Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I am discovering about being a social media consultant

You know, when I became a priest, I thought I would be spending most of my time in conversations with people and I found, to my surprise, that I spent most of my time at the computer.

When I became a social media consultant, I didn't think I'd be spending much time with people at all, but of course I realized that the people who needed my services were the people who weren't already using social media. What it means is that I spend much of my time either meeting with people, calling people, or making plans to meet with or call people.

At least it gets me out of the house!

Off to make a phone call...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Cuteness, August 28

Three photos of Harper and the saintly Andy that I hope will make you go awwww...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Black Diamond Mines

For the past month or so, we've been going out Saturday mornings to hike at the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch with the dogs (Andrew and Harper, if you have not met them before). I had never heard of it, but it got a great write-up in the Dog Lover's Companion to California and so off we went.

What a fabulous place! It's part of the always wonderful East Bay Regional Park District, but it has a couple of unique features.

For instance: a cemetery! So you know I'm going to love that.

The Rose Hill Cemetery was located halfway between two small mining towns and is the final resting place for miners and their families. Many of the graves were vandalized, but the Park District is working to restore them. Here's the headstone for a not-quite-3-year-old child.

Being a mining community, you will not be surprised to hear there are also mine shafts you can see in the park where people used to mine coal and silica. There's a tour of one of the mines which sounds pretty interesting. Despite how the picture looks, this shaft is safely barred off.

To get to either of these, however, involves climbing hills. Lots and lots of hills. The trails are terrific, but did I mention hills?

In this picture, you can sort of see the cemetery on the other hill waaaaay over on the other side. It's the part with the smattering of trees. You know how I was able to get this picture? Climbing hills, that's how.

The great thing is, once you get to the top, the views are magnificent. And you feel like you've really earned it.

I apologize for spoiling the view.

Harper, however, thinks the very best thing is the horse trough waiting at the base of the trail.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Various and Sundry, August 26

So apparently today is Women's Equality Day. How nice. "Women now represent one in four state legislators, 17 members of the Senate, three justices on the Supreme Court, 74 generals in the armed forces, and seven Cabinet-level positions in the Obama Administration, according to [Secretary of Labor Hilda] Solis." Yeah, so that's equality right there, you betcha.

I thought this report on The Secret Life of Pronouns (yes, pronouns) was fascinating. As the researcher himself said,

"Never in a million years would I have thought that pronouns would be a worthwhile research topic. I ran study after study and initially found large and unexpected differences between people in their pronoun use. In hindsight, I think I ignored the findings because they didn't make sense. One day, I lined up about five experiments that I had conducted and every one revealed the same effects. It was that day that I finally admitted to myself that pronouns must be meaningful."

I liked this obituary for the Horror film writer Jimmy Sangster, largely because he seemed so sane. I mean, there are a lot of obituaries of sane people, but he just didn't seem to be a tortured artist in any way.

Do You Want it Good or Tuesday?: From Hammer Films to Hollywood: A Life in the MoviesAsked by the Web site Hammer Graveyard what led him to the horror genre, he replied, “I wrote horror movies because it was my job,” adding, “So, when anyone asks me what were the influences that prompted me to be a ‘horror film’ writer, I tell them it was Wages!”

The title of his autobiography is Do You Want it Good or Tuesday? There's a realist for you.

At long last, we have learned the answer to why God doesn't answer prayer. It was, of course, the Bloggess who figured it out who, along with her sister, determined the other things God has to do with his time. Such as “Just because God doesn’t answer your prayers it doesn’t mean he’s not listening. It probably just means you’re boring. Maybe try incorporating car chases into your prayers. Or something with vampires. Vampires are really hot right now.” I'll be doing that.

Continuing on this religious note, in light of the recent earthquake damaging the National Cathedral, and the hurricane hurtling toward New York, I thought it would be worth passing on this Parish Emergency Planning Kit developed by the Diocese of Texas. It looks like a very useful resource. I encourage you to pass it along before the next earthquake. As well as including car chases in your prayers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

So said the headline after the Ivy League match-up in November 1968. A Harvard grad who'd been there at the time made a documentary about it for the 40th anniversary and I had wanted to see it ever since. I finally got a chance a couple of days ago, and I'm very glad I did.

It's a very simple film: clips of the game are interspersed with clips of interviews with the men who'd played the game, now in their late 50's or early 60's, sitting in their kitchens or offices, pulling back the memories of that particular day. And they say things like, "I brought my girlfriend to campus...actually, I was dating Meryl Streep at the time."

But less interesting than the name-dropping to me was watching how this one rather insignificant event--a college football game--continued to color and inform these men's lives, and how vivid the memories still were for them.

