Thursday, February 25, 2010

John Roberts (priest not justice)

I have to admit I'm a bit depressed by the proposed commemoration of John Roberts today. Not because there's anything wrong with John Roberts, mind you, who ministered faithfully and well among the Shoshone and Arapaho in the late 19th and early 20th century. It's just, what does this say about typical ministry if Father Roberts' is so extraordinary.

[H]e set about his work by learning all he could about Native American customs and beliefs, believing that by knowing the people he hoped to minister to he would be more effective. He also learned the native languages, eventually translating the gospel for his Native American congregates.

He also "earned the trust of the tribal leadership" and was known for his "fairness in dealing with them."

Doesn't it seem like this should be the baseline for, you know, being a Christian, much less ordained ministry and mission work? Father Roberts sounds like a very worthy man and worth remembering, but it does unsettle me that he needs to be held up as an example. Learn about the people you're working with and treat them fairly. I suppose we still need to be reminded that that's our call. Kind of sad.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Today is the feast of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, martyred on this day in the year 1-5-6. We used to be amused by dear St. Polycarp, back in the day, mostly because of the name and because we were smart-asses. When I was living in Rochester, we had Polycarp parties, because it was good to celebrate something towards the end of February when you still had three more months of winter to go, and because we were cheeky Anglo Catholics.

But today, I think, is the first time I actually read the only writing of Polycarp extant, his letter to the Philippians. And the thing that struck me is that the big sin in his book, the #1 badness, the commandment he emphasizes over and over is...covetousness.

Now He that raised Him from the dead will raise us also; if we do His will and walk in His commandments and love the things which He loved, abstaining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; not rendering evil for evil or railing for railing or blow for blow or cursing for cursing.

OK, yes, there's unrighteousness in there, false witness, evil speaking, and love of money. Love of money appears over and over again in this letter, but I'm struck by the thought that love of money is a form of covetousness.

I'm also struck by how much covetousness is at the root of a lot of our church strife. In the Episcopal Church, in the Anglican Communion, and many times in local congregations as well. It's not a glamorous sin, covetousness, but it deserves more attention, and no doubt a lot more repentance.

Teaser Tuesday 2.23

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

With my **new** Solano County Library Card, I checked out Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey because I liked the first sentences. However, I am not using the first sentences, but these sentences from page 10:

So I came to consciousness in the company of these two middle-aged people--and a third, much younger. Barbara was dead but far from gone.

Monday, February 22, 2010

best. prayer. ever.

Jenny, aka the Bloggess, was on a panel at a recent blogging conference with three Mormons (this is not the beginning of a joke).

Then as we were on stage they asked if we should do a prayer and normally this is when I’d be running away but they were so cool that I was all “HELL YES WE SHOULD DO A PRAYER” which is probably inappropriate wording but the spirit was there and so we huddled up but none of them wanted to lead the prayer so I was all “Dear God: Please let this panel be bad-ass and…um…I dunno…don’t let any babies fall down any wells?” and they all kind of looked at me and then said “Huh. Okay then. Amen.” Because how are you not going to say “amen” to a prayer for babies to not fall down wells? You can’t. It’s like a totally fail-proof prayer.

The rest of her remarkable adventures, including brandishing a broken bottle in the hotel bathroom, trying to convince housekeeping that she was not a porn star, and being crowned Czar of Martindale, Texas can be found here. Also? Baby zombie. And you wonder why I love her.

You'll also notice no babies (zombie or otherwise) have been reported falling down wells, so you know she's a prayer warrior. I'm trying to stay on her good side.

I'm not quite sure what to say about this...

But it seems like something I ought to post.

It's a bookshelf...

that turns into a coffin!

No, I am not making this up.

The description says, "These shelves are designed to last you a lifetime." And a bit more, apparently.

Found on the blog.

(OK, I confess. I think this is kind of cool, actually.)

Audiobook: The Wordy Shipmates

I've been cutting back on a lot of things this year (and finally, finally got my Solano County library card), but one thing I haven't trimmed is my subscription to

I think I've gotten a real winner this month in The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. Sarah (a regular contributor to This American Life and the voice of Violet in The Incredibles) has a unique voice and also knows, from her radio experience, what a person can reasonably hear. What she has to say is like good preaching: straightforward language with insight, and I think it's meant to be heard.

