Monday, August 31, 2009

All dogs go to heaven

Those that don't get taken care of by atheists here on earth after the rapture.

My personal hunch is that one of the major discoveries of this coming century will be the recognition of the moral life of animals. So much energy has been poured into trying to believe that animals were just animals. Anyone who suggested animals had emotions like humans do were anthropomorphizing them. Those who insisted an animal's actions were motivated by emotions or values were accused of an irrational sentimentality.

I suspect, however, that what scientists will begin to propose (and in fact already are beginning to propose) and determine is that people are not anthropomorphizing animals; we are simply recognizing (inadequately, to be sure) an emotional and moral component to animals that already was there, that is, in fact, animal.

I was thinking of this when I read this article at the Episcopal Cafe, which referred to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Approximately 200, both human and dog, attended a memorial service for Ando, a member of the K-9 corps in Pittsburgh. "Ando, a German shepherd who joined the township department 2002, was diagnosed July 16 with hemangiosarcoma, a highly malignant canine cancer that attacks the blood vessels. The disease forced him to end a highly regarded crime-fighting career when he retired on July 25. Ando was euthanized Tuesday after a roughly one-month battle with the disease."

Check out that photo from the service. Breaks my heart, it does.

Also over the weekend, The Bark noted the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by promoting a documentary on the animal rescue efforts that were part of the disaster. The documentarian "estimates that half of the flood's victims chose to stay because of their pets." The documentary is called An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever, and it doesn't sound like a light-hearted romp.

The Rescue Party Tour with screenings will take place all over (can't find any in California yet, but I can't imagine they won't happen).

I guess I'm just glad people are allowed to feel things for animals. I know we also go overboard on this, but I'd say that beats callous disregard for "it's only an animal" any day of the week.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday funnies

Don't blame me, blame MadPriest who blames Janis.

**

After three weeks in the Garden of Eden, God came to visit Eve.

"So, how is everything going?" inquired God.

"It is all so beautiful, God," she replied. "The sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, the smells, the sights, everything is wonderful, but I have just one problem. It's these breasts you have given me. The middle one pushes the other two out and I am constantly knocking them with my arms, catching them on branches and snagging them on bushes. They're a real pain."

And Eve went on to tell God that since many other parts of her body came in pairs, such as her limbs, eyes, ears, etc. She felt that having only two breasts might leave her body more "symmetrically balanced".

"That's a fair point," replied God, "But it was my first shot at this, you know. I gave the animals six breasts, so I figured that you needed only half of those, but I see that you are right. I will fix it up right away."

And God reached down, removed the middle breast and tossed it into the bushes.

Three weeks passed and God once again visited Eve in the Garden of Eden.

"Well, Eve, how is my favorite creation?"

"Just fantastic," she replied, "But for one oversight. You see, all the animals are paired off. The ewe has a ram and the cow has her bull. All the animals have a mate except me.. I feel so alone. "

God thought for a moment and said, "You know, Eve, you are right. How could I have overlooked this? You do need a mate and I will immediately create a man from a part of you. Let's see....where did I put that useless boob?"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Last report from Fort Bragg

It is 58 degrees and foggy out on this August evening. Tomorrow is my last Sunday at St. Michael's. Bill (the rector) and his family return on Tuesday. After church, I'm cleaning the house (and recruiting some help to do it because I am shameless) and then skedaddling back to the Bay Area. As far as I'm concerned, my main success this summer is that I managed not to kill the fish.

Before I was allowed to take this assignment, I met with the Bishop who asked me (among other questions) if I liked beer. Because if I did, I needed to go to the North Coast Brewing Company while I was in town.

I have taken his advice--several times, actually, checking out the various microbrews on offer, almost always with their very good fish fry (alas! I love fish fry! It is a serious failing of mine).

I went tonight accompanied by St. Augustine's Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John, which, yes, I know is simply pathetic, but there you are. This particular sermon contains a famous quote from Augustine that I found yesterday among the many I saw: "Love, and do what you will." I thought this would be an apt message to give for my last sermon up here, accompanying Jesus' message: "[T]here is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." Augustine puts this in the positive: "Let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good."

The hard thing, of course, is that one's motives are hardly ever completely pure. Love mingles with ambition or pride or self-righteousness or just plain money. What springs of these roots, I'm guessing, is a mix of good and bad. But I guess that's what grace and God's love and forgiveness are there for.

It's been a good summer. I've been blessed to have the opportunity to be here. Off to finish this sermon and try to stay warm.

Intercessions from Ted Kennedy's funeral

Besides being lovely and making me cry, I think these are an excellent example of using different kinds of materials to create the Prayers of the People.

Friday, August 28, 2009

St. Augustine

I have a hunch that almost anyone who either claims Augustine as their champion or repudiates Augustine out of hand doesn't have the whole story. He's just too prolific for most of us to claim to know what he thinks. "His surviving works (and it is assumed that the majority did not survive) include 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons," according to James Kiefer's terrific biographical sketch.

It seems no matter where you are on the theological scale, there's going to be some quotation from Augustine that supports you. And no matter where you are on the theological scale, he's going to say something that refutes you.

Take the body. There are those who say, "Oh, Augustine hates the human body." Well, then, what about this: "Your self, your body, your soul, this is all God's work," from his commentary on Psalm 147.

