trying to think about how to make Holy Week meaningful after 20 years of going to Episcopal services. Here are five suggestions I have for making Holy Week meaningful. As with most sermons, this is a sermon to myself. I hope you find it useful for you as well, and welcome your suggestions!

1. Laugh at the goof-ups These Holy Week services are intended to be solemn and reverent, I know, but things happen. Like the “loud noise” of Tenebrae involving the gong crashing to the floor. At the wrong time. Really, what else can you do but laugh? Well, you can get all upset about it, I suppose, but it’s easier if you can just laugh about it.

2. Find the echoes of Holy Week in other places Yesterday, Keeper managed to tramp through some mud so I had to wash his feet before he came in the house. I couldn’t help but think of Maundy Thursday and it made me think of my relationship with Jesus in new ways. I’m looking out for echoes of the story of Holy Week to see what they have to tell me.

3. Pace yourself This is easier to do if you’re not actually running any services, or in the choir (where we called this “Extreme Worship”). But if you are doing the full-on week of worship services, recognize that this is a lot and permit yourself to cut back on other things. Give up, say, blogging for a couple of days. You are taking on extra work. Make adjustments accordingly.

4. Allow yourself not to like a service if you don’t like it I think there’s a lot of pressure we put on ourselves that “This is Holy Week! It must be deeply meaningful!” But the truth is a) some services will hit us more deeply than others and b) some services/sermons/music are just plain better than others. It’s not a sign that you’re not spiritual or that you’re not fully entering the mystery that is Holy Week if you don’t like a service. Better to admit it than to force yourself into a spiritual falsehood.

5. Remember you’re not being graded God is not going to love you any more if you “do” Holy Week “right.” Your salvation is not at stake if you “do” Holy Week “badly.” Don’t beat up on yourself if Holy Week isn’t the religious experience you thought it ought to be. Be present and be aware of what’s going on for you. Love God, love others, love yourself. Christ is with us. God is good.

A blessed Holy Week to you all.

Quote of the day

I'm trying to find a potential reading for an Earth Day service that isn't all goopy. I think I may have found one with this reading from John Muir from his book Our National Parks:

If among the agents that nature has employed in making these mountains there be one that above all other deserves the name of Destroyer, it is the glacier. But we quickly learn that destruction is creation. During the dreary centuries through which the Sierra lay in darkness, crushed beneath the ice folds of the glacial winter, there was a steady invincible advance toward the warm life and beauty of to-day; and it is just where the glaciers crushed most destructively that the greatest amount of beauty is made manifest. But as these landscapes have succeeded the preglacial landscapes, so they in turn are giving place to others already planned and foreseen. The granite domes and pavements, apparently imperishable, we take as symbols of permanence, while these crumbling peaks, down whose frosty gullies avalanches are ever falling, are symbols of change and decay. Yet all alike, fast or slow, are surely vanishing away.

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.

An honest answer

I took the opportunity to ask the question, "Do you think I am a Christian" on a germane topic thread at another (vastly more popular) Anglican blog. I got this answer from one of the regular, very conservative, commenters:

Hi Ms. Toepfer,

I do not know whether you hold a teaching position in the church. If so then, yes, sadly I would say you are a false teacher and/or heretic and I would hope and pray that you repent because you are leading others into the darkness and away from Christ.

If you do not hold a teaching position, I would say that you have embraced a heresy and that it is not an unimportant one. 1st Corinthian 6 is very clear that our sexual lives are important to God. To order your sexual life in a way that is displeasing to him will result in your spiritual and physical harm and I pray that you will not act on the false belief you have come to.

So the commenter didn't go so far as to say I'm not a Christian, but a heretic is probably as good as. No wonder we can't even talk about this. There's no where to start if the other person has to resist with every fiber of their being the possibility of being led into darkness and away from Christ. I'm not sure what to do about this but pray.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Play ball!

Happy Feast of Opening Day!

What is a liberal Christian?

Since the decision last Friday in Iowa to recognize same-sex marriages (go, Iowa!), something somwhat related has finally become clear to me: many people assume that 'liberal Christian' is not Christian at all.

This actually first started becoming clear to me from a comment on the aforementioned Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog, which is left-leaning. One of the commenters said, "Liberal Christians believe in Christ but not in the literal take on, say, the nativity, even though it's a lovely and poetic story." Here's the thing: aside from my views on sexuality, I am boringly orthodox. I say the Creed every Sunday without a qualm, which makes me wonder about my liberal bona fides sometimes, but there you go.

This TNC entry was responding to a blogger named Rod Dreher, "Crunchy Con," who writes on BeliefNet. On the day of the Iowa decision, he wrote

This morning, I had breakfast with some guys, including a lawyer. We weren't aware of this decision, but we talked about this issue. The lawyer said that as soon as homosexuality receives constitutionally protected status equivalent to race, then "it will be very hard to be a public Christian." By which he meant to voice support, no matter how muted, for traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality and marriage.