In addition to that, she has lots of guest readers who recite relevant passages from letters, journals, and sermons. And by guest readers, I mean Campbell Scott, Peter Dinklage, T-Bone Burnett, Catherine Keener, Eric Bogosian, John Hodgman, Jill Clayburgh, and John Oliver. It's just so much fun to listen to.

And who would have thought a history about the Puritans who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 would be fun? Although I think she simplifies things a bit for the audience, thus, I'm sure, driving serious historians crazy, I still find her take on things delightful. Thanks to Amazon's "Take a look" option, I can quote from her opening pages:

Cotton's sermon is titled, "God's Promise to His Plantation." He begins with one of the loveliest passages from the book of Second Samuel, an otherwise R-rated chronicle of King David's serial killer years.

That's my kind of writer!

Here's a YouTube clip that will give you a better sense of what kind of audio experience we're talking about as well as her reasons for exploring this group of people now.

Here's hoping it continues to be this engrossing all the way through.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

My mother's response to Project Runway

I got this email from my mom this morning. Used by kind permission.

Well, I browbeat your dad into watching Runway last nite. I had forgotten about it but with your nudge I recalled I liked it. I still like the contestants and love the clothes but CANNOT STAND THE ICKLY PREGNANT WOMAN (DIDN'T LIKE HER WHEN SHE WASN'T PREGNANT) OR THAT GREY HAIRED ANAL GUY WITH LITTLE GLASSES, OR THE POWER, NASTY JUDGES!!!!!. SO THERE. But the rest is really cool and I am really glad Anthony won the magazine cover thingy. I finally watched it with the sound off. That works pretty well. Mom

Kathryn Grayson

I mostly remember her from Kiss Me, Kate. It seems most appropriate to honor her with a song.

NY Times obit here.

Thirteen Reasons Why

I mentioned Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher on my Tuesday Teaser and just finished it last night. Man! This was the most intense, most emotionally raw reading experience I have had in a long time!

The premise is this: a boy comes home from school to find a package that has been mailed to him. In the package are cassette tapes. He begins to play one and realizes that they were recorded by a girl in his school who had committed suicide two weeks earlier. She says she is going to explain why she killed herself over the course of the tapes and that each listener is to forward the tapes on to the next person mentioned in the tapes. Or else the tapes will be made public.

Whew! So that's quite a set up right there.

I heard about this book from an article in the NY Times ages ago, bought it some time back, and finally picked it up off the shelf this week. It was one of those books that I kept putting down, not because it was bad, but because it was so strong I needed some time to recuperate between chapters.

I was incredibly impressed by how well (I thought) the author caught the mix of rational and irrational that goes into this teenage girl's thinking as she slips out of contact and into depression. It's no easy read, that's for sure, but a compelling one, and an excellent book for adults to read as well as teens, especially adults who work with youth.

Not many books have suicide hotline numbers in the bookflap, but I think the author, Jay Asher, has done an incredible service by writing this book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I heart Anthony

It's all Jon Stewart's fault that I am now addicted to Project Runway. Tim Gunn, who critiques the contestants' designs, was a guest just before the last season started and I've been a fool for the show ever since.

This season's contestants includes Anthony Williams who introduced himself in the very first episode by saying, "Honey, it is hell being black and gay in the ghet-to," in this wonderful Southern drawl. He's always the one with the best quips ("Life isn't fair; I don't see why Project Runway should be.") and appears to be adored by one and all.

And then he kept sneaking in Biblical references. Well, that's not exactly right. They just naturally appear in his speech. When he had to pick a partner for a team challenge he said, "I choose this day..." which may not sound like much, but sounds like Joshua to me.

There was an interview with Anthony in the Huffington Post in which he continues to be delightful. The very first question was, "What's it like for you now that the show has started to air?" to which he said,

You know, I haven't been leaving my house really, but I went out this weekend and it was crazy. I am shocked and amazed that people know who I am. My pastor called me to the front of the church on Sunday and said "Anthony, you are turning that show out!"

And then on last week's episode, young Mister Anthony says to his roommate, "Get up, Jay. It's time for Bible study." And what do you know, there's Anthony with his Bible open on his bed.

To all of which I want to say, God bless you, Anthony, for being yourself and by so doing challenging the stereotypes of black, gay, Southern and Christian. Oh, and I'm rooting for you on the show, too.

(which is on tonight at 10 on Lifetime, if you want to see what I'm nattering on about.)