Or take, say, the importance of tradition in the midst of changing times. Augustine might tell you, "Right reason demands a change in what was right to do at some earlier time if the time or circumstance is changed. Therefore, when objectors say it is not right to make a change, truth answers with a shout that it is not right not to make a change," as he wrote in a letter to Marcellinus.

Both of these are quoted out of context. But the truth is, I don't know what Augustine would say in our contemporary context. Whatever it is, though, I suspect it would be supple and persuasive. What would he think of our current controversies and catfights?

You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times.

The times have never hurt anyone. Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed.

Yes, Augustine. I guess we're going to have to figure this out ourselves, aren't we.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

That must have been some sermon!

Was it, perhaps, based on this verse?

A rambling post on the feast of Thomas Gallaudet

Last week I saw the obituary of James Marsters who was the coinventer of the TTY, a device that allows Deaf people to use the telephone. It is an invention largely unnecessary today, thanks to texting, email, etc. But up until the 1990's, it made all the difference in the world for Deaf people.

I bristled somewhat at the Times headline. "Deaf Inventor," though accurate, for some reason struck a wrong chord. My interpreting alma mater, NTID (National Technical Institute for the Deaf) does it better, using the headline "Dr. James C. Marsters, Deaf Pioneer, Dentist and Inventor, Dies." Why Deaf Pioneer is better than Deaf Inventor, I am not sure. Perhaps because there is a qualifier on "inventor" that is irrelevant to what he did.

Except he probably would not have done it had he not been Deaf. And how ironic that the telephone was the obstacle that it turned out to be for so many Deaf people, given that its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, was a teacher of the Deaf, trying to invent something to help the Deaf communicate. He was a huge proponent of oral only education, meaning Deaf people needed to learn to speak and read lips rather than sign. With the invention and patent of the telephone, AG Bell had all the money in the world to pour into an association that promotes oral education.

That's as opposed to the Gallaudet family experience, which involved not much money at all. Today is the feast of Thomas Gallaudet, the son of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet who is the Gallaudet who brought Deaf education through sign language to the U.S. The son, whose feast we celebrate, started a congregation that used sign language for its worship. (His brother, Edward Miner Gallaudet, established what is now Gallaudet University. Thomas and Edward's mother, Sophia, was Deaf and they grew up with sign language as a native language. Now, bear in mind this is more than a century before anyone believed that sign language was a language at all. That didn't happen, believe it or not, until the 1960's.

The point being, there was a tremendous amount of pressure to force Deaf people to be as normal as possible, in order to integrate into society. And that meant speaking and reading lips. Sign language for some wasn't just a way of communicating; it was a weakness or even sinful. There are lots of stories of children in Schools for the Deaf that emphasized oral education having their hands tied, being whipped if they used sign language, sneaking sign language in the schoolyard.

The point also being that, despite all the money in the world to the contrary, all the punishments, all the exclusion, all the detriments related to using it, Deaf people are still using sign language to communicate.

Thanks to Thomas Gallaudet, the Episcopal Church was able to overcome some of the prejudice related to Deafness. Instead of suggesting some well-meaning hearing person to minister to the Deaf, instead he promoted Henry Winter Syle who was Deaf himself and whom we also mark today.

The point also being that sometimes what we think of as abnormal, what we think of as disability, what we think of as something that needs to be healed is no such thing. And all our efforts to require "normality" of ourselves or of others may ultimately be in vain.

God bless Thomas Gallaudet for accepting his Deaf friends and family exactly as they were. May we be given the eyes to see and ears to hear the truth about ourselves and others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quote of the day

He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.

From the Times article.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Update from Fort Bragg: the Botanical Gardens

This is my last week in Fort Bragg and I figured I'd better hurry up and visit the Botanical Gardens here if it was ever going to happen. One of the great things about them is you can bring your dog on-leash to wander around, all the way down to the coastline (which of course I didn't take a picture of). It's so amazing standing at the edge of the world like that.

What I did take pictures of were the dahlias, which were incredible.

Every size, shape and color. It's hard to get a good picture from this picture, but even on a gray and gloomy day, they filled the eye.

I normally think of dahlias as moppy-headed things--not my favorite. But they are so varied in shape.


I didn't know they also came out looking like daisies.


But my favorites are the ones that look like honeycombs. I don't know why. Something about their self-control, perhaps. Or the roundness. Whatever the reason, I love the shape.

No deep thoughts here. Just some pretty pictures. I thought they'd make a nice change from some of the other stuff I've been writing about.

IG memos and prosecutions: analysis

It took about 30 minutes after I wrote that last post for me to rethink my position on the proposed prosecutions by the Attorney General. Or at least to have mixed feelings about it. The complaint many people have about these prosecutions is that going after low-level people will help the government wipe its hands of the issue without ever getting to the root of the matter and what started it in the first place. I can appreciate that.

On the other hand, it makes sense for the AG to prosecute people who went beyond the scope of what the Bush administration countenanced as legal interrogation techniques because that was plainly illegal even by those very relaxed standards. And that seems like an important step to me. Even that is getting complaints from people. At some point the law has to kick in, even for low-level people, surely. [addendum: Finally clearer in thoughts about this thanks to Andrew Sullivan who wrote, "If it is the end and not the beginning of accountability, it will be worse than nothing. But it need not be the end of the story." That's what I was trying to get at.]

