Friday, March 29, 2013

Various & Sundry: only slightly holy

I hope you're having a wonderful Holy Week. So far for me it's been terrific, very meaningful. Pinterest has played a surprisingly large role in that -- particularly the work of Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson who does a wonderful job curating religious images and art, sorting them by books of the Bible or particular narratives. Her board for The Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemene is stunning.

The Last Supper of Jesus -- Andre Derain

Here endeth the Holy Week references for today. From here on out, it's odds and ends.

In case you have ever wondered, "Who are these people who buy semi-automatic weapons anyway?" you might be interested in this excerpt from the book Gun Guys: A Road Trip which came out earlier this month. The Author Dan Baum "is both a lifelong gun guy and a Jewish Democrat who grew up in suburban New Jersey feeling like a 'child of a bitter divorce with allegiance to both parents.' In Gun Guys he grabs his licensed concealed handgun and hits the road to meet some of the 40 percent of Americans who own guns." Given the excerpt, I think this would be a good and informative read. This interview with Baum was...a bit shocking, actually. Meaning, he does not support my point of view 100 percent. The outrage!

I appreciated this post about The Art of Puttering that correctly marks the difference between puttering and multitasking. "Puttering, unlike multitasking, is not marked by a sense of urgency. Puttering allows for breaks in the work, for a cup of coffee or even a burst of play." I love puttering.

Here are some pandas, showing how it's done:

Perhaps these are Luke's sympathy pandas for being thumped in the finals of Lent Madness.

Someone from the Lent Madness Stable o' Snark sent me this tweet:
How right this mystery person was, Laurie. The obit has the classic lede:
"Timothy Wayne 'Tim' Hopkins, 54, went to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Dale Earnhardt to contribute his building and painting expertise to the constructing of many heavenly mansions on Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Memphis." 

Finally, here's a great obituary for you March Madness fans: Bud Palmer, credited with creating the jump shot, died a little over a week ago at the age of 91.
Palmer could remember no eureka moment, although at age 6 he was so small and weak that he had to launch his shots with a leap. He knew he had shot them regularly as a student at Phillips-Exeter Academy in the late 1930s. He realized, he said, that “if I dribble, and stop, and jump, I will have an advantage.”

When he tried out for the Knicks in 1946, it was still so odd that Coach Neal Cohalen thundered, “What the hell kind of shot is that?”
 I can just imagine the Times obit writer thinking, "Jackpot!" when he got this quote to end the article:
As a Knick, Palmer roomed on the road with Sweetwater Clifton, one of the first black players in the N.B.A. He once confronted a hotel manager in Baltimore to demand, successfully, that Clifton be allowed to stay. 
Later, after a few beers in their room, Clifton told his friend, “Damn, for a white boy, you sure can jump.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Congratulations, Frances Perkins!

My hearty congratulations to Frances Perkins, winner of the Lent Madness 2013 Golden Halo!

C'mon, Fran! Give us a smile!
You've just won the Golden Halo!

Although my main man Luke made it to the finals, I can't be upset that he lost. After all, pretty much everyone has heard of Luke. All to the better that the Halo goes to someone relatively unknown.

Luke is almost finished writing
his concession speech. In two volumes.

And to those commenting "How can this be! A bureaucrat beating an evangelist! I call shenanigans!" I point you to the following:

et cetera. I think evangelists can learn a thing or two from the Mt Holyoke alumnae association.

Besides, isn't there something wonderful about an Episcopal Church program reaching out waaaay beyond our walls? Who knows what seeds have been planted? I say, quit worrying about whether the right person "won" and rejoice in the fact that so many people have been part of the fun. I know I learned a lot in the process. I hope you did too.

Where I'll be for the rest of Holy Week

For the second year in a row, I've had the opportunity to lead Holy Week services, which as a peripatetic clergy person is a real treat.

This year I will be at St. Michael and All Angels in Fort Bragg, CA, a community I know well, having served with them for most of a summer in 2009 and off and on since then.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, please join me!

