Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, August 31

OK! On to Teaser Tuesday with two (or so) sentences picked randomly (more or less) from the book I am currently reading. Further details at MizB's place, Should Be Reading, if you want to join in.

Red Sky at Morning: A Novel (Perennial Classics)I'm still reading Red Sky at Morning whose hilariousness cannot be adequately conveyed sans context, so you'll just have to trust me that this is a very funny book.

Here's the teaser:

"She spends every summer at a church camp in Colorado. She comes back with a tan and the scroungiest jokes I ever heard. This year she brought back a song called 'Ring Dang Do' that would make your hair turn white."

Does it help to know that Harper Lee wrote the blurb on the cover of my copy from the library?

Pre-stewardship drive discussion starter

From an...interesting article about charitable giving:

Religious services are a form of marketing. What else would you call being held captive to a rehearsed one-hour message repeated once a week, every week, week after week after week? It's a particularly productive form of marketing — rich, experiential, and communal. It's much more powerful than a website banner ad that your retina can filter out before reaching your brain, or a TV commercial you can make disappear with TIVO. You have to sit there and listen. The message is simple: Be charitable, both to your religious institution and to humanity in general. And it works.

If you don't like the word marketing, then call it solicitation, or donor cultivation, or major gift development. Any way you slice it, it's a form of fundraising.

Discuss. More thoughts later this week.

Monster tomato watch: day 2 The Ripening

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday morning preacher: Let me entertain you

At the risk of obsessing over something that no one even remembers any more, let’s revisit that NY Times editorial that blames clergy burnout on those lousy, lazy congregations we’ve got these days (never mind that at no point since Constantine has there been less reason for Americans to bestir themselves to get to church—but I digress in a convolutedly doubly-negative manner).

In the editorial, G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes:

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them....

I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

Congregations that make such demands seem not to realize that most clergy don’t sign up to be soothsayers or entertainers.

Ah, yes. Entertainment. That vile seducer. What truly faithful Christian would settle for the milk and pablum of entertainment when the true and virtuous meat of doctrine is so much more nourishing? Take it away, Augustine:

But yes, there is a certain similarity between feeding and learning; so because so many people are fussy and fastidious, even those foodstuffs without which life cannot be supported need their pickles and spices.

One thing MacDonald seems to miss is that sound teaching and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Yes, there are sermons that are fluff and no substance. But there are also sermons that are substantial and unpalatable, sermons that you sit through thinking, “I'm sure this is good for me” while praying for it to end.

courtesy of The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus
I would feel more sympathy with MacDonald if I got the sense that he had been pressured into not preaching the gospel. I do not know about the circumstances or pressures he faced, but the reason I react so strongly is because I sense that he was asked only to preach sermons that people wanted to listen to--not because their itching ears wanted a new doctrine, but because they would have liked some pickles and spices to liven up their weekly fare.

There is nothing in itself morally virtuous about an un-entertaining sermon. And there is nothing in itself morally wrong with a sermon that entertains. Jesus certainly knew that. So did theological superstar Augustine. Entertainment in preaching is hardly new. And when you want to get your point across, it can sure be helpful.

Monster tomato watch

Ripening soon in a garden near...well, me, actually.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Funnies #2

What I wish I'd known to post this morning for your pre-Emmy amusement.

h/t Anonymous Historian. Thank you, sycophants!

Sunday Funnies

Red Sky at Morning: A Novel (Perennial Classics)I'm reading this terrific book called Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford which keeps making me laugh, so I thought I'd find a good section for you. Let's see...ah, here's a good one, featuring our smart-assed teenage protagonist Josh and his two friends Marcia and Steenie:

"Nuts," Marcia said. "I want another lousy malt, and if I get one my lousy face will break out and I'll put another lousy inch on my lousy hips, and I'll look even more like Sophie Tucker than I do now."

"That's ridiculous," Steenie said. "You're the most beautiful girl west of the Allegheny River. Josh and I are both blinded by your beauty. It's like going out and having a malt with Notre Dame Cathedral."

"You make Betty Grable look like a sack of oyster shells."

"You have hair like the mane on a clean lion, not that I ever saw a clean lion."

"You could drive whole regiments mad with your looks. Picasso is dying to paint you, with two noses and seven eyes."

"Natalie Kalmus wants to do you in Technicolor."

"Jose Iturbi wants to play the Minute Waltz in fifty-seven seconds, just for you."

"If your ankles weren't just a little thick, Gary Cooper would...."

"What's that about my ankles?"

"Well," Steenie said, "they're not what you'd call gross, but maybe a half-inch less wouldn't hurt."

"Marcia," I said, "believe me. I think your ankles are fine. You're perfection just the way you are, and maybe a couple of inches more up on top there would do the trick."