Meanwhile, apparently I spoke too soon when I said I was happy the U.S. would be following the Army Field Manual. According to bmaz at EmptyWheel, "The Army Field Manual is not a panacea to solve the torture problems that were indoctrinated into the military and intelligence conduct of the United States by the Bush/Cheney Administration, it is a tool for continuing and codifying much of the worst conduct, especially via the egregious "Appendix M"."

What is Appendix M? The Center for Constitutional Rights reports that
Appendix M of the Army Field Manual - a new section introduced in 2006, applicable only to "unlawful combatants," the category applied to detainees in Guantanamo, at secret CIA prisons, and elsewhere - allows the use of techniques such as prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners.

It goes on and on and on, doesn't it? What an awful tangled mess. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. God bless all those who are trying to clean it up.

(The link to the CCR, above, includes a spot for you to send an email asking President Obama to close the loopholes in the AFM, if you wish to send it.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Torture in the news

Today is the feast of St. Bartholomew who, according to legend, was flayed alive. Of course we don't really know what happened to St. Bartholomew, one of Jesus' apostles. But it seems appropriate that on his feast day we do learn a bit more about what our country has done in the name of self-defense. Whether you call the methods Enhanced Interrogation Techniques or torture, two items have emerged today related to our treatment of prisoners over the past number of years:

The first is that a 2004 report from the Inspector General of the CIA has been released.

And the second is that the Attorney General "has named a veteran federal prosecutor to examine nearly a dozen prisoner abuse cases in which detainees were held by the Central Intelligence Agency."

Marcy Wheeler at EmptyWheel is examining the documents in a first run-through and thinks the prosecution is a whitewash, saying the prosecutor selected, John Durham, "doesn't necessarily have the stature to go after--say--Jim Haynes and John Rizzo for setting up the torture regime."

Regarding the prosecutions/prosecutor, I don't know enough to say, but I do think this is a step or two in the right direction. That and the Obama Administration announcing that "all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual." Imagine! Following our own laws! I am, however, unhappy to see we will continue to use Extraordinary Rendition as long as those other countries promise--really, truly promise--not to torture people.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has an online letter-writing campaign asking the AG to "undertake a comprehensive investigation that will prove that no one in this nation is above the law." I suspect that horse has left the barn, but there you are.

Regarding the documents, I'll be interested to see what the fallout and analysis is over the next couple of days. I'll keep you posted if I find anything I think is particularly interesting or insightful.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Audio review

With all the driving I've been doing, I got a subscription to Audible.com to download stuff to listen to on my trips up to Fort Bragg and back.

Last week, I listened to Saturday Night Fry, a BBC radio program(me) from 1988 that stars (are you ready?) Stephen Fry (who also wrote it), Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, Phyllida Law (Emma Thompson's mother), and a couple of other guests. There are only six episodes, all very literate, very funny, sometimes very ribald, and occasionally so British they are incomprehensible upon a first listen.

I love the play with language which happens constantly and at a rapid clip. "First, we shall introduce our guests tonight," says Stephen. "Some who are quite familiar, and others who are more reserved in their manner." They go by so quickly I had a delayed reaction to some of them.

Some of the satire is incredibly au courant, helped, I think, by not referencing any immediate news topics. The game of "Kick the Frog" still finds its applications in current society; I was reminded (and isn't this pathetic?) of church politics. Speaking of church politics, the studio audience Bishop in the first episode amused me greatly and assured me right off the bat I was going to have a good time.

Mostly it's fun to hear all of these people from 20 years ago, having fun together and being as silly as they want to be. How young they look, don't they? But they sound just the same. Very fun. I recommend it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blaise Pascal

I titled this so blithely as if I could possibly write a blog entry that says anything about Blaise Pascal. But I learned that he is remembered today, though he died on August 19, in 1662.

He's best known for Pascal's wager, the logical proposition that if you don't know if there is a God, but act as if there is, then if there is a God, you're golden, and if there isn't, well, no harm done. (Boy, am I oversimplifying!) That's the coldly rational mathematician side of his faith.

But I am more drawn to his understanding that rationality doesn't explain everything. "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing," he said in his Pensees. I am not even going to try to unpack that. I am so far out of my depth here, I don't want to presume to explain Pascal.

It did, however, remind me of the story from last Sunday's lectionary when Solomon asks God for wisdom. In my prep, I learned that when Solomon asks for an understanding mind is elsewhere translated "a hearing heart." I liked that a lot: that the heart's response not just a "this feels good to me" reaction to the world, but an interactive one, hearing as well as feeling. Something akin to reason, with both input and analysis, but in its own heartlike way.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another reason why health care for all is a good idea

OK, so when I said I didn't have anything else to add about the healthcare debate? That still stands. But I'm reading a book called Waiter Rant and just got to this paragraph:

Most restaurants do not offer health insurance to their employees. Some waiters like me might have coverage, but among immigrant staffers, it's practically unheard of. So when people get sick, they don't get the medical attention they need, and whatever's sickening them gets worse or lasts longer than it has to.
[snip]
And these are the people cooking and handling your food! You shouldn't be surprised. Let's face it: economics, politics, and lack of proper access to health care are creating a nation of potential Typhoid Marys that is going to weaken this country with disease from the inside out.