Here's the thing. We keep on having these conversations trying to explain why we think that homosexuality is not a sin when it seems to me we haven't yet established in other people's minds that we're actually Christian at all. I found it absolutely shocking that this lawyer equated "public Christian" with expressing his particular view of homosexuality and marriage. It laid the division bare to me and made me realize that, no matter how orthodox my beliefs otherwise, my belief that gay people are OK by God means that, to many on the right, I cannot possibly be a Christian.

This is still a hypothesis, but I'm starting to see that maybe the first thing to do in this ongoing wrangle about human sexuality is to get an honest answer to the question, "Do you think I am a Christian?"

Palm Sunday palms

Over the past 24 hours, I've been wondering why we're so stingy with the Palm Sunday palms. I was one of the palm distributors yesterday and noticed, first of all, that the palms had been shredded to an almost string-like consistency, and second, that even when I suggested people take as many palms as they wanted (since we had a ton of strings), they would generally say, "No, no," and help themselves to a single pitiful frond. During the procession, people waved these little wisps in the air. Woo-hoo! That certainly illustrates the spirit of a triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

What is that about, people? I found it very odd.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Internal Department of Hmmm...

I was trying to figure out if I can claim a housing allowance as a clergyperson in my new position at Confirm not Conform, and so I consulted (as one does) an article from the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants.

Here's the thing that got me.

The definition of clergy is a “minister of the Gospel” and, according to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) definition, three tests must be satisfied in order for an individual to be considered as such. Thus a rabbi, priest, pastor, imam, cantor, etc., can be defined as a “minister of the Gospel” providing he or she meets the...three requirements

Minister of the Gospel? Applied to Rabbis and Imams? Perhaps we should come up with slightly better terminology here. How difficult can that be? Don't answer that.

Incidentally, no, I can't take a housing allowance because I don't meet criterion 3: "service performed by this individual must constitute conduct of religious worship or ministration of sacerdotal functions." I don't think my current work applies.

Local zombies

I'm about halfway through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is just as silly as I thought it would be. There's even a Reader's Discussion Guide in the back, including the question, "Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen's plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?"

Well, I can, actually. But it's amazing how even a little zombie mayhem changes the feel of the book and is keeping me on edge every time the Bennet girls walk to Meryton. The journeys thus far led to this discussion between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth during the ball at Netherfield: "He made no answer, and they were again silent till they had gone down the dance, when he asked her if she and her sisters did not very often meet with zombies on their walks to Meryton. She answered in the affirmative, and, unable to resist the temptation, added, 'When you met us there the other day, we had just been forming a new acquaintance.'" That would be Wickham, of course, whose fate, thus far, is unclear.

To my surprise, however, this book is making me think of some rather serious stuff. It reminded me first of all of the Night Commuters, a phenomenon that has blessedly decreased with the reduction of violence in Northern Uganda. The Night Commuters were children who would walk into the bigger cities from outlying villages to avoid being abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2003, "an average of 30 children every day were snatched from boarding schools and homes, according to UNICEF."

Terrified of abductions, which almost always took place at night, the children began to sleep in the towns, where it was harder for rebels to attack. Parents stayed behind in the villages to watch over their possessions. They, too, have been the victims of rebel kidnappings, but children are the main targets. An estimated 34,000 children have been abducted since 1994.

The other thing it made me think of were some of the posts from one of my favorite bloggers, Ta-Nehisi Coates. It reminded me of a particular post I was glad I could find for you, talking about the achievement gap:

When I was in middle school in Baltimore, I spent almost as much time trying to figure how not to catch a beatdown, as I did figuring out my studies. Eventually, I landed on a strategy that embraced violence more than it avoided it--always travel in a pack, and respond swiftly and immediately to any challenge. This is logic of so many of our kids.
And this, in P&P&Z, is exactly how the Bennet girls deal with the zombies on the road to Meryton. I imagine this is true in a lot of places.

No answers. It just made me think that zombies take many forms, some more obvious than others.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quote of the Day

I'm self-employed, and this job isn't what I was told in my interview.

A tweet from Paula Poundstone. Yes, I'm now on Twitter, God help me.

Prayers this week

I was scheduled to write the World in Prayer prayers this week and thought I'd share them with you.

Lord Jesus Christ, as we remember your entry into Jerusalem, enter into our world and into our lives.

We pray for all those who will be affected by the decisions of the Group of 20 (G20) summit that met this week in London. We pray for the work of the International Monetary Fund, entrusted with the task of lending emergency loans to countries in financial distress. We pray the money promised will reach its intended recipients and those who live in poverty will receive the aid they need.

We pray for those in search of work, that their needs will be met and they may find satisfying labor. We pray for those in the U.S. who lost their jobs in March as the unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent and 660,000 more jobs were lost.