And even though--even though it says right there in the title what happens, you still won't believe it's happening. It's still amazing to watch.

Do your best to get your hands on this. It's worth it.

Here's the website, and the trailer is below:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Morning Preacher: Relying on memory

For the first time in simply aaaaages (well, actually since the 4th of July weekend), I didn't have to preach on Sunday, and it felt mighty good. I lounged around at home, reading a thriller, watching the A's game, paying bills, putzing around in the garden...just what the doctor ordered. If I were taking a doctor's advice, that is.

At any rate, I still thought about preaching when I saw this snippet on Andrew Sullivan's blog about how we remember.

Briefly put, the human brain is manifestly better at remembering images and spaces than it is at recalling numbers and letters. Cicero, then, counsels, “The best way to memorize a speech” is to “make one image for each major topic” and “place each of those images at a locus.” You might not easily remember every topic you need to cover in a speech, but you will, in all likelihood, effortlessly recall the layout of your childhood house. The task, then, is simply to build the speech into that house.

I'm going to have to remember that for my next sermon. I do pretty well from notes, but this might be very useful for getting away from notes entirely.

What techniques do you find useful for remembering what you want to say?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Funnies, August 21

This joke was posted as a comment in response to another Cajun salesman joke over at the MadPriest's blog. I thought this one deserved a wider audience. And the original joke some serious eye-rolling. h/t Hooper, whoever you may be.

So this Cajun guy used to work at a store in Louisiana, and he was a very faithful man who always took an opportunity to quote scripture when ringing up his customers. For example, if a child bought a stick of candy, he would say "Let the little ones come unto me." If a elderly couple came in for Geritol, he would say "Honor thy mother and thy father."

The owner of the store was always amazed that the Cajun salesman can think of an appropriate scripture in every single situaltion, and watches him closely to see if he ever fails.

One day, a rich Texas race horse owner pulls up in a stretch Cadillac towing a trailer with a thoroughbred on board. He comes in and says, "You folks here got a horse blanket?"

The Cajun man says. "Sure enough, we got'em, das for sure. Dey in de supply room, I'll go get you one"

Now, this store is only a little general store, and while they have horse blankets, they are all the same, just different colors. The Cajun man goes to the supply room, gets a blue blanket, and comes back.

"Dis here horse blanket will be 15 dollars, suh" Cajun man says.

The Texan says, "Son, that's not good enough, that there horse in that there trailer is Lightning Bolt, and he's gonna win the Loosiana Derby, and this here blanket ain't good enough for him. Go get a better blanket."

Cajun man thinks real hard, goes back to the supply room, and gets a green blanket, same kind, just a different color.

"Dis here a better blanket, gonna cost you 45 dollars" says Cajun man.

"That's still not good enough...what's your best blanket you got back there?" asks the Texan.

"Yessuh, I be right back, I garontee."

Cajun man comes back fronm the supply room with another 15 dollar blanket, this time a gold one.

"Dis here the best in the house, nothin'n but the finest for you and ol' Lihgtning Bolt. But, suh, I gotta tell you, it's gonna cost you 155 dollars, and dat don't include the tax, but it's the best in the house, dat's for sure..."

The Texan responds, "That's what I'm lookin' for, glad you found that for me, Lightning Bolt gonna look good with this here blanket, I'll take it!"

Cajun man goes over to the register... he pauses to think of a scripture verse appropriate for this scam... and his boss looks on as well... what will he say?

Cajun man looks up to the heavens, punches in the total with tax of 167 dollars, and as he rings up the sale, he speaks...

"He was a stranger, and I took him in!"

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Update on Uganda Little League

There was a poignant story in the NY Times about the Ugandan Little League team watching the games from home after not being able to get visas to play there themselves. My heart breaks for them. I encourage you to read it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Various and Sundry, August 19

I'm not getting anything done right at the moment, so I might as well blog and entertain myself by sending scads of random articles your way.

Let's see here...[shuffle, shuffle] We seem to be heavy on the social media geekery this week. Just shows where my mind is at.

I LOVED these social media propaganda posters, which you can buy separately or in this all-in-one version here. h/t Design Fetish for bringing these to my attention.

I also thought this infographic on the Psychology of Twitter was terrific. If you like that sort of thing. Which I do. Obviously. Because I'm being nice to you, I'm not copying the infographic here because I suspect some of you might have other ways you want to spend your time than learning what makes people retweet a tweet. Yeah, never mind I'm moving on now.

Gardens! And garden snakes! Isn't that better? I loved these photos from Phillip Oliver over at Dirt Therapy who "got quite a jolt when I walked up the side gate to water the portulaca and saw this -"

Yikes! I enjoyed following the snake around the garden through the safe distance of these gorgeous photos.