Update: OK, I can't stand it. Y'all need to see Anthony in action. Here's his audition tape.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I was talking to a friend last night about spiritual disciplines. She said she hated the use of the word "discipline" because it suggested punishment. She proposed spiritual exercise. I said I hated the use of the word exercise because it suggested...ummm...exercise. We settled on spiritual practice because that suggests it's all right not to get it right. It may not make perfect, but it will probably make better.

What spiritual practice do you want to try this Lent? Me, I still don't know. If you have something good, I'll probably copy you. In the meantime...

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From the local cemetery

I was driving by yesterday and saw that the place was filled with flowers. I've never thought of Valentine's day as a day for visiting graves, but I can see how a sunny Sunday Valentine's Day would encourage a visit.

I found this incredibly poignant. Red hearts and flowers as far as the eye could see.

Teaser Tuesday: Thirteen Reasons Why

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser this week is from the YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. And I'm using four sentences, but three of them really make one complete thought.

"When rumors of Hannah's unexplained absence began spreading through school, Mr. Porter asked our class why he kept hearing her name mentioned in the halls. He looked nervous. Almost sick. Like he knew the answer but wanted someone to convince him otherwise."

(If you read the book, you'll understand why I put the teaser in quotes rather than italics.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon, abridged, 2/14

Happy Valentine's Day, perhaps the toughest holiday of the year. I think it may actually tougher for many couples than for single people. If you're single, you just eat chocolate, watch Casablanca and feel sorry for yourself. If you're in a couple, there's intense pressure to know instinctively the expectations of the person that you love. Failure is not an option.

A few years ago, I read an article from a pastor who specialized in counseling couples. He said that one thing he heard over and over from couples was that one or the other was "disillusioned." He said his answer was always, "That's great!" It meant, he said, that they had finally gotten past the illusion of the other person and were now in a place to be with the person as they really were, not the fantasy they imagined.

Two very different stories of disillusionment appear in the readings for today. First is the story of Moses who has gone back up Mount Sinai to get a copy of the tablets of the law. When he returns, his face is glowing, which freaks people out, so he covers it in a veil. What you hear implied in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, though, is that when the glow fades, Moses keeps the veil on because he doesn't want people to know What would happen if they saw he no longer had that mystical glow? Would they think his connection with God had been broken? Would he no longer be acceptable as a leader? They would be disillusioned, and what would happen then?

And then there's the gospel. When I first saw the text, I thought to myself, "I hope we don't have to read the second half." But then I thought the second half is perfect! It's a complete disillusionment. Jesus comes down from the mountain and is cranky and exhausted. He's rude and insulting and snippy and not at all like that magnificent creature we saw transfigured with Moses and Elijah on the mountain. And that's part of the story too.

So often we don't let Jesus be human. He has to be the glowing white Jesus of the mountaintop or it doesn't count. But we also claim in our creeds that Jesus is fully human, not glowy superhuman. And the good news about that is that if Jesus can be fully human, then so can we. When we describe ourselves and talk about our faith, we don't need to limit our description to our glowy mountaintop experiences. We can also talk about what frustrates us, what we haven't gotten yet.

We don't need to wear a veil of spirituality to hide the fact that we don't glow. Instead, in Paul's words, we can commend ourselves to conscience of everyone in the sight of God -- and in the sight of one another. Disillusionment is a good thing. It means you don't need to be glowing white all the time to be loved.

Dick Francis: obit quote of the day

No one could convey as well as he what it felt like to be drowned, hanged, crushed by a horse or soaked in icy water and left dangling, gagged and bound from a hook in the middle of a Norfolk winter's night.

from the Telegraph.

My personal favorite Dick Francis is Bonecrack, which gave you a pretty good idea what it felt like to be tied to a fence in a stress position and then have your collarbone broken.

But what I have to say is, first Robert B. Parker and now Dick Francis? Is this a conspiracy???

Sunday, February 14, 2010

For Valentine's Day: the most romantic obituary I've ever seen

I now subscribe to the UK Telegraph's obituaries, don't you know. On Friday, I read the obit for one Horace Greasley and now I want to know WHY ISN'T THERE A MOVIE?!

Horace Greasley was a POW in WWII who fell in love with the German interpreter for his POW camp -- an interpreter, mind you, who was hiding the fact that she was Jewish.
Within a few weeks Greasley and Rosa were conducting their affair in broad daylight and virtually under the noses of the German guards – snatching meetings for trysts in the camp workshops and wherever else they could find. But at the end of a year, just as he was realising how much he cared for Rosa, Greasley was transferred to Freiwaldau, an annex of Auschwitz, some 40 miles away.