I hadn't ever thought about how health care for all actually makes a different for health care for me.

My two cents on what is passing for the healthcare debate

It really isn't even worth that much. My contribution, that is.

What I want to know is, why is it when thousands and thousands of people march in protests against going to war do we still go to war, but when hundreds and hundreds of people yell about health care we back off. Does it have something to do with being yelled at personally? Surely professional politicians are used to being yelled at. Surely they know that for every one person who yells, there are probably many more who aren't making a fuss, who are either for or against or unclear on the legislation.

I wonder if it has something to do with this being something that is close instead of far, affecting me instead of them. I remember a couple of years ago when the youth group from Christ Church offered a diocesan resolution that encouraged every parish to change one--ONE--lightbulb to an energy-efficient fluorescent. There was more debate over that resolution than about immigration reform. Why? I suspect it was because this was a resolution that actually asked the people in the room to change (in this case a lightbulb), to do something. Most of these other resolutions didn't require anything of us and passed with barely a squeak. Suddenly, when the people in the room were being asked to take action, oh the outcry over what this would cost, is it really better for the environment, the mercury in the lightbulbs...I couldn't believe it.

Don't get me wrong: the majority of the people in the room were supportive, and it passed with no problem. But it brought home to me how much easier it is for anyone--I don't care where you are on the political spectrum--to support a program or a cause or a policy when it makes no nevermind for you.

What boggles my mind though is when people who will be helped by health care reform are arguing against it. And I really wish some of our folks in Washington were willing to be grownups about it and not simply give in to people who are having tantrums.

My lack of contribution to this topic is now complete.

Eddie Izzard marathon update

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the British comedian Eddie Izzard is running a marathon a day for Comic Relief. Here's today's blog post:

20 Aug 2009

Towards the end of the day on Wednesday, Eddie had some running companions in people he’d met in a local car park. The women and children running with him began to drop off as the miles racked up until only one lady remained. She had run with him for about 8 miles in total. Jo had to trim down the little toe nail on Eddie’s left foot in case it got caught in his socks!

The team delayed Eddie’s start today as it was torrential rain, really heavy. The rain was relentless and coming at him sideways! But the weather eventually cleared up and the surrounding scenery really picked up – they are by the coast and views over the water are great. There have been lots of people out and about, especially in Gatehouse of Fleet, where they had put bunting out for Eddie as he ran past. A holiday park campsite in Auchenlarie had been told Eddie was coming this morning and so put up posters in their reception. Kids had made banners too. When Eddie arrived they gave him sandwiches and donated a generous cheque to Sport Relief. Today he’s running along the A75, heading towards Newton Stewart on his 22nd marathon, go Eddie!

Money raised will make a huge difference to people living really tough lives here in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries. So please sponsor Eddie here.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic photo from Twitpic.
Go, Eddie!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

William Porcher DuBose

In my morning tweets, I update the world in general about the feast day of the day with a snarky snippet of saintly wisdom or history. Today I tweeted, "It's the feast of William P. DuBose who said, 'We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view.'" This is a brief quote from the preface of one of his many works of theology, The gospel in the Gospels but of course was written without any further reference about who DuBose was exactly or when he lived or what he did.

A friend of mine commented, "Boy, that is a (liberal) Episcopalian sentiment if I ever heard one." Little did he know.

I think it's hard to make the case that DuBose was a liberal. I mean, that's not normally what one would associate with someone who served as a chaplain for the Confederate Army. He was born in South Carolina, attended the Citadel and the University of Virginia, and taught at Sewanee. He's certainly not part of the Liberal East Coast Elite or the flaky, I'm OK, you're OK West. This is a Southern gentleman of the first order.

What I gather from the preface of this book is that DuBose's contention is that the Gospels show us that we need differences of opinion to get the full truth of the good news of Christ.

It made me think, in our current church difficulties, it is as if one faction said, "The Gospel of Mark needs to go!" and another said, "Unless you are a follower of the Gospel of Matthew exclusively then you are not a Christian. Luke and those other guys are heretics!" How ridiculous would that be. And yet how easy to fall into. Think: Anglican Covenant. [For those of you not following this debate, I don't think it's worth following.] How on earth do we resolve the disagreements between those labeled liberal and those labeled conservative? Or is resolution really the key?

DuBose ends his preface saying, "So let us agree to disagree, if conscientiously we must, in all our manifold differences; and, bringing all our differences together, let us see if they are not wiser than we, and if they cannot and will not of themselves find agreement in a unity that is higher and vaster than we." Amen to that. If a son of the South and a survivor of the Civil War can say that, then perhaps so can we.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Update from Fort Bragg: the Parish Picnic

I haven't talked a lot about being in Fort Bragg this summer, partly because I haven't been there as much as I anticipated. After that three week absence due to General Convention, I've been primarily commuting to Fort Bragg on weekends and working during the week in the Bay Area.

But I made sure I was there for the parish picnic on Saturday.

When I asked where the picnic was, I was told it was at a camp. When I asked how to get there, I found out that we had to travel by train.

For those who don't know, one of Fort Bragg's claims to fame is the Skunk Train, an old steam train that used to transport loggers in and out of the redwood groves. What I didn't know is that they still schedule stops for people who have these very rustic camps, leased from what used to be Georgia Pacific. And that's where we were going.