"What's the matter with up on top here?"

"Matter? Nothing's the matter. It's delightful, what there is of it, and I guess it's enough."

"Technically speaking," said Steenie. "Medically speaking."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eat Pray Love: the movie

Continuing on our dog days of summer series of exploring the Really Important Things Going On, a brief word about the movie version of Eat Pray Love:


In fact, I think that's what I'll call it from now on.

"You don't need a man, Liz.  But this is a movie."
I should have known from the previews in which gorgeously scruffy Javier Bardem says to gorgeously gangly Julia Roberts, "You don't need a man, Liz. You need a champion." That's a WTF moment right there. Did he really say that? Is that really in the book?

And so I've been scanning through the Bali section trying to find that moment. Not finding it. Instead, I'm finding the message I remembered when Liz considers whether to take up with Felipe or not:

If I am truly to become an autonomous woman, then I must take over that role of being my own guardian.

Now, that's more like it!

No way would Liz Gilbert respond positively to some man, however gorgeously scruffy, saying she needed a champion. And the more I think about it, the more WTF traded in the tired trope of championship. Richard from Texas, for example, became a spiritual champion, complete with Wise and Folksy Sayings and a Tragic Illustrative Tale. It spent way, way, way too much of its time harping on Liz-as-single while the book, as I remember it, is all about Liz-as-whole.

So WTF got the activities of the book right: first she left her husband; then she took up with someone; then she went to Italy; then India; then Bali where she met a man. But it totally missed the whole interior journey which was the point of the book. And in so doing I feel did a disservice to women--and men as well, forced to become champions when maybe they need help too.

It's beautifully filmed and well-cast and the more I think about it the angrier I get. How many people are going to see this movie and think they have learned the message of Eat, Pray, Love the book. I feel sorry for them, because they have been totally bamboozled.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cat heist: a drama by David Marmot

[Scene opens. Jack and Charlie are in a back hallway gazing longingly at the cabinet in which the pet food is stored.]

Jack: Yeah, she caught me yesterday gettin' into the cabinet, see? So now we's got a little extra problem what with this case of Diet Pepsi blockin' clear access to the door.

Charlie: You're sure the stuff is in there, right, Jack?

Jack: Oh, yeah, Charlie. I got a good whiff of it yesterday when I was in there before she kicked me out.

Charlie: All right, let's crack this joint.

[thoompa thoompa thoompa thoompa]

Charlie: Hey, Jack, you got that case moved outta the way yet?

Jack: It's comin', Charlie. Just gimme a hand, here, will ya?

[thoompa thoompa thoompa thoompa]

{rustling noise; a canister falls to the floor}

Jack: Charlie, what the-- Charlie, look out, she's coming. Char--{whistles nonchalantly} Oh, hey, looks like someone broke in here. Gosh, did they take anything? Hey, Charlie, did they take anything?

Charlie: {munching something} MMM...nope. Looks like it's all still here.

Jack: Yeah, it's a good thing we investigated that noise. Someone could of made off with all the food. Right, Charlie?

Charlie: Jack thought I should make sure to check it out.

Jack: That's what I told'im. Check it out, I said. You can't be too careful when it comes to premium dog food. What the--oh, man, we ain't done nothin.

Charlie: {hissing} I told you we shoulda done it tonight, but you couldn't wait.

Jack: Where are YOU going?

Charlie: Litter box. I wanna be sure to get there first, see how you like it.

[end scene]

Because this is what I'm spending all my time thinking about

In these times in which we live, with questions of civil rights and religious liberty and the ongoing struggle for truth and justice for all, I think it behooves us on this beautiful Friday to think about last night's episode of Project Runway. Not in any deep way, mind you. Just in a "Holy crap, can you believe that?" sort of way.

Oh my. Oh my my. I won't go into detail here since there's many a recap blog out there. (This one captures the gist nicely.) Suffice it to say that at the end of the episode and all of today, I've had this aria running through my head:

Is Beverly Sills Tim Gunn? Or is she Michael C., who in the previews for next week's episode is out for vengeance? Or is it Gretchen, turning on her team when the judges don't like (let's face it) her collection?

I may yet have some more, you know, worthwhile things to say about what that episode showed about bossiness vs. management, and how women use "just trying to help" as an excuse for bullying while men use...some other phrase. (If you can think of what that phrase is, let me know.) Or pondering why Tim Gunn is so magnificent; that's worth some consideration.

OK, so maybe you're above such things. But if you've read this far, don't know what the heck I'm talking about, and still want to know what happened, I think this captures the tenor of the episode nicely:

(h/t Oddly Specific)

There's sermon fodder here, for sure.