In the obits (since the Week in Death feature seems to be overkill, so to speak), I would like to draw your attention to Nat Allbright, Voice of Dodgers Games He Did Not See.

Mr. Allbright, who died last month, went on to be a master of what is now a lost, almost hard-to-imagine art. Like a young radio broadcaster named Ronald Reagan, he took bare-bones telegraph messages transmitted by Morse code (“B1W” for Ball One Wide); embellished them with imagination and sound effects; and then broadcast games that sounded as if he were in the ballpark hearing, smelling and seeing everything, from steaming hot dogs to barking umpires to swirling dust at second base.

Apparently, there were "rain delays" when emergency repairs were needed. An impressive example of carrying on, I say.

And finally, if you are in the Portland, Maine area, please stop by the store Ferdinand tomorrow. Why? It's celebrating its 10th anniversary. And it's my sister's shop. Pretty awesome. Way to go, Diane!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feast of William Porcher Dubose

Haven't done a feast day for a while, but I was drawn to the feast of William Porcher Dubose in part because I find it difficult. He was, after all, a chaplain to the Confederate Army. I'm not so sure that I find "it" difficult as I find him difficult.

I was directed via Twitter to this lovely post about Dubose, written a year ago by the Dean of the Cathedral in Atlanta, which says Dubose "was, if you will, 'entangled.' His lot in life was to live in several places at once. In fact, I believe that is the lot for all of us in life." So I've been thinking about that.

And then I read some of the introduction to Dubose's book The Gospel According to St. Paul, in which he writes,

The ultimate aim of each one of us should be not to save ourselves from error but to advance the truth. We may safely rely upon it that our truth will in the end be accepted and our error corrected. If I had been too much afraid of going wrong I should have made no progress in growing right; — who of us that has really thought or spoken may not say that of himself? For my own part, I have not merely traditionally believed but become personally convinced that there is a truth of the Scriptures and that there is a mind of the Church; and that each of these will take care of itself as against the infinite errors and vagaries of individual thinkers and writers. I have in my mind not only an implicit faith but a rational science or philosophy of these things, which at least satisfies myself and gives me security and rest from the fear of even my own shortcomings or too-far-goings. I do not hesitate to say then, on the one hand, that I hold what I hold subject to the revision and correction of the deeper truth of the Scriptures and the larger wisdom of the Church; and, on the other hand, that, leaving to these their function of final acceptance or rejection, I conceive it to be my duty to the truth, and my best service to them, to think the thoughts and express the conclusions, as best I may, which I have found to be to myself their own best interpretation.

I like that very much. I like especially that the fear of going wrong is far less important than the search for what is right. I see too often that people of faith are not true to what they actually believe because they fear it is "wrong." This is a comforting passage, knowing that advancing the truth takes precedence over saving ourselves from error.

But I still find him difficult. "It will all work out in the end"--fair enough; but people can be hurt in the meantime. It's not all just an intellectual exercise. I'm not sure what it is, but there's something in all of this that disturbs me.

Yes, we are entangled. But I think part of our work as Christians is to examine closely those things that entangle us. And not simply through our intellect, however impressive that may be, but through every part of ourselves.

No answers, but this is just about starting the conversation, not having a definitive answer. And, as Dubose says, the Church will guard against the vagaries of individual thinkers and writers, such as myself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: Dick Francis lives!

Dick Francis's GambleWell, is referenced anyway, in the awkwardly titled Dick Francis's Gamble by Felix Francis. After all, Dick Francis isn't gambling, is he? Perhaps this should be called G.P. Putnam Sons's Gamble on Dick Francis's Name. But I snark.

I saw it at the CostCo a couple of weeks ago and did not buy it (yay, me). It came in at the library very quickly, making me wonder if people fear the Francis brand has been diluted. But it reads like a Dick Francis, that's for sure, perhaps a hair off the usual Dick Francis, but all the elements are there: the racing connection, the person dropping dead on the first page, the self-contained protagonist caught up in it all. I'm enjoying it a lot.

Here's a teaser from the opening sentences:

"I was standing right next to Herb Kovak when he was murdered. Executed would have been a better word."

Doesn't that sound like a Dick Francis thriller to you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Monday Morning Funnies

I meant to set this to post before I went to Fort Bragg...ah well.

In honor of my mother getting a new Android phone:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Various and Sundry, August 12

I'm going to try to squeak in a quick V & S post, but it will be brief--good thing I have to hustle otherwise I'd be here all day with new stuff.