Here's the train:

One thing this meant, of course, was there was no showing up casually when you feel like it. The train is not going to wait. So I duly showed up at 9:45 for the 10 am train departure. The train whistle blew and we chugged off.

After about 45 minutes of meandering through forests, including one long tunnel with no lights so you couldn't even see your hand in front of you, we were dropped off at the camp. Our hosts met us at the platform, which is what stands in for a station.

One thing I learned on the trip out is that since there are no roads to the camp, if you want to transport things there beyond what you can carry by hand on the train, the railroad will set you up with a handcar! (I learned from other locals later that in fact you can drive there, but you need permission from other landholders. I don't really understand the ins and outs.)

Picnic time was limited because we had to be ready for the train upon its return. We had a little time to gather, a very quick Eucharist (feast of the BVM, don't you know?), which seemed more a sop to the fact that this was a church outing than anything really necessary (certainly I wouldn't have cared if we had a Eucharist or not) and then lunch out on the deck.

I love redwood trees, don't you? So amazing.

Why are there beds, you ask? Well, there's only one bedroom in the cabin so when you have a big family staying for the week (as our hosts did), you simply sleep out on the deck.

Or if you're at a picnic, you do this:

The train was due to arrive back "sometime between 1 and 2." One of the parishioners is Swiss and duly mocked this vague arrival time. It meant, among other things, that we simply didn't have time to really relax as we were always alert to the train's potential imminent arrival.

At about 1:45, we heard the train whistle (which probably was a mile away) and got ourselves over to the platform to load up.

We arrived home around 3:00. Which was a really quick trip, as far as I was concerned, not very leisurely at all. I suppose it was just as well since I had a sermon to finish, but still. I would have liked to slow down for a bit longer. At least I got a taste of what it was like and a smidge of a perspective on the difficulties of getting from here to there in the days before paved roads. As well as a lovely picnic with the people of St. Michael's.

Friday, August 14, 2009

On microfinance

Ooh, I saw red yesterday! There in the Episcopal Cafe was a headline that read Microfinance Doubts Arise. It linked to a blog headlined Microfinance: Damned with faint praise, which linked to a study that purports to show that microfinance has no net positive impact and may have a detrimental one.

But I looked through the report and found one key element missing in the news summaries. Here's a snippet from p. 5 of the 33 page report:

...we do not address the question of whether microcredit can help the poorest of the poor — our sample frame are microentrepreneurs, but wealthier than average for the Philippines

Well, then, you're not studying the microloans that I have witnessed first-hand.

A microfinance blogger commenting on this study says it better (and is better informed than I):

Since the subjects were already in business (most commonly, running corner stores), the study could not check whether credit helps people become entrepreneurs. Also, the income floor put the study population well above the Philippine average...Meanwhile, average income for the 80%-ers is 65,979 pesos/month, or $15,835/year...That [the authors] stray so far from the $1–2/day poor we usually imagine as the target for microcredit is not a flaw, but it generates a caution for interpretation.

It is true that a study of the "poorest of the poor" population may also show these kind of results, but it would be premature to say that this can be extrapolated based on this one study of a completely different population. The studies need to be done and should be done, but the truth is it hasn't been done and suggesting that this one report tells us everything we need to know is foolish at best.

I am primarily incensed that this single report from what seems to me a very limited subject sample that doesn't actually reflect what most people think of as "microfinance" has spread from a technical report to the BBC and from there may poison the well for microfinance across the board. Will people stop microlending because "they heard it on the BBC" without understanding what, exactly, was being reported? I fear they might.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Florence Nightingale, data babe

Yesterday was the feast of Florence Nightingale, but today is the actual anniversary of her death 99 years ago and so it still seems appropriate to write about her. Not that it would stop me anyway, because she is amazing!

I had no idea how amazing until I started reading some biographical sketches yesterday.

Did you know, for example, that she was a mathematician? And that she invented the "polar-area diagram," better known to us as the pie chart? She did! And do you know how she used the polar area diagram? Why, she collected data on deaths due to various causes in the Crimean war and through that graphic representation of data created social change and reform that reduced casualty deaths from 42.7 percent to 2.2 percent! Here is her Diagram of the Causes of Mortality:


Is that not so cool? I am practically hyperventilating over her, here. I don't know about you, but I had this picture of sweet nurse Florence, tending patients. No, my friends. DATA! Data in the service of health and welfare, alongside the care and tending of souls. Oh, she is so my hero.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

God bless Jon Stewart and co.

How do you want your death panels?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

What is up with this?

Yesterday, I read this article on Salon.com that says, in essence, that soon after a career path opens for women and more women enter that field, two things happen:

a) Men stop going into that field "as if those subjects were infested with cooties," the writer adds; and
b) the pay for that profession stalls out or goes down.

Man, is that depressing!

I have the feeling this is true in the church. Amazing how until 35 years ago, being a priest was a job women could not do, and now I get the feeling that many people look at clergy work as something that is unmanly. Do you get that feeling as well?

A while back I wrote about a flutist named Frances Blaisdell, one of the first women to play flute professionally in a major symphony, back in the days when women didn't play the flute. The quote that killed me was that her father "was in the lumber business, but his own love was the flute, and he started teaching her to play when she was 5. He wished she were a boy and called her Jim." Can you even imagine now people thinking that the flute is off-limit for girls?