But wait! There's more!
The only way to carry on the love affair was to break out of his camp...Greasley reckoned that short absences could be disguised or go unnoticed. Messages between him and Rosa were exchanged via members of outside work parties, who then handed hers on to Greasley, the camp barber, when they came to have their hair cut. When, with the help of friends, he did make it under the wire for an assignation nearby, he would break back into the camp again under cover of darkness to await his next opportunity.

Did you catch that? He escaped from the prison camp over 200 times--and would sneak back in!
Greasley was held prisoner, working for the Germans in quarries and factories, for five years less one day, and was finally liberated on May 24 1945. He still received letters from Rosa after the war's end, and was able to vouch for her when she applied to work as an interpreter for the Americans.

Not long after Greasley got back to Britain, however, he received news that Rosa had died in childbirth, with the infant perishing too. Horace Greasley said he never knew for certain whether or not the child was his.

AAAAHHH! Is that the most tragic operatic thing or what?

He eventually did marry -- in 1975. And there's a book about his experience called Do the Birds Still Sing in Hell?, which sounds amazing. The obit was mighty compelling by itself, though. If it were longer, I'd have to have boxes of Kleenex and chocolate. ~sniffle~

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday Funnies

I put this on Facebook and Twitter as well, but I just can't stop myself, I love this sign SO MUCH!

It's from the website Oddly Specific - "The strangely particular website about peculiarly exacting signs."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

BRAC in Afghanistan

When I went to Uganda, my lifeline was a newly-returned Kiva fellow named Drew Kinder. He directed me to my first residence there as well as telling me about the organization BRAC - Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee - a microfinance institution that does a great deal in the local communities where they work. It's a very impressive organization, doing the kind of thing that Yunus Mohammed does before he started doing it.

Drew and I have been in very sporadic contact since then, mostly on Facebook. Then today I got an email from him letting me know about his new blog, Drew Kinder in Asia.
The purpose of this blog is to trace my progress across Asia as I volunteer for BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), a remarkable Non-Governmental Organization based in Bangladesh that is combatting poverty throughout the developing world. I have been asked to help write and edit the 2009 Annual Reports of BRAC Afghanistan, BRAC Sri Lanka, and BRAC Pakistan.

Pretty darn impressive, Drew!

I was especially drawn to his reports from Afghanistan. Like this entry about Community Health Workers.
“Nay, Nay, Nay” four burqa clad Community Health Workers exclaimed in unison when asked if they do it for the money. With faces hidden behind traditional hijabs, their passion was clear. “We do it for God”, said one. “When our people are free from disease, we are free from disease.”

Such a different picture of Afghanistan from what I am used to seeing. I encourage you to check it out!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

World in Prayer, February 11

This was my week to write the World in Prayer prayers, and here they are:

God of Transfiguration, you call us not only to the mountaintops, but to the plains; not only to worship you, but to serve others. Help us in our worship to be not only transfigured but transformed that we may share the glory that is your love to the whole world.

We pray for those affected by winter weather: for people traveling the Salang Pass in Afghanistan, where an avalanche has killed over 150 people; and for Cheyenne River Sioux in the Dakotas where 30,000 people are snowed under and have gone without power for two weeks.

We pray for countries in political turmoil: for Somalia, where residents are fleeing the capital as insurgents have poured into Mogadishu with artillery and trucks; for Sri Lanka, where losing presidential candidate Gen Fonseka was arrested, sparking protests; for Greece, where thousands of civil servants went on strike after the government announced a plan to freeze wages; for Nigeria, where the Vice President has been named acting head of state ; and for Iran, where protests marking the anniversary of the revolution have been met by increased arrests.

We pray for leaders who seek to make people’s lives better: for the G7, which pledged to cancel Haiti’s debt, and for the International Monetary Fund as it considers doing the same; for the U.S. President and Congress as they plan a bi-partisan health care summit; and we give you thanks for Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk as we remember the release of Nelson Mandela from prison 20 years ago.

We give you thanks for the celebrations in our lives and for things that give us joy: for the city of New Orleans that celebrated its resilience as well as its Super Bowl victory; for the Winter Olympics that allow nations as well as athletes to show forth their best efforts; and for the people we love and who love us.