If you watched Project Runway, what did you think?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The tricky act of demanding rights

Today is the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment being made the law of the land:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Through a series of clicks, I found this article in the Washington Post which suggests that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was for many years largely forgotten as a mover and shaker of the women's suffrage movement because she was critical of organized religion as one of the forces behind women's oppression, while Susan B. Anthony "held her tongue for fear of driving away women of faith from the suffragist cause and offending religious men who had the power to continue to deny women the vote."

(I know a certain historian who reads this blog who I hope will chime in here.)

For me this raises the question: if you are trying to acquire right A, but to do so you must be circumspect about proclaiming truth B (or what you think is truth B), what do you do? How much is too much to ask for? How long is too long to wait? What action is beyond the scope of the goal you hope to accomplish? How do you reconcile using the help and resource of people with whom you violently disagree in order to reach the goal you desire?

From what little I know of the suffragist movement, it was long, it was hard, it was complicated, it was violent, and it was full of compromise. How do you come out of something like that with your integrity intact?

Something I need to consider as the struggle for human rights continues--and no doubt will never end. For today, I am so grateful to the many, many women who made it possible for me to vote.  It's a right and a privilege I take most seriously.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"They want to hand this country over to foreign terrorists."

No, that's not a TeaPartier, or a blogger, or a pundit, or a Fox news analyst. It was, in fact, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the president of Somalia, speaking in response to an attack by Al Shabab rebels that killed at least 32 people, including 6 members of Parliament. This is the same group that staged the bombing in Kampala during the finals of the World Cup.

I heard the story yesterday on the Africa Today podcast from the BBC, and was struck by this quote from President Ahmed (through an interpreter (I doubt the President actually said, "these guys")):

The fact that they think of such an atrocity and attack fellow-Muslims in this holy month of Ramadan, it shows that this group has nothing to do with Islam. I call on the Somali people to be aware that these guys are not religious as they say. The group's aim also is to prevent Somalis from having peace, and they want to hand this country over to foreign terrorists.

I guess the point being that, yes, there is indeed Muslim extremism, but the victims of it are just as likely to be fellow Muslims as they are to be either Christians or Westerners. It is worth understanding the difference between Islam and Islamists, but that will require some real effort.

Believe me, I am among the ignorant. I mean, think of all the Anglican/Episcopal tribes just in the U.S. I'm sure there must be distinctions like that in the Muslim world too. I vaguely know that there is Sufi Islam...and some other kinds. Hardly a basis for making rational distinctions, much less showing any real understanding.

Oh, how it aggravates me that we--and I mean me--I have no nuances in my understanding of the world. It may be simpler that way, but it's also wildly inaccurate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the feast of St. Bartholomew

The collect for the day always makes me smile:

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It makes me smile because the very first thing that is said about Bartholomew in Lesser Feasts and Fasts is that "Bartholomew is one of the twelve Apostles known to us only by being listed among them in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke."

So what did he believe? Did he ever preach at all? And if so, what did he say? There's no record. So why are we emphasizing his belief and teaching? I'm guessing it's because doing something sounds better than...nothing.

"Nothing more is heard of him in the four Gospels." And what if that's because there's really nothing more to say? Maybe he didn't write a gospel, as some suggest; maybe he didn't travel to India, as one legend has it. Maybe he wasn't flayed alive in Armenia, as another tradition holds. Maybe he just stuck around Jerusalem, raised a family, told them about his time with Jesus, and was faithful to God. I don't know. It's just as possible than other suggestions, and more possible than some.

And what if that's all right? Wouldn't it be lovely to have a patron saint for followers of Christ who don't do anything in particular? All this striving and seeking and struggle...maybe there's one apostle who simply lived his life. And maybe that's acceptable.

Teaser Tuesday, August 24

It's a Teaser Tuesday, people, and you know what that means: two sentences from what I'm reading right now in an effort to entice you into reading it, too. And lots of chatty visits back and forth among book blogs by those brought together in Teaserdom by MizB at Should Be Reading. May I offer you a cup of tea?

Brewing Up a Storm: A John Thatcher Mystery (John Putnam Thatcher Mysteries)Here's the teaser from Brewing Up a Storm by Emma Lathen. (The brew here is beer, not tea; more specifically a non-alcoholic beer called Quax. I could get you one of those, if you prefer.)

"But they see adults drinking in every restaurant with a liquor license."

Aware that she herself had polished off two glasses of wine with her lunch, Madeleine knew there had to be a distinction escaping the Honorable Member.

This was one of the last, if not the last John Putnam Thatcher mysteries, published in 1996. It's very strange reading about JP in the '90s. Good thing no one ages in these books.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Ears to hear

Over on the Internet Monk, they have a regular feature called Difficult Scriptures in which readers are invited to work together to illuminate various...um...difficult scriptures.