OK, so this isn't new but it was new to me: the president of Electronic Recyclers International in Fresno talks about Why I Hire Former Convicts and Gang Members. "There are no absolutes, but I’ve generally found that when you hire someone who’s looking for one last chance to turn his life around, he’ll roll up his sleeves and give you everything he’s got." Great stuff.

A couple of things I liked spoke to Gov. Perry's Prayer Rally in Texas. The first, from Roger Ebert, talks about The Error of Political Prayer and of the "horizontal prayers" that are prayed so that others may hear them. Very good stuff. And the other speaks more generally to the claim many Christians make of persecution. "You see, there seems to be this perception among Conservative Christians, such as yourself, that if you’re not allowed to do or say anything and everything you want, it’s persecution." He points out that persecution, to those actually being persecuted, looks quite different.

From Tales of Unintended Consequences-or-how idealism makes fools of us all, two articles: one, how a well-intentioned bill designed to eliminate "conflict minerals" has devastated Congo. The other delves into the conundrum of voluntourism: does it help or hurt locals? The answer: there are no easy answers.

In our ongoing theme of Zombies, a Facebook friend pointed me toward the T-shirt with this nifty Venn diagram. Description: Just so you know where you stand with them.

So it's a good thing for us in the Bay Area that we live close to Sensei Keiko Fukuda who, at the age of 98, became the first woman EVER to attain a 10th degree black belt. I was fascinated by her story, and glad to see they are making a documentary about it. It's very moving. A clip is below:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Obits du jour: Agents and spies

I couldn't resist any more and wanted to bring to your attention two obituaries from the past couple of days.

I just saw this one for Charles Gittens, the first black Secret Service agent, who joined the service in 1956. By 1971, when he was named the head of the Washington bureau (OK, wow), "only 37 of the Secret Service's 1,200 agents were black." I wonder what the situation is like now.

He just sounds impressive as all get-out. Love this snippet: "When asked about the chances of being shot as a Secret Service agent, Gittens reckoned he was 'a hell of a lot safer being a Secret Service man that I would be driving cabs in either New York or Chicago'."

OK, and let's just hear it for The Telegraph--in, may I remind you, ENGLAND--for this terrific full-on obit. There's nothing in the NY Times (yet), and the Washington Post--for SHAME--has a reprint of an AP wire story. Just embarrassing, the state of our obituaries.

The Telegraph also did a great write-up for Nancy Wake, aka the White Mouse, who was "famed as a resourceful, dauntless Resistance leader, who topped the Gestapo’s most-wanted list and had saved hundreds of Allied lives." The ending is rather poignant, however, as they report, "In old age Nancy Wake was to be found on a leather stool in the hotel bar most mornings, nursing the first of the day’s five or six gin and tonics." But I suppose if you're in your 80's and have done as much living as she has, why not.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The sermon I actually gave...

You may remember that last week I posted the sermon I wrote on Jacob wrestling that I had every intention of giving, had the church where I was preaching actually used the Genesis reading. Instead, and to my shock, I found myself presented with Isaiah 55 ("Ho, everyone who thirsts,come to the waters;") and the feeding of the 5,000--lovely readings both, but I had no intention of preaching on them. In fact, I had clearly chosen not to preach on the gospel because I felt I had absolutely nothing more to say about the feeding of the 5,000. But then I found I did. Here's what I ended up preaching as best I can recall:

I had a really good sermon for today. Unfortunately, it was on a reading that you didn't hear so I'm going to give a sermon that I made up in 5 minutes in the sacristy before the service instead. It will be very short [at the 10:00, someone clapped, which I made sure to point out].

One of my tasks as the managing director of Confirm not Conform is to post things regularly on their Facebook page and Twitter feed. A couple of weeks ago, I found a quote from Annie Lamott that really struck me. If you know Anne Lamott, you know she is a writer who has written extensively about her life, and especially her life of faith. This particular quote came from the commencement address she gave at UC Berkeley in 2003. In it, she details how she came to be successful at her chosen profession, only to find that it didn't provide her the satisfaction she had expected.

She put it in this remarkable way that has stuck with me ever since:

Fake doesn't feed anything.

Isaiah says that too when he says,

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Fake doesn't feed anything. In fact, I realized when I thought about it, fake requires energy. So many of us put up a persona of the person we think we ought to be: competent and cool, spiritual, or savvy. And the thing about that is, to keep up the persona requires energy. It doesn't feed anything; instead, it requires feeding.*

In the gospel today, Jesus tells his apostles to feed the multitudes. "All we've got is 5 loaves and two fish," they tell Jesus. But it is no coincidence that using the little food that they have turned out to give them 12 baskets left over--one to feed each of the apostles.