We pray that we may be revealed to them and to you in all the glory you intend for us and all creation. Guide us into a holy Lent and give us your grace to serve you and our neighbor day by day. All this we ask through your son, your chosen one, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Preview of coming attractions

Years ago, my mother and I went on a grand tour of the UK. The highlight for me was our time in Edinburgh, and the highlight of my time in Edinburgh was learning the story of Burke and Hare.

You know about Burke and Hare, right? Edinburgh, the Athens of Europe, was home to the finest medical school around. Cadavers, however, were hard to come by. The only legitimate cadavers for medical study were executed criminals, leaving anatomists in short supply. There was, however, a healthy trade in grave robbing, the grave robbers commonly being known as Resurrectionists.

Enter William Burke and William Hare who decided to cut out the middleman, so to speak, and do the killing themselves. They were eventually caught; Hare turned crown's witness, leaving Burke to be condemned and his body to be publicly autopsied at the medical school.

I loved this story. Yes, well, I have a grisly turn of mind. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn that it is being turned into a movie starring Simon Pegg as William Burke. Simon is also the title character in one of my favorite movies, the start of my zombie obsession, Shaun of the Dead ("A romantic comedy. With zombies.").

I'm also pleased that Burke and Hare is being filmed as a black comedy--just as I might have hoped--at the legendary Ealing Studios. And it also stars John Cleese, Tom Wilkinson and Isla Fisher. Due out late in 2010. I can't wait! Here's hoping it turns out bee-yu-ti-ful-ly. And delectably dark.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We interrupt this blog for an update from the ongoing saga of the Anglican Communion

Sorry...sorry...just can't keep my mouth shut on this one even though I realize 99.9 % of people everywhere don't give a rat's ass about it.

So. The Church of England is having its General Synod (somewhat like General Convention, only annual -- am I getting that right?), and a member proposed a resolution that would recognize the Anglican Church of North America, a group led by the former bishop of Pittsburgh who decamped from the Episcopal Church, as part of the Anglican Communion, in fellowship with the Church of England. This got amended somewhat so that the final resolution, which passed handily, reads:

That this Synod, aware of the distress cause by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada,

(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.

[Anyone who's followed this more closely than I please feel free to correct any factual errors here.]

That all seems reasonable enough, but what I don't think the C of E understands is that these are not reasonable people. Allow me to give an example from my own experience.

There was a parishioner, let's call her Madame Flowers. At first glance, she seemed a welcome addition to the parish, well-groomed and active. Active in everything, actually. To the point where it seemed a bit weird.

To make a long story very short, Madame Flowers trespassed into all sorts of areas, would not take no for an answer to anything, accepted no boundaries or limits, and, when on one occasion was escorted by me to the office door to end a conversation, accused me of assault. In short, she was a terribly disruptive presence and the parish, I think, did a reasonable (though not perfect) job of protecting its members from substantial damage. Madame Flowers was in no way evil, in my opinion, but her behavior made it almost impossible for her to remain in the community unless she was willing to make substantial changes, which she was not.

(Let us for the moment gloss over the part where her mother was found mummified in her home while she claimed she had seen her alive just the week before.)

The thing about ACNA that I don't think the C of E understands is that I think most of us are not as concerned about their belief as about their behavior. When I heard that synod had passed this resolution, I tweeted, "Good luck, C of E. You're gonna need it." These folks, for whatever reason, think nothing of trespassing boundaries all over the place and then accusing the people who say no of assault.

Truly, I feel for you. You have no idea what you, in your desire to be reasonable, have gotten yourself into. Blessings. [Insert sign of cross here.]

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: a bit of reading fluff

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

And my current reading couldn't be fluffier: Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich. The following seems like a pretty typical couple of sentences for Evanovich.

Giving and getting the finger is a way of life in Jersey. Still, getting the finger from a monkey isn't normal even by Jersey standards.

(What is it with me and the trained animals?)

Thoughts on the altar guild

A couple of friends and various blogs pointed me to an editorial by Eric Lax in the NY Times, supporting the election of Mary Glasspool, a same-sex partnered woman, as suffragan bishop of Los Angeles. (I’d like to point out that there now seems to be no scandal about electing a woman, as two women were elected that day but only one made headlines. Remember when that would have been A Really Big Deal?)