I said then and I will say again: what the heck is up with this? And, more importantly, how on earth do we get over it?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

Revolution in the name of the Lord and in keeping with the highest historical tradition is the time-honored method of the charlatan and the traitor. So Hitler revived the ancient German myths; so the totalitarian state in Russia is turning increasingly to the almost legendary heroes of the ancient czarist regime, Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great, etc. We may be sure that if ever the cause of human freedom is seriously imperiled in "the land of liberty," it will be under the banner of "true religion" and "100 per cent Americanism."

The Interpreter's Bible, 1953
on Absalom's coup d'etat


And how prescient is that?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday funnies

This is what you get when you google "Jesus Bloggess":

Thanks for the zombies, Jesus!


July 12, 2008

Conversation Victor and I had in the car:

Me: Oh my God, did you see the name of that cemetery? “Resurrection Cemetery”. What a terrible name for a cemetery.

Victor: It’s because they believe in the resurrection of believers, dumbass.

Me: Still. Some things just shouldn’t be resurrected. Just what we need is a bunch of damn zombies wandering the earth.

Victor: Yeah, that’s not “resurrection”. That’s “reanimation”.

Me: Same difference. Although I guess “Reanimation Cemetery” would be slightly more disturbing.

Victor: It’s not the same difference. Zombies are reanimated, but they don’t have their previous mental capacity so it’s not a resurrection. Technically it’s “zombification”.

Me: Well if you want to get all technical, then how about vampires?

Victor: Um…they’re fine?

Me: No. I mean, vampires have their “previous mental capacity”, thus by your logic they are resurrected. They might as well name it “Jesus-Is-Bringing-Back-Vampires Cemetery”.

Victor: It’s not the same thing because when you resurrect someone from the grave they aren’t undead.

Me: No, they are TOTALLY undead. That’s like the very definition of the undead.

Victor: No. A vampire is undead. The resurrected aren’t undead.

Me: I think you don’t know what “undead” means.

Victor: I THINK YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT UNDEAD MEANS!

Me: God, calm down, Darwin. Don’t get all crazy just ’cause I threw a vampire monkey-wrench in your faulty zombie logic.

Victor: *sigh* Look, there are all sorts of exceptions you aren’t considering. You can reanimate someone without making them a “zombie”. For example, you can just bring them back simply to perform a task.

Me. Yeah. And that’s called a zombie.

Victor: No, because they wouldn’t crave brains. They’d just have a job to do. Look it up.

Me: Oh I will look it up. I’ll look it up in “The Dictionary Of Shit That Doesn’t Exist”.

Victor: *glower*

Me: I wonder if this is the weirdest fight we’ve ever had.

Victor: Not even close.

**

Seriously. That is what comes up as the number one entry. It was meant to be on this blog. God wanted it to be here. As to what the Bloggess thinks, I don't know.

O mighty Bloggess, please forgive me for totally ripping you off, but it's because I think you are hilarious and more people, especially Episcopal priests, should read you, especially your advice column, which is fantastic and maybe we will lighten up on the pastoral affectations that afflict so many of us. Here's hoping.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quote of the Day

This is what he said. This is what Abraham Lincoln said.

I don’t like to hear cut and dried sermons. No—when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees!

Found this courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, who found it in this review of a new biography of Lincoln.

I'm off to get ready for my bee fight.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Mason Neale

Continuing in our (somewhat) theme of the week "Not knowing exactly what it is you are supposed to be doing" (or is that the theme of life?), today we celebrate the feast of John Mason Neale.

Because of his chronic illness, he didn't take a parish position and instead was the warden of an almshouse, which doesn't sound any easier to me. He stayed in that position for his whole life. (More about his life here.)

I'm sure this is not what he expected when he entered holy orders. But looking at his life now, what he did seems so obviously good, so obviously right.

I think this is one of the reasons I like obituaries: because you know how things turned out. I've never been one to skip to the end of the book, but obituaries are the end of the book. You can skip over all the doubts, all the false starts, and find out if what was attempted worked or not. Reading this brief outline of JMN's life, I have a feeling we miss the important struggling bits that don't appear in the prayer book bio.

Two other things about John Mason Neale: one is he is best known as a hymn writer and translator. Here are 120 (!) of the hymns for which he is known, which include All Glory, Laud and Honor, and Christ is made the sure foundation.

Secondly, he looks an awful lot like David Duchovny, doesn't he?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A marathon a day

That's not a figure of speech, my friends. That's exactly what Eddie Izzard is doing.

I posted one of Eddie's bits, "Tea and Cake or Death!" as a Sunday Funny a while back. Here's the news from his website, posted on July 31:

About 5 weeks ago, Sport Relief, the Sporty part of Comic Relief asked me (and probably a lot of other people) if I would like to do a sporting challenge.

I had always wanted to do a big physical running challenge, and this seemed a great way to do it and also raise money to help Africa and the poorest countries in the world as well as projects that Sport Relief fund in the UK I was also going to be advised by Olympic experts who have worked with Sport Relief before. They would help me keep running in the right direction.

So I told them I wanted to try to run around the whole of the UK. London to Cardiff to Belfast to Edinburgh and back to London, running through as many parts of the UK that lie in between our 4 capitals.

They said great. You're nuts.

I said yes but that never hurt.