Last week's offering was Matthew 22:14: "For many are called but few are chosen." I decided to comment on this one because of the remarkable thing I had noticed the last time I had to preach on that passage: that the few who are chosen are the ones who don't come to the banquet, or the one who is kicked out for being improperly attired.

I mean, look at it: "Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests." (v. 10) Does that sound like only the few chosen ones will be allowed in to you? So where on earth did we come up with the deeply ingrained notion that it's so important to be among the few chosen ones?

I could use this example to rail against prooftexting: picking a verse (or quotation) out of context to support your previously held position. But that's not what this is really about. It's more that it is hard to read the Scriptures with an eye and ear to what is actually there rather than what you expect to be there.

This is one of the reasons why preparing a sermon is (or ought to be) such hard work. It's so hard to get past the preconceptions I bring to the text. But it is so wonderful when it cracks open and I see some new light.

I don't know how you learn (or teach someone) to be open and to struggle when the meaning seems so cut and dried. I only know how important it is to have ears to hear before I have words to preach.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Obit quote of the day

Many snakes, including some he took to grandchildren’s birthday parties, may or may not survive him.

From the amazing obit for Roy Pinney, Man of Snakes, Baby Photos and Adventure.

Sunday Funnies

Hands down the funniest thing I read this week was this blog, describing the national costumes for the Miss Universe 2010 competition. If you want to see what two very witty guys have to say about an outfit like this:

or better yet, this:

go check it out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Expanding my horizons

As you may have noticed in the past week or so, there's been a new theme on the blog: job search. I'm actually having a good time in the search, being one of the fortunate ones who is looking for work while still in a job. But I thought I'd share where I am, why I'm looking now, and what I'm looking for. Maybe in the articulation, I'll understand it better myself.

I've been ordained since 2001 and figured I would be an assistant rector, then rector of a small church, then rector of a larger church, and generally have a smooth progression from one church position to the next. Ha ha ha. For a variety of reasons, this has not happened. My career in the church thus far has been unconventional and full of interruptions.

I had thought one thing that would make it easy (well, easier) to have a career in the church was that I could move anywhere and didn't need to stay in a particular location. Ha ha ha. For a variety of reasons, I find myself settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region with a lot of clergy and very few church jobs.

I've also made the mistake of applying only for jobs I would like, rather than any job I could get. This was, of course, a choice that I made that limits my options severely. I can't regret it, but it certainly means that I narrowed my chances of the career I had envisioned down to almost vanishingly small odds.

And so I find, nine years out of seminary, that it is time for me to expand my horizons and think about doing something else.

It's hard coming to terms with giving up on the one direction I thought I was headed and going elsewhere. I'm not even sure I've been able to do that. There may still be a church job that calls out to me that I need to consider.

But the fun part is that I can now also seriously consider other things and feel neither in-between things nor unfaithful. I have been having the best time doing informational interviews, just learning about professions I have never considered before. So far, I've talked to a development director, venture capitalist, non-profit administrator, and the owner of a video production company. (I'll probably blog about these in the coming days.)

It's exciting. I don't know where this is going to lead me, but I'm very hopeful. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Garden Update, August 20: the Tomato Edition

Actually, this may be only volume 1 of the Tomato Edition since we have tomatoes in abundance.

I might have gone a bit overboard with the cherry tomatoes.

There are three plants just like this. Luckily the dogs like them and are willing to help with the harvesting.

I just need to train them to give the tomatoes back after they pick them off the vines. Andy, the little red guy, seriously loves those tomatoes. Georgia is just giving in to peer pressure.

This monster

is no cherry tomato, but one of the heirlooms that weaved its way through the cherry tomato cages.

Speaking of escape artists: all the plants you see growing through the fence, here, are self-seeders from last year's tomatoes.

They aren't even growing in the fancy beds, but in a couple of inches of dirt between the beds and the fence. Tomatoes are much more hardy than I gave them credit for.

So now I need to figure out what to do with them all. This is what I got over the past couple of days. AFTER the photos above.

If you have a particularly good tomato sauce recipe that I can use for the Romas, please let me know! I'm overrun!

I hope your garden is flourishing and that you're enjoying the abundance of the summer. Bon appetit!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obit du jour: Bess Cummings

What a tale! Just to tempt you:

For nearly 20 hours during the night and day that followed, Bess Walder and Beth Cummings, with only their adrenalin to sustain them against cold and exhaustion, clung to their overturned lifeboat in the stormy seas; they were clad only in pyjamas and dressing gowns.

A reminder that you never know what your teacher did when she was your age. Wow!

The kids are all right

I'm not talking about the movie in this instance, but a comment thread among some teenagers who have been gracious enough to friend me on Facebook. The author of the thread has given me his permission to reprint the comments here.