The article itself is good, but there’s one part that leapt out and grabbed me by the front of my scruffy sweatshirt. Lax pointed out,

Until 1971, when women were first ordained as deacons, the highest post a woman could attain was member of the vestry, the elected group that manages parish business. But even that was uncommon; usually the highest ranking woman in the parish was the leader of the altar guild, which arranges the flowers in the church, sets up the Eucharistic vessels and washes and irons the linens used in the service.

[emphasis mine]

Seeing that was a revelation to me, something which might begin to explain a relationship that has always confused me: the relationship between clergy and altar guild.

Now, I’ve served on altar guilds at two churches; I was the sacristan at CDSP for two years; and I have nothing but respect for the work of the altar guild. But I’m here to tell you, that as a priest, I have never encountered more conflict than with the women of the altar guild. The amount of resistance, anger, and territoriality has often taken me by surprise.

I think this can be summed up succinctly in an encounter I had a few years back. I realized on my way to church on Sunday morning that I had forgotten to tell the head of the altar guild that I had made a change in some part of the set up for that morning. I knew this was going to be trouble and instantly went to the sacristy to apologize and explain. The head of the altar guild let me know in no uncertain terms that my behavior had been unacceptable and ended by telling me, “Don’t fuck with the altar guild.” Not language you hear every day from septuagenarian widows.

I think she said what a lot of altar guild leaders secretly and honestly feel. And part of that, I suspect, stems from the fact that it used to be they were the highest ranking women in the parish, but now where are they? Now that women run the joint, are bishops, priests, deacons, wardens, treasurers, deputies to General Convention – not to mention running the denomination in both houses – what status is there in serving on the altar guild? The truth is, not a lot.

That’s not all there is to it, of course, so forgive me for this superficial analysis, but I do wonder how this loss of status affects the attitudes of the long-time members of our altar guilds. What’s more, how many of them joined because priesthood was not an option? I’m trying to imagine how many bishops, priests, deacons served out their life ministries in the altar guild because there was no other outlet for it. Well, you could also be a DRE—director of religious education—but that position is largely vanished now, while the work of the altar guild is still largely unchanged.

And still largely unrecognized. Do you notice, of a Sunday, that your purificator has been ironed? No? Neither do I. But the altar guild still does it, using those thankless linens that need to be laundered and starched and ironed just so.

The altar guild is a ministry that gets noticed primarily by its failures. The wine isn’t in the cruet? Complain to the altar guild. The chasuble wasn’t set out? Complain to the altar guild. The candle ran out of oil? Complain to the altar guild. That constant castigation might have been a bit easier to take when there was some status in the position. But now I sense that the low status serving on the altar guild currently holds cannot match up to the constant criticism that comes with the job.

I’m just imagining all those thwarted priests ironing linens in dingy sacristies year after year for decades. It makes me sad. The church fucked with the altar guild big time.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Obit lead du jour

I'm afraid Ian Carmichael's subhead cannot compare with that of Ali Hassani:

Ali Hassani, who died on January 16 aged 82, became a circus tumbler after being snatched from a Moroccan marketplace aged only seven; during his decades in the Big Top he once calmly saved a boy from an escaped bear.

No amount of spiffing claret can beat that.

Lord Peter Wimsey died

Does anybody else remember the Lord Peter Wimsey series on PBS with Ian Carmichael? I enjoyed those and thought he was well cast. I love this subhead:

Ian Carmichael, the comedy actor who has died aged 89, was once asked what he would do if he won £1 million. He said he would improve his wine cellar with a lot of "absolutely spiffing clarets".

Sounds like LPW to me. In a cross with Bertie Wooster whom he also played.

Meanwhile, in Uganda...

Two stories predominate the regular Google alert I get on the topic of Uganda: one is the anti-homosexuality bill, still being roundly criticized by church and political leaders outside of Uganda while Ugandan politicians tell non-Ugandans to MYOB, a reaction I can appreciate even while thinking the anti-homosexuality bill is horrible.

"We cannot tell the Senate what to do. We cannot tell Congress what to do. So why do they feel that they can tell us what we should do in the interest of our people?" James Nsaba Buturo, Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity, told AFP.

The other story getting a lot of play that you may not know about is that there are lots of negotiations going on over new oil fields in Uganda. Companies from Russia, the U.K., France, as well as Exxon, "among others," have been trying to get in to Uganda "following the discovery of around a billion barrels of oil in three exploration blocks." As I understand it, there has never been petroleum production in Uganda before. Let's hope they learn something from Nigeria's experience.