They said how far is this?

I said 1100 miles. I will try to run 30 miles a day for 6 days a week. It will probably take 7 weeks.

They said great. Is there anything else you want to mention.

Yes. I will run through England holding and English flag and then I'll run through Wales holding a Welsh flag and so on through all the UK.

But why not just have a Union Jack?

Because this is the thinking for my mission:

WE ARE DIFFERENT
WE ARE THE SAME
WE ARE UNITED KINGDOM
WE ARE AFRICA
WE ARE HUMANITY

They said - anything else?

Yes, I'm leaving in 5 weeks.


He has now done 9 marathons, dealing with blisters and downpours and goodness knows what else. I finally cracked and sponsored him today. I'd probably sponsor him for ANYTHING, given the effort he's put in, but it happens to be for Comic Relief, which is a mighty fine organization.

I'm just so darned impressed, I had to pass this information along. It's not quite like pushing blocks of stone from Wales to Salisbury Plain, but it's close.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The internal moral compass

Yesterday, I wrote about Ahead of the Curve and said I had more thoughts. They're not very clear thoughts, but they are thoughts.

The author, Philip Delves Broughton, spends a lot of the book wondering whether or not he has an internal moral compass and, if so, what it is saying. At the same time he is agonizing about what he is going to do with himself after he has finished his MBA. He has a vague idea of what it would look like and it involves being with his wife and (by the end of the book) two sons. But none of the clear paths seem to lead to that end.

SPOILER ALERT! Don't read the following italicized paragraphs if you don't want to have the events of the book revealed.

His wife gets pregnant during the first year so he decides that if he is going to do a summer internship, it has to be in Boston so he can be with his family. He doesn't get an internship. He wonders if he's been a fool; would 10 weeks have made that much of a difference?

In the second year, as the school announces that "95.5 percent of the class of 2006 have been offered jobs," he's among the 4.5 percent that has nothing in front of him. He feels like a failure and wonders how he will provide for his family.


OK. Safe to read now.

At every turn, even though he didn't seem to know it, he was making his decisions based on the simple premise, "Will this allow me to spend time with my family?" But he didn't seem to know that was what he was doing. He wandered, taking strange missteps, stumbling around, berating himself over and over for not knowing what he ought to do, feeling his way quite blindly and without any clarity about where he was going or where he ought to go.

In a strange way, I found his confusion encouraging. I've wandered quite a bit myself and berated myself for it. But I think, like this author, I have been blessed not to be on a clear path. I'm not sure why I have been so lucky; it certainly isn't any particular moral fortitude on my part. If things had been easy, I would not have gone to Uganda, for example. Or doing what I'm doing now. But that certainly wasn't because I had cleverly chosen my way.

And in some ways, my path has been a selfish one; there were places I did not go for the simple reason that they did not feel right for me. And I confess that there was pressure to ignore that feeling because why should the choice be about me?

Except my own self and soul is all I've really got. I think that's what Philip D.B. recognizes at some unconscious level: that these businesses where he is interviewing are trying to purchase his self and soul and he simply recoils. Maybe we're both being selfish. Or maybe we're trying to be true to what we are called to be. More likely it's a bit of both, being a stew of mixed motives and external/internal forces. And we probably, none of us, will ever know for sure, but will keep stumbling along.

I keep remembering Kipling's poem, If--
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

And the thing that struck me was that, in this book and often it seems that the people who are losing their heads seems to know what they are doing. They march steadily onward and seem so confident in their progression. Now, maybe internally, they have no idea. But the path seems so clear-cut for them. But perhaps "keeping your head" is a lot less about being calm in a crisis, but in not simply marching onward when everything in you says, "Stop!" and everyone around you says, "Keep going."

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's just business

A friend of mine encouraged me to read Ahead of the Curve by Philip Delves Broughton. It was an unnerving experience. The author is a man who left his job as a bureau chief in Paris to enter the Harvard Business School class of 2006. The unnerving part is that everyone now knows What's Going To Happen, but these students, of course, do not.

This book was published early in 2008. In his chapter Extreme Leverage, the author writes, "Debt, we found, is the fuel of modern finance...Debt focuses the mind and forces people to concentrate on the only thing that matters: the cash flowing out of the business. If Gordon Gekko were speaking today, he might have to reword his classic boast about greed. These days debt, for want of a better word, is good. Debt works."

Ah, those heady days.

I was reading this in conjunction with preparing a second sermon on the David and Bathsheba fallout in 2 Samuel. I kept trying to come up with the word that describes David’s attitude when he sees Bathsheba.

The easy answer would be “lustful,” but I don’t think that quite captures the very cavalier way in which David goes about his one-night stand. He has wives and concubines a-plenty at home, and there’s something so casual about his acquisition of this woman he sees from the rooftop. Greedy isn’t the right word. Selfish doesn’t quite fit either.

There’s no thought or consideration between the wanting and the getting. No planning or work or sacrifice is required. The best word I can come up with is that David, in this situation, is a consumer, in the worst and most literal sense of the word. A mindless consumer, someone who consumes, getting something he likes on a passing whim, taking it in and then passing it out again without ever considering how much it might actually cost, and not expecting it to cost him anything.