Maundy Thursday: 6:00 pm
Good Friday: 
  Stations of the Cross: noon
  Solemn Collects: 7:00 pm
Saturday Easter Vigil: 6:30 pm
Easter Sunday: 10:00 am

St. Michael's is at 201 E. Fir Street at the corner of Fir and Franklin.

View Larger Map

A blessed Holy Week to you, wherever you are!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My favorite profile pic for equality

I'm posting it now for posterity before he changes it back.

Let's hear it for equality! And bacon!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Two Lentishly Titled Mysteries

This Lent, I deliberately read these two mysteries based entirely upon their Lent-like titles. Both had likable protagonists who can go through a maelstrom without getting ruffled, but that's where the similarities ended.

Ashes to Ashes by Emma Lathen

I'd actually read this one before but had no memory of who had done the murder -- or of the details around the case, which takes place in St. Bernadette's Parish, Flensburg, Brooklyn. The Parents League want to save their school from being torn down to make way for a new apartment, going so far as to sue the Archbishop. And someone gets killed because of it.

Since the book was written in the early '70's, there are some excellent period details. Mrs. Kirk from Scarsdale picketing for the Pill was a particularly compelling character. Not that the St. Bernadette's Parents League is interested in Mrs. Kirk's campaign.

The mystery revolves around John Putnam Thatcher, Vice President of the Sloan Guaranty and Trust. Unlike many other murder-prone laypeople, Thatcher seems in every mystery to be encountering murder for the first time. It's like there's a reset button for all the characters at the Sloan with each new book. I like it that way.

Lathen's mysteries are witty and very dry (in the best sense of that word). And the books capture the foibles of the time with great compassion. The recurring cast of bankers and Wall Street types is always entertaining, and there's something soothing about the Sloan in the days before the Too Big To Fail banks leveraged us into oblivion. It's a little cozy Wall Street murder in a simpler time.

Dust to Dust by Beverly Connor

This was a new author for me, and I enjoyed the book, which moved right along through two different cases: a woman bludgeoned in her home in an apparent robbery of art and native pottery sherds, and a girl possibly murdered while trying to prove her brother's innocence.

The protagonist is a forensic archaeologist in Georgia named Diane Fallon who is the most phlegmatic person I've ever found in a mystery. She makes nice with the police department because there's no point in antagonizing them. She sighs heavily but takes her properly loaded gun with her when walking into a dangerous situation. She never seems panicked or flustered even when an armed gunman is breaking into her house. And it's not that she's super-human. She just seems...calm.

It goes with her line of work, I suppose. When the author (herself an archaeologist) describes her character doing forensic archaeology, it sounds (I have to admit) tedious. Fallon is methodical, and thankfully the author doesn't go into deep detail or I would have been bored.

But I liked the mystery and I liked Dr. Fallon. She patiently collects evidence, doesn't jump to conclusions, doesn't get herself into unnecessary jams. It's very reassuring. I don't know if Diane Fallon is like this in all her books, but I'll be happy to find out.

Vulnerability, priesthood, and Holy Week

Cross-posted at the Confirm not Conform blog.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Brené Brown present at a conference to a group of Episcopal church leaders. This was especially fun for me because I’ve been a big Brené Brown fan ever since I saw her first TED talk on the power of vulnerability, but this was the first time I’d gotten to hear her speak from the point of view of faith.

Dr. Brown (may I call her Brené?) is a member of an Episcopal church in (I believe) Houston, Texas, and talked about her own experience returning to church after a long absence. She shared that during the new members class, she and the teaching priest did not have the same understanding of Christ, but that the priest had made it clear that though they didn’t agree, Brené and her family belonged.

Brené asked the group if they knew the number one barrier to belonging was. We all had guesses. We all guessed wrong. “The number one barrier to belonging,” she told us, “is fitting in.”

I was floored. Why was it bad to fit in? How does that keep us from belonging? She explained: fitting in is about assessing the situation and adapting to it. It is not about being yourself. Belonging is about showing up and being seen for who you are, even if it is different from the other people around you. You cannot belong if you have to fit in.

Isn’t that fascinating?

I suspect you think I might go on to talk about how we want people in our churches to fit in to our models of belief and behavior. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk to my fellow-clergy for a moment, so lean in a little closer. Because here’s what else Brené talked about: she talked about us clergy types. And she has got our number.