Please note: I would very much appreciate if you would NOT comment on the rightness or wrongness of the arguments presented below. I'm hoping you will note instead the carefulness, thoughtfulness and kindness of them all. Are the commenters echoing what they hear at home? Possibly. But I wouldn't discount their opinions as mere parroting. God knows teens form their own opinions. At any rate, it's a heck of a lot deeper commentary than, say, who's your favorite Real Housewife.


Monday, 8/16 21:15

A: Today, equality was stalled by the courts, but one day the constitution will prevail, but we must still wait for America to stand up to its promise as the land of equality. I have confidence in my generation however that we will be able to cast off old fashioned views and allow all people to marry who they wish. And to... my conservative friends, allowing gay marriage would help stimulate the economy slightly.

B: all i heard was gay rights were put off

A: the appeals court decided to stall gay marriage until it goes through their court.

B: woowwwwwww
whats there to stall about?

A: idk questions about the constitutionality about not allowing a group of people the benifits of legally being married.

B: thats also bull

A: well their entire argument does not stand up to the constitutional test, when they throw out religion technically no religion has to recognize any marriage, but there is seperation between church in state, and my other question is how does adam + steve ruin your marriage, marriage is a holy sacrament so shouldn't all be able to enjoy it.

B: it goes against the constitution.... pursuit of happiness

A: actually it goes against the part that says equal protection under the law, pursuit of happiness is not mentioned in the constitution it is mentioned in the declaration of independence, but if we are following the ideas of natural law it violates that too.

B: whatevers.... prop 8 is against federal law

A: true.

C: marriage is a sacred practice between a man and a woman and unholy between two people of the same sex. here these liberals are targeting one of THE number one most important things to a conservative, their own religious practices, which is ...not a legal matter. they are treating it as though it hardly matters and destroying good values. domestic partnership but slightly improved should be enough and they can have their own little ceremony. this takes constitutional rights out of context. every person has the right to marry the opposite gender, and this is a nonsecular matter...nothing against gays just wanting to explain another viewpoint most people don't understand correctly

A: We are not arguing in favor of forcing faiths to recognize gay marriages, I make that clear in my third comment, but legally all people must be equally protected under the law. Domestic partnership is a seperate but "equal" type law which is not usually equal in truth, so constitutionally your argument holds no water.

C: constitutionally? the american people have rights just as well as groups and ideas..it is not a government matter, it's a government decision when it comes down to it, but it's a controversial subject about beliefs. marriage is a holy ancie...nt practice and yes, ur argument if it only pertains to the law, is solid. but marriage in itself is and should be very separate from state law. if all the rights of legal marriage were separate and marriage itself did not require a permit there would be almost no problems with this. i would give homosexuals the rights if it were up to me but i think it is fair and within the confines of equality to deny them the title of marriage. constitutionally they all have the same rights, marriage has always been defined as heterosexual which they can do if they want or legally become the opposite sex. however economically they are good because they account for a large sum of adoptions and if they were to be in a partnership similar to marriage many couples are more in demand for adoption. should they have the same rights as married couples? sure. should they be allowed to take on 'marriage'? no.

A: I will address your argument in many parts at a time
1. It is a government matter, married couples get benifits that unmarried ones dont and it is in the law too.
2 If it is not a government issue than Prop H8 should be thrown out immediatly ...judging that it deals with the state constitution
3. Religious communities do not have to recognize anything.
4. Not all heterosexual marriages are religious or for having kids, atheists get married too.
5."legally become the opposite sex" what part of same sex do you not understand they like the same sex, that is what they are physically attracted too. and you are also saying that stripping people of their idea is more acceptable than simply allowing them to marry.
6. Final question will the world fall apart if we allow gay people? It did not when they were legal in the summer of 2008.
Thank u for your argument you make some compelling points.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Giants win the pennant!

Well, OK, it was 50 years ago. We can still hope.

Lovely obit today for Bobby Thomson who hit "The shot heard 'round the world." I think the announcer, Russ Hodges, added immensely to the impact of the moment. I started crying watching the video clip and the whole run-up to the game, the rivalry, the last chance-ness of it doesn't mean anything to me. What do you think? Especially you non-baseball people, what does this clip do to you?

But what I love about the obit is the life Thomson lived after that moment. He played a couple more seasons, was traded to Milwaukee, broke his ankle, retired from baseball. Then

After leaving baseball, Thomson, a quiet, modest man, became a sales executive with the Westvaco paper-products company, now part of MeadWestvaco. “I wanted to get a responsible job, stay home more with my wife and daughter and live a normal life,” he said.

And yet you always have that moment. Is that enough, I wonder. Just one fleeting moment. And the rest of it "normal" with your wife and daughter. It seems so grounded to me.