Fake doesn't feed anything.

That's all I got. I hope that feeds you. Amen.

*it is probably around this point that I started crying--quite a horrible feeling; however, given that the whole point of this message was that "keeping up a persona of competence requires energy," the very emotion itself proved the point. I hate it when God does that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Funnies, August 7

I took this picture at the coffee place I went to between services last Sunday.
I tipped generously.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging: "Bitter is the New Black"

Really, is there anything better than someone who's nasty and knows it writing a memoir about her precipitous fall and (I'm hoping) redemption? Especially if that person is very, very funny.

Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment OfficeThe full title of such a memoir is Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-ass, or why you should never carry a Prada Bag to the unemployment office.  And it is quite savory.

Here is a teaser from the salad days:
"Speaking of Meri, she's a shoo-in to be named manager of the year at the final banquet tonight.  She runs the Houston office and helped her team raise sales almost 400 percent last year, so the fact that she's sleeping with her director is totally irrelevant."
It is all terribly, terribly wicked. Enjoy!

I finished the Matthew Shardlake mystery Revelation--really good as all of them are, but it had a degree of grisliness I had not remembered from before.  I'm glad to rest easy with a little backstabbing.

The sermon I would have given...

...had the church where I was preaching actually used the lesson from Genesis as their Old Testament lectionary reading, rather than the Isaiah option. Oh my. I will tell you about the sermon I actually did preach...tomorrow, probably. Talk about having your worst fear realized!

Ironically, this is the one time in weeks I've actually fully written out my sermon. I thought I was so prepared! God was definitely messing with me, big time.

At any rate, here's the sermon:

Conan O’Brien gave the commencement address at Dartmouth this year. It was, as you might imagine, very funny. It was also, in some ways, a very typical commencement address. But it was also amazingly personal. And at the heart of it was a simple message. After he spoke about his disappointment of not getting the Tonight Show job and being cast out of NBC and the misery of that experience, he said this:

There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.

For O’Brien, that experience led him to try new things in what became “the most satisfying and fascinating year of my professional life.” And he told the graduates that the cliché “follow your dreams” is true—with the caveat that your dreams are going to change, and you aren’t going to have the same dreams at 42 that you have at 21.

It was a great commencement speech, and I love a great commencement speech. But here’s the thing: when you’re 21 can you really hear that? Hear that and understand it in your bones? And this is not about callow youth. This is just to say that understanding failure and struggle and renewal may be one of those things you can’t learn about second-hand. You can only get to it alone.

The thing this story of Jacob struggling with the man gives us is the realization that we are not the first people to go through this kind of struggle.

[Context of story here]

A couple of comments about this story:

First of all, it takes place at night, when “the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over.” If we are going through some existential struggle about who we are and what we should be in this world, it’s easy enough to keep ourselves occupied and distracted during the day, but at night…not so easy. This struggle, and this man Jacob struggles with, seems to come out of nowhere. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the experience where as far as I knew things were fine, but when night came on, I found myself in struggle I didn’t know I had.

Secondly, it’s a wrestling match. Jacob has always been a schemer and a swindler with an eye for the main chance. He’s never been a physical fighter. He tricks people out of stuff and then runs away when they want to kill him. Here, his usual methods do not work. All he has is himself, and it is to his great credit that instead of running away, he holds on and struggles.

Third, it is not without pain. Jacob has his hip put out of joint. Ow. Big ow. I wish I had a great deal more time to talk about this because what I do not want is, if you are in pain, for you to leave here thinking somehow pain is always good and you should live with it. At the same time, I disagree with the message we get that when we have painful experiences that is in itself a sign that we have done something wrong or gone against God’s will. All I can say in this short time is that sometimes the things that bless us also pain us.

Finally, it may take a long struggle to receive a blessing. Longer that you would like it to be, and not without pain. I think a lot of is have been taught that if you’re blessed that means things are easy for you. One thing the story of Jacob makes clear is that receiving this blessing ain’t always easy.

Maybe this means nothing to you. Maybe you have never struggled in the night, wrestled through the pain. This sermon may wash right over you, and that’s all right. Because Jacob and his many, many children who have been through this same struggle will be there when you need him.

Or maybe you’re in the middle of the wrestling match, sitting there wondering when on earth you are going to receive any blessing at all. To you I hope this story will be of some comfort, to know you are not the first, you are not alone. I don’t know how it will turn out for you. But I hope you will know that to struggle is no sign of God’s disfavor.

And to you who have been through it and come out on the other side: I hope you will find ways to support those who are in the midst of the struggle, by sharing your story of your fight through the night.

Hold on to God fiercely and be blessed. Amen.