She pointed out that clergy, like the academics she works with, have a similar weakness: we tend to think that being more accessible means being less intelligent or sophisticated. The more Jesus-y we are, the more holy we think we appear to others. But this kind of holiness has separated us from people. She notes that often we are trained to take care of the church, not of people. “You have to start where people are, so people see their stories reflected in what you’re saying.”

“People are starving,” she said to this group. And what people need is to know that “you care more about what I need than what your peers think of you.” Actually, I would say it’s that we care more about what the people we work with and for need than we care even about what they think of us.

“You cannot have a conversation more vulnerable than you already are,” she told us. And that is a scary thought. It would be great for our congregations to be full of people who are open and honest and vulnerable and courageous. But what if they can’t do that unless we are open and honest and vulnerable and courageous? What would happen then?

Maybe they won’t think we’re smart. Maybe they won’t think we’re holy. Maybe they won’t think we look like a priest or sound like a priest or act like a priest.

But here’s the thing: our priesthood does not depend upon whether we fit in. Our priesthood does not require us to be perfect. We are called “In all that you do…to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of [wait for it…] his grace.” Not our profundity. Not our appearance of Priestliness. We’re sharing Christ, who hung out with the wrong people and said the wrong things and told little stories about farming and families and acted strangely and did not fit in. That guy. Not the "Jesus-y" behavior we think makes us holy.

So maybe we can draw from that. Maybe there will be a cost, as Jesus well knew. But Brené also told us “There is no faith without vulnerability.” What if she’s right? If she’s right, then how do we share faith if we are never vulnerable?

“Who is Jesus for you?” someone asked Brené at the end of her talk. She said (roughly), “I’m not a priest. I’m not bound to take on a certain theology or belief. But to me, Jesus is someone who could be on a cross and still look out at the people and world around him in love. And that’s what I hope to be able to do too.” Well, I am a priest, and I think if I were able to do that, I’d be a much better one.

A blessed and vulnerable Holy Week to you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Probably the worst Passover joke you will hear this year

Of course, it may be the best one you hear, too.

A Jewish man in England had been chosen by the queen for knighthood. When she tapped him on the shoulder with her sword, dubbing him Sir Cohen, he was supposed to say certain ancient phrases in Latin.

But when the time came, he forgot the Latin words. He panicked for a moment, then said the only words that came to mind, the first of the Four Questions of Passover: "Ma nish-ta-na ha-leila ha-ze?"

The queen looked at him for a moment, puzzled, then asked, "Why is this knight different from all other knights?"

From Joel ben Izzy's book The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, reviewed here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Various & Sundry: Trying hard not to get depressed about things, Grace, and bacon.

It's the final day of the Saintly Kitsch round of Lent Madness and it looks like my man Luke is on to the Final Four, the first time I've had a saint I've written up go this far. Luke had some mighty fine kitsch, which inspired me to create this image.

Cuz that's how we roll round these parts. Booyah.

Let's see what else I've rounded up this week.

OK, I'm starting with the downers of democracy: what the HELL is going on with gun advocacy that, on the one hand says guns shouldn't be regulated so that women can protect themselves from being raped while on the other hand you can't demand that men surrender firearms in domestic abuse situations? IN THE SAME WEEK? Seriously, WHAT THE HELL?! OK, here's my opinion, which I think I've noted before: this has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with market share. This is about selling guns.

Meanwhile, a new gun regulation bill will be brought up in the Senate after the Easter recess "that seeks to enhance background checks for those who purchase guns, and to curb gun trafficking and increase money for school safety." So seriously people, now is the time to contact your representatives about gun control legislation. You need the link to your represetatives? Here you go.

You can also sign this petition to have the USDA set a recommended daily intake of bacon "so that all Americans can be guided on how best to participate in this amazing, nation building food." There are 98 signatures so far; only 99,902 left to go before the government responds!