And it is the mindlessness that is the problem. Thoughtless behavior, which hardly seems life-threatening at the time. Being thoughtless hardly seems like a sin. But the thoughtlessness led to cruel and callous behavior which, if Nathan had not intervened, would, I suspect, have led David into becoming a cruel and thoughtless person. And where does that line lie, between doing cruel and thoughtless things and being cruel and thoughtless?

I realized, writing this sermon, that we become what we do. These folks taking jobs out of Harvard kept saying, "I'm just going to do this for a while, then get out and spend time with my family." Well, good luck with that. At what point does their behavior and the excuse "It's just business" become the more painful reality "I am business"?

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Jesus said, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life." And I begin to see that this work happens by actually doing it, not waiting until conditions are right or until things are safe. The doing and the being are closely intertwined.

Do read this book. It was incredibly thought-provoking. In fact, I have more thoughts about it and will probably post more.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday funnies

From The Onion, the world's finest news source:

Modern-Day Martin Luther Nails 95 Comment Cards To IHOP Door

SIOUX FALLS, SD—Managers of an area International House of Pancakes discovered 95 comment cards nailed to its front door Sunday, which were later identified as the work of local resident Ronald Lyman, a 53-year-old contractor and onetime regular customer who is calling for wide-scale reform of the venerable chain.

"IHOP has grown weak on powdered sugar and fruity garnishes, forsaking the righteousness of its original rib-sticking mission," said Lyman, who nailed his 95 comments to the door shortly before the morning brunch rush, when they would receive maximum exposure. "This house is no longer a house of pancakes—it is a house of lies."

Lyman's 95 cards assail IHOP for what he perceives to be an "unholy alliance" of the sweet and the savory, a dangerously narrowing blueberry-to-batter ratio, hard-to-open butter packets, and an increasingly tall short stack. Fifteen cards alone attack the excessive breadth of syrup selection.

"IHOP is about pancakes, not syrups," card 41 reads. "No pancake can exist drowned in a pool of lingonberry. No man who comes hungry can leave happy on artificial orange-flavored goo."

Lyman said that his pancake fundamentalism is based on "the trinity of griddle-fried batter, butter, and maple syrup, as directed by our breakfast elders more than two score years ago." His beliefs were forged by years of increasing dissatisfaction with the "internationalist" influence within IHOP, which he said stresses flavor over substance.

"The course of my life changed last week when a waitress dropped a tray and I was struck with hot coffee," Lyman said. "As I wiped my eyes and opened them, suddenly I became aware of the full extent of the corruption. Sweet crepes mingling with egg runoff. The sickening decadence of Belgian waffles. A waitstaff more concerned with lining their pockets with tips than with dedicating their lives to service. I stormed from the wicked place without settling my bill, finally realizing what I must do: devote my life to bringing down the House of Pancakes. To bring it down, then build it anew in righteousness and customer satisfaction."

IHOP manager Dennis Ryskowski said that he has tried to read some of Lyman's comments during his breaks, but has so far only made it to card 26, "On the Blankets of Pigs."

"We welcome all customer suggestions and feedback," Ryskowski said. "That's why we provide the comment cards. I do, however, wish Mr. Lyman had simply placed his in the box by the host station instead."

Several customers who had come to the restaurant after bars closed Sunday night agreed with Lyman's stand, saying they, too, often feel disconnected from the IHOP experience.

"I really like what he has to say about returning to the basics," customer Kelly Grabler said. "Sometimes you just want a nice fat stack of pancakes, but you end up overwhelmed by the choices. Lots of the stuff isn't even breakfast. An IHOP meal should be a straightforward relationship between an individual and some pancakes."

Card 63 perhaps most eloquently summarizes Lyman's condemnatory stance.

"These steep and serene blue roofs, which arc to the heavens, in truth house corrupt souls who once sought succor in a simple pancake, but have now succumbed to the temptation of caramel cheesecakes and Caesar salads," Lyman wrote. "Only by returning to its hearty breakfast roots can IHOP save itself and its customers."

Lyman suggested that, should his recommended changes not be instituted, he will have no choice but to break with the restaurant and start his own International House of Pancakes, Reformed (IHOPR) off I-229 by the airport.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Gnome rescue

Enough of all this negativity. Here is a heartwarming story from the land down under, brought to my attention on Twitter by @growwit. And I am not making this up. Here's the article from the Cootamundra Herald:

THE LIFE’S passion of a Cootamundra woman has found its way to national and international fame following the rescue of more than 2000 gnomes from a Warren Sub home last week.

Shirley Elford, a long time Cootamundra resident, died recently leaving her beloved gnomes orphaned.

Mrs Elford, to the bemusement of friends and family, was a passionate collector of the vertically challenged works of garden art, amassing an enormous collection during her lifetime.

A rescue mission mounted by the Lower Blue Mountains Rotary Club in Glenbrook, with the assistance of Cootamundra Rotarians has resulted in the collection now being prepared for a mammoth gnome exhibition to be held on Australia Day next year.

The gnome rescue squad, complete with white coats and obligatory little red hats, spent a full day collecting the orphans.

According to local Rotarian Neil Wilcox there were gnomes in every part of the garden and on the walls of the Berthong Street home, ranging from very small to super-sized in stature.

The gnomes are currently being fostered during restoration in the gnome capital Glenbrook and will form the centrepiece of the Annual Gnome Convention prior to the gnomes being offered up for adoption - to good homes only of course.