We pray for all who are uprooted from their home and those who leave their countries looking for work, peace or freedom. We remember the some 230 migrants who died when their boat capsized off the coast of Libya. We pray for wisdom for leaders in government as they debate and decide immigration policy, and for courage to make our voices heard.

We pray for our leaders, those chosen by the people and those whose authority comes from tradition, force or cunning. We pray for Madagascar, whose new leader, Andry Rajoelina, is not recognized by the African Union. We pray for the upcoming elections in India and for India's 714 million registered voters.

We pray for peace in the Middle East and between Israel and Palestine. We pray for Israel's new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. We pray for the Palestinian parties of Fatah and Hamas whose negotiations for unification have been suspended but will resume in late April in Egypt. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Bless us as we travel with you this week, our King and our God. Help us to stay with you as you stay with us. And grant that we may come to the resurrection with a new awareness of your presence and your work within us and within our world. Amen.

Feast of James Lloyd Breck

I got up this morning and looked at the lectionary page and said to myself, "Who the heck is James Lloyd Breck?" His picture is reminiscent of a 19th Century Youth Minister, seems to me.

But that is completely unfair. The Rev. Dr. Breck, there, helped found Nashotah House in Wisconsin and Seabury in Minnesota, both still today seminaries in the Episcopal Church (though Seabury is now part of Seabury-Western in Chicago), and then he traveled to California to found "(if we may except the Romanists) the first and only Theological school, which has as yet been founded upon the Pacific Coast." (From his letters.) Right here in Benicia, not 10 miles from where I am now, in 1868.

One thing that impresses me in the very little I've read of Dr. Breck is his ability to leave a place. "In a little more than a year, Dr. Breck became convinced that the foundations laid by him at Faribault [Minnesota] were solid enough to endure, and were in hands that could be depended upon to build wisely thereupon; and the old longing to push once more to the distant frontier became irresistible."

One of the things they do not teach you in seminary is how to leave a congregation, and I'm telling you, that is not easy. One of the things that has been a great joy to me is hearing how well things are going without me in the congregations that I've left. I hear how the programs have developed and grown and I wonder if I would have been able to do them had I been there. It's impossible to know. But to have the trust to leave and know things are not only in God's hands, but the hands of other capable people, is a wonderful thing.

The reading chosen for today is very apt: Paul writes to the Corinthians, "According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it." Give Paul and James Breck credit, they knew how to move on and let others take over.

Incidentally, Dr. Breck died in Benicia on this day in 1876. Again, from the Life of the Reverend James Lloyd Breck,

The most minute account of his last illness and death will be found in the following extracts from a letter written by the Rev. Alfred Stubbs, D.D., of New Jersey, to Henry Shaw, Esq., brother-in-law of the deceased, and dated at St. Mary's School, Benicia, on Tuesday in Easter week:

My Dear Sir: I have just received your letter asking me for "some particulars of the last illness of your brother-in-law, Dr. Breck," to whom in the Providence of GOD, I was called upon to minister at that sad time, and I will endeavor, as briefly as I can, to answer your inquiries.

Dr. Breck preached his last sermon on the Sunday before Lent, and the subject was the preparation which Christ made for His death.

It seemed almost prophetic of his own.

The conclusion was in these words: "Let us go with our LORD through these forty days, and if this Lent shall be our last upon earth, and we shall never again see another Good Friday, we shall certainly be the better assured that we shall see another Easter, a Great Easter in which all of human birth will be participants, and then may we find ourselves where we would now wish ourselves to be, on the LORD'S side, with Calvary's Cross bright on our foreheads,--His crown of thorns exchanged for a crown of triumph, and with the shout of victory in our mouths."
I think I should go over and have lunch at the Camellia Tea Room to commemorate his life and ministry.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy Fish Day!

To celebrate the 1st of April, I visited the Archie McPhee website ("Eating brains and taking names for 25 years"). Every year (as I recall) they make a point of celebrating April Fool's Day in a big way.

Two things worthy of note: first of all, they have a blog! The last entry is about the "vaguely threatening voice mail" they received related to their Last Supper After Dinner Mints.

Secondly, and this does not relate to my parents who are well aware of what a blog is, they have a new product, the Social Networking Explanation Service.

Have you given up trying to get your parents to understand your blog, let alone Twitter and Facebook? We're here to help. Hire us, and we'll have a patient ten year old call your parents and explain the intricacies of social networking and micro-blogging to them. Our 10 year olds are selected not only for their knowledge and expertise, but also for their ability to present the information like the kind of polite young ladies and gentlemen that appeal to parents. Plus, they call home every once in a while, which is more than we can say for you. For an extra $100 we can have our operators convince your parents that they shouldn't use any of these services or their identity will be stolen by a cyber-stalker just like they showed on that one 60 Minutes episode. We highly recommend you pay the extra fee. No one wants their parents on Facebook. No one.
I'm sure they're serious.