The obit ends talking about Thomson's relationship with the pitcher who lost the game for the Dodgers, Ralph Branca.

Over the years, Thomson appeared with Branca at old-timers’ games, baseball dinners and autograph shows. They donated much of the money they made to charity and forged a certain closeness.

At one joint appearance on the 40th anniversary of his dramatic home run, Thomson remarked that “Ralph didn’t run away and hide.”

Branca responded, “I lost a game, but I made a friend.”

Sounds like they both had their priorities right to me. Lovely, lovely.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, August 17

As we do 'round these parts of a Tuesday, I'll be opening my current read to a random(-ish) page and picking two(-ish) sentences in hopes you will be enticed into reading maybe even a whole paragraph of said mystery book.

You can also join in, either by doing the same on your own blog or posting your teaser sentences (or blog link) at the Teaser Tuesday Mother Blog: Should Be Reading.

OK, ready? Carrying on with our job hunt theme, our Teaser today comes from the GREAT and deservedly famous What Color Is Your Parachute (2010) by Richard N. Bolles.

And voila!--so the myth goes--with your resume "out there," you will automatically find a job. In spite of the statistic that we already saw: less than 10 percent of all job-hunters or career-changers actually find a job, when they start with their resume.

And, yes, he does go on to explain a) how to use a resume appropriately and b) lots of other ways to go about the job search besides sending resumes into the void.

Truly, this book is fantastic. If you or someone you know are looking for work or thinking about a career change, this is an incredibly helpful tool.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On the job search...

...maybe I could be a Baby Sloth Wrangler! Are there any positions locally?

h/t Ferdinand, aka sis.

Monday Morning Preacher: Perspective

Window at Bishop's Ranch
Yesterday morning I dashed up to Healdsburg to go to services at The Bishop's Ranch and, more importantly, to visit with Kirstin of Barefoot and Laughing fame. I left home later that I ought so I slipped into the pews in time to hear that cheery little gospel lesson assigned for the day. Kirstin gave me a big hug and whispered, "Aren't you glad you aren't preaching on THAT?" Oh, man! Was I ever!

At the Ranch they have the clever tradition of simply having some silence. It was very welcome and soothing and allowed me to think about what a tricky job preachers have. Not only do they need to find some kind of message in a text that is not of their choosing and which may be very difficult, but you never know what the members of the congregation have gone through even that very morning that might color how they hear your words. Maybe they are still flustered at being late. Maybe they are thinking about their friend sitting next to them who is preparing to visit her oncologist after some unsettling news. Maybe they are thinking about a neighbor whose partner just died. Maybe they are looking for a new job. Maybe all of those are just me. Multiply that by the number of people in the congregation and it's amazing any coherent message can get delivered by a sermon at all.

"You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Jesus asks. Maybe it's because with earth and sky you get a little distance. So much harder to get perspective when all the information is immediate and jumbled.

As a preacher, what I take from this is this: I need time and silence to stew a bit before making any pronouncements in order to sort through the jumble that is my own experience. And I need to recognize that if someone doesn't get what I'm trying to say, it may be due neither to my giving a bad sermon nor to the listener not paying attention. It may just be one of those days, cloudy and unpredictable.

Prayers and blessings go out to Kirstin (so great seeing you!), my neighbor R., friends J. and A., both dealing with breast cancer, and in memory of my neighbor Jeff, may he rest in peace.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Funnies

Apropos of not much except, of course, that I think it's funny, here's a scene from Star Wars that might look somewhat familiar from the great folks at Improv Everywhere:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Florence Nightingale

You know what's kind of sad? I have been reluctant even to look at the calendar of saints and observances recently because I'm so annoyed at those new-fangled interlopers, like Bach (damn Lutheran). Completely unfair of me, but there it is. I may eventually get over myself.

I am Florence Nightingale and I will kick your ass.
Today, however, a friend on Facebook noted that it is the feast of Florence Nightingale and so I dared to peek. Because I love Florence Nightingale. That image of her as a kindly nurse is just so off the mark. Stubborn, tenacious, driven, opinionated and outspoken would probably be more like.

Her bio on Satucket, which has biographical sketches of all the people commemorated by the Episcopal Church, begins "The commemoration of Florence Nightingale is controversial." And why is that? It's because "she doubted or denied many of the central articles of the Creed." Let me tell you something: that is not controversial to me. It seems perfectly reasonable that FloNi is in the Episcopal Church's calendar, given that she was part of the Church of England and driven to do the work she did by her sense of call from God.

Love you, Flo. Happy feast day.

Obsession or OCD: you decide


is made out of 250,000 Euro cent coins.

These people are nuts.