I can just imagine how these two very different stories may become intertwined. But what do I know? At any rate, I wanted to give you a heads up.

Obie, please.

This is actually "Bay Area liberal, please," courtesy of James Fallows.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday funnies

In audiobook news, I'm currently listening to Craig Ferguson's autobiography, American On Purpose. It's very touching in an amusing way, as is this clip from his citizenship exam:

Friday, February 5, 2010

But the facts of life keep changing!

So there's been a few things in the news this week about sex education. Last Sunday, Ross Douthat had a thoughtful editorial in the NY Times that (I think rightly) points out that much of the battle over what is effective is a disguise for "a battle over community values"--or personal values. Much chatter ensued.

Then on Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a story provocatively headlined, Abstinence-only programs might work, study says. There really should have been an asterisk after the headline. People jumped all over this, but the upshot was that this abstinence-only program wasn't what most people think of when they think of abstinence-only programs. "Ms. Brown noted that the abstinence-only classes in the Jemmott study centered on people with an average age of 12 and that unlike the federally supported abstinence programs now in use, did not advocate abstinence until marriage," it says VERY late in an article in the NY Times.

The thing I keep missing in all these discussions is any mention of how to help parents share their own values with their kids. What I'd love to see are programs for parents while their kids are in elementary school--not while their kids are in the heat of hormonal fury.

I remember with what trepidation I went to a workshop called Holy Hormones at the 2005 Earl Lecture series, Sex and the City of God. I still remember with what vehemence I insisted on bringing the workshop leaders to our parish to present--not to the kids, but to the adults.

The primary thing this workshop made me realize is our very paltry and limited our definition of sex education--indeed, sexuality--often is. Sex education for parents is about so much more than telling kids, "Don't have sex! (but if you are, here's how to do so safely)." The presenters had us asking ourselves, what's the right age for a person to see an R-rated movie? Shave their legs? Wear make-up? And then ask at what age we did those things?

There's also a curriculum for youth that I never used, called Love--all that and more, which sounds very good.

But the main thing for me is that I don't think we do enough in any area of society to help adults articulate what they have learned about sex and sexuality, and then what they would like their children to know. I wish there were a lot more of that. It's so ironic that we call teaching about sex "the facts of life" when the huge bulk of it isn't factual at all, is it? The basics are pretty simple, but the truth is--well, wow, a mass of culture, mixed messages, and the unknown.

Then, of course, you could always get the friendly school nurse to make things clear.

Gertrude? Gummo? Garth?

Seen in Oakland yesterday.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Obie, please.

A real, true, gen-you-wine entry in this quarter's Oberlin Alumni magazine. Only the name has been changed.

Owen Obie is living in a yurt on a farm in Maryland while he works on his master of science degree in herbal medicine from Tai Sophia Institute. He also plays the Chinese pipa with a local group.

I hope this is a brilliant parody on the Oberlin stereotype. I fear it is not.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stephen Huneck

For all that I read a lot of obits, I don't often find them sad. I was saddened, though, to read of the death of Stephen Huneck, the creator of the Dog Chapel in Vermont.

Sad because he shot himself. His wife says it was because "he had been despondent over having had to lay off most of the employees of his art business that week."

On the Dog Mountain home page, his wife writes:

Dear Stephen

It helps me to know that God's love envelopes you. God's love surrounds us all. Your love envelopes me. The love of everyone who knew you, dogs, people and a few cats send their love.

We all love you.

We all miss you.

We will remember you always.

Your Loving Wife,


I'm saying a prayer over this one.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is much more of a teaser than I thought this book could be:

So there you have it--the ten new major improvements to the Square Foot Gardening method. Each one makes the entire system more productive, the work much easier, and the cost of gardening lower.

From All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

'Tis the season! Enjoy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

St. Brigid

Here's the part I like best in the little bio about St. Brigid of Kildare:

Kildare had formerly been a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was kept perpetually burning, and Bridget and her nuns, instead of stamping out the fire, kept it going but gave it a Christian interpretation.

Brigid herself was named, evidently, for the pagan goddess of healing by her druid father. Thus saith Wikipedia, anyway.

I don't know. I find something touching about all of this: that it's not, "This is evil and must be rooted out!" but "This is God's and should be loved and cared for."