It's pretty incredible, though.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I learned that today is the first day of Ramadan. I will be praying for my Muslim brothers and sisters as they fast through the month to come. I will pray especially for their safety and for their freedom to worship as they choose.

There are days when I cannot believe the times in which I live. I cannot believe I live in a time in which people protest mosques as unAmerican. Frankly, the very use of that word should give people pause. Luckily, Jon Stewart is on the case.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Hearing Update
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I say God bless NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg for his great speech in support of a group wishing to establish an Islamic Center in Manhattan.

The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right – and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves – and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans – if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.
I miss the Republican party. I miss the Republican party that gave a damn about the law of the land rather than the law of its own convenience. Ronald Reagan signed and stood up for the UN Convention on Torture in 1984. Even George W. Bush--W. himself--understood and was adamant that Muslims are Americans also. I am quite certain that we will look back on this period of our history with shame and astonishment and wonder how it could have happened. I wonder how it can happen even now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, August 10

So it's been a few weeks, but we do often have Teaser Tuesdays in which I select more or less at random more or less two sentences from the book I'm currently reading in hopes of enticing you to read said book as well. Or at least make you think I'm a prolific reader. It's hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading and, should you decide to participate by posting your own teaser, you should pop over there and share your link in the comments, and visit a few other teasers to see the wide array of books you are not reading. It's intimidating, I tell you what.

This Time Together: Laughter and ReflectionToday's teaser is from Carol Burnett's hilarious autobiography, This Time Together.

[Upon meeting Jimmy Stewart for the first time:]

Trying to be funny or flip or whatever it was, I gave a stupid little salute and piped up with what must be one of the dumbest things I could've come up with: "Well, guess it's time to tie on the ol' feedbag!" With that I whirled around and stepped off the two-foot-high set right into a bucket of whitewash.

It's completely delightful.

Bonus: here's Carol singing her early hit "I made a fool of myself over John Foster Dulles."

Bonus bonus: review of my last Teaser, Wrong, is the entry below this.

Review: Wrong

Wrong: Why experts* keep failing us--and how to know when not to trust them *Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, ... consultants, health officials and moreThe full title of the book Wrong by David H. Freedman is

Wrong: Why Experts* Keep Failing Us--And How to Know When Not to Trust Them

*Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs, high-powered consultants, health officials, and more

And though it is about all those things, the primary experts Freedman asks us to keep an eye on are scientists. Actually, perhaps it is more fair to say he is mostly concerned about scientific studies. And perhaps it is even more fair to say he wants us not to blindly accept any news article that begins "A new scientific study suggests..."

So why should you listen to this guy? Freedman himself is the first to admit (under questioning) that it is an odd paradox to be writing a book on how experts are wrong and expect anyone to believe him. To his credit, he devotes a 10-page appendix to the subject. But this very paradox does make it a little difficult to read the book; I found myself asking myself, "Should I believe this?" far more often than I might in other circumstances.

In other ways, though, the book is a very easy to read, clearly written, fun, thorough, and well-documented. It's worth it for the knowingly-ironic final chapter, Eleven Simple Never-Fail Rules for Not Being Misled By Experts. In fact, there are far more than 11 suggestions, more tentatively grouped under "Typical Characteristics of Less Trustworthy Expert Advice" (e.g. It's simplistic, universal, and definitive), "Characteristics of Expert Advice We Should Ignore" (e.g. It appears in a prestigious journal [yes, you read that right]), and "Some Characteristics of More Trustworthy Expert Advice" (e.g. It's a negative finding). All of these suggestions are backed up by the evidence and data of previous chapters which, thanks to Freedman himself, I do view with a more jaundiced eye.

Immediately after reading this book, I saw an article that had many of the characteristics of bad expert advice. I do owe this book for the ability to look at articles like that with greater clarity and recommend it for that reason. Now I'm going to lower my cholesterol with another cup of tea.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: a rant

As I noted earlier, there was an op-ed in yesterday's NY Times from a UCC minister and journalist named G. Jeffrey MacDonald. I was surprised when I looked him up to realize that a) he's probably my age and b) he graduated from seminary just a year before I did because his editorial sounded like someone who expected things to be like they were in the 50's when people respected clergy.

Seriously, was this guy living under a rock? And what kind of mythical world did he live in that there used to be a time when congregations blithely accepted "sermons that make the comfortable uneasy."

Here's the thing: I don't think preachers are called to preach sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. I think pastors are called to preach the gospel to the best of their ability; it is the gospel's job to make the comfortable uneasy. In my opinion, when once we start getting into the position of feeling "I need to make them uncomfortable," we are getting ourselves in hot water. This is why I despise the phrase, "Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." How dare we presume to know who is comfortable and who is not.

You know who feels most uncomfortable every time I preach a sermon? Usually it's me. That is one of the great blessings of preaching the gospel: I am afflicted by it. I find myself convicted again and again. I am no less under that authority than anyone else in the congregation, and if I should find myself and the gospel on equal terms with the authority to convict others, somebody slap me, please.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Clergy burnout: a rant

This morning in the NY Times there's an editorial, written in response to a recent study that more clergy are suffering from burnout than they used to. "A growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off" suggested the article reviewing the study.

In contrast, in his editorial, UCC minister and journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald says, "yeah, yeah, they're not getting any time off, but what's really burning clergy out is they don't get to tell people they're miserable sinners like they used to." OK, so I'm paraphrasing. But it certainly seems to be what it boils down to.

I don't buy it at all. Within the editorial, MacDonald seems to be ignoring huge swaths of stressors in order to support his pet theory. He writes:

Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found.

His claim is that this shows that "Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason." Those darn Americans! Allowed to make up their own minds instead of sitting quietly in the pew like they're supposed to!

But doesn't this indicate another source of stress: dwindling resources--not only financial, but person-hours. The societal pressure that required one to be in church went away. All those lovely volunteer hours of the women's guilds got taken up by the workplace. And fewer people attending church or doing volunteer work means both less money and more requirements on paid clergy to do work previously done by volunteers. None of this has anything to do with congregational dabbling. It has to do with trying to do a great deal more with a great deal less. Of course clergy are burning out. And of course that makes taking time off much harder, leading to further stress and burnout.

MacDonald seems to have compassion neither for clergy nor for the laypeople he ostensibly serves. I worry about any congregation who has to deal with a pastor who sees his primary role is "to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires" as MacDonald writes. Ick! No wonder they wanted him to keep his sermons to 10 minutes. I doubt I'd last that long.

As a comparison, check out the fabulous ladies at Dirty Sexy Ministry's entry on Sexy Ministry versus Dirty Ministry.

Sexy Ministry says catch phrases and important sounding words that often confuse the listener so as not to disappoint the listener. Dirty Ministry speaks the truth even when the truth is not safe, even when you will be punished for the truth.

Are there dabblers? Are there congregations that mistreat their clergy? Are there consumer-based church goers who look for entertainment? Sure. But to suggest that everything would be all right if only parishioners would behave themselves like they used to--as if there were ever a time when people weren't people--is absurd. MacDonald seems to want to tell the truth (or perhaps more accurately "say whatever he wants") and not be punished. I think someone should suggest to him that there's a higher calling and save his soul.

Sunday funnies

The combination of the Brontesaurus and this article about skullduggery in the English muffin world (Thanks, Jean!) requires me to post this sketch from Saturday Night Fry. The cast includes Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman and Stephen Fry. That's a very young Emma Thompson in the photo, to boot. "Harriet, remove yourself from that muffin!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So this is a thing, I guess

So what other titles do you suggest? Middlemarch and Medium? The Secret Garden vs. the Illuminati? To the Lighthouse on Loch Ness? Ooh! Ooh! The Kill on the Floss!

In any event, the Brontes are on the case!

In other news, blogging will be light this week. Fight the good fight, and I'll catch you later.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Getting Emotional

Oh, I hate it when I get all emotional when I'm preaching. And yesterday, the emotions snuck up from behind and coshed me when I didn't expect it.

I had used the exact same reference at the early service with no problem. But for some reason, at the second service, it just knocked me for a loop.

I just think it's not fair to the congregation to get caught up in my stuff. I hate it when I'm maudlin, whatever Mary Magdalene might say. I have a real problem with this: getting choked up or teary in the middle of a sermon. I don't like it because I don't think the sermon is about me, and getting all tearful suddenly makes the sermon about me. I just don't think the congregation needs to be spending its energy worrying or wondering about the preacher.

Despite my best efforts, I still get emotional when I'm preaching. It frustrates me deeply. Now, I have to take a moment to console myself with the fact that I have been preaching fairly regularly for about 10 years not, and it's not like I cry every time I get in the pulpit. But still. A couple, three times a year, I find myself getting all verklempt in a very unseemly fashion.

There are things I've learned to do to forestall this: practicing being the main one. If I think something's going to get me going, I make sure to get those emotions out ahead of time alone or with a friend.

But it's the sneaky ones, the ones I don't realize are affecting me. Not much to be done about it in advance, but it seems like whatever causes the waterworks is something that ought to be addressed afterwards. I'll be working on it personally so the congregation won't have to. But then, I always ought to be working on my own stuff, oughtn't I?

[My sermon will be available in audio form in a couple of days--yikes! I'll keep you posted.]

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday funnies

In honor of the new season of Project Runway:

In the longer version, he says, "Would Tim Gunn wear polyester?" We think not.