In news from governments in a parallel universe, the Ministry of Magic brings you this Public Service Announcement:

Might be helpful in our world too. h/t Anibundel

In Race Telations, the historical perspectives edition, Ta-Nehisi Coates reviews Beryl Satter's book Family Properties, which looks at the policies that surrounded the development of the American urban ghetto, focusing on Chicago. Lest you think this is just an issue for poor blacks, he notes that "In the interest of racism, the American taxpayer ended up bankrolling a massive fraud perpetrated on black communities in Chicago."

And on the same topic, one of the most compelling obituaries I read this week was of Dr. Jerome Williams who worked to desegregate St. Louis. "It began in 1963 when Dr. Williams led protest marches of hundreds of fellow physicians as well as other black professionals who were tired of the two-tiered social system in Missouri’s largest city."
His efforts came at a cost. Already limited to practice in the two black hospitals in St. Louis where the state allocated less funds per patient than at white hospitals, he was then rejected from membership in the St. Louis Medical Society because of his role in the protests.
By the 1970s, Dr. Williams was named the first African American on the board of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the State Healing Arts Board, and was selected as the first black president of the St. Louis Community College Board. In 1979, his daughter was the first black woman selected as a maid of honor in the Veiled Prophet Parade which was formally for whites only.
You've heard about the recalled yoga pants, right? The ones that were unfortunately more transparent than wearers bending over might wish? Well, Kevin Roose thinks the company that makes them, Lululemon, handled this recall all wrong.
Lululemon was famously founded on the ideals of Ayn Rand. You think Ayn would have apologized for some see-through Spandex? Hell no. She would have defended the integrity of those pants with her life. "An inventor is a man who asks 'Why?' of the universe and lets nothing stand between the answer and his mind," she wrote in Atlas Shrugged. 
A real Objectivist yoga company would have looked at that sentence, replaced "the answer" with "sheer-bottom yoga pants" and "his mind" with "record-breaking profits," and sold the damn things like hotcakes.
And last but certainly not least, I strongly encourage you to read this wonderful essay on The Lesson of Grace in Teaching by Francis Su, a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd. It doesn't matter if you're a teacher or not. You need to know this lesson of grace that he shares so beautifully:

  • Your accomplishments are NOT what make you a worthy human being. 
  •  You learn this lesson when someone shows you GRACE: good things you didn't earn or deserve, but you're getting them anyway.
May you have a grace-filled weekend. No need to bend over backwards.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

First garden update of 2013

Sorry to rub it in, but it's spring around these parts. Here's what's blooming in the front yard:

One branch of the Weeping Cherry tree
We have passed Peak Magnolia, but daffodils are in and tulips are on their way.
Not the best picture of what will be a very nice planter with Nicotiana behind.
I'm sorry to say I lost the tag on this one, but aren't these flowers cute and cheerful?
This is callibrachoa "Cherry Star," which is coming back nicely.
And in the backyard...

The pear tree is blooming in front of the rose arbor (also still blooming).
A couple of hearty Sparaxis survived Certain Digging Dogs.
And the Love-in-a-Mist self-seeded like crazy around the edges of the beds.
Much more to come. And lots of work to do. How does your garden grow?

Monday, March 18, 2013

The way we think about charity is dead wrong

I've been meaning to watch this TED talk for a while and finally got around to it today, thanks to the Episcopal Cafe. I am in total agreement that our thinking about the non-profit sector and our assignment of morality to money is detrimental to work we would like to do.

As we saw in yesterday's gospel, people get very wound up about issues of money and morality. We often miss the forest for the trees.

I hope you'll take 20 minutes to watch it. Or you can read the transcript.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

When you have nothing to hide

I love this.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Various & Sundry: Hitler, the Vicar of Dibley, Kurt Vonnegut, Schopenhauer, and three amazing women

I learned the other day that Google Reader, from which I get all my blog feeds, will be eliminated in July. I feel a bit like Hitler about that.

On the plus side, though, there's a new Vicar of Dibley sketch coming out! I can't wait to see it.

Are you preaching this Sunday? Are you wondering why Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you"? Kurt Vonnegut, in his one and only sermon, has a persuasive take on that.

I've been thinking a lot about health and medical issues recently, and this article about the history of cardiac care was eye-opening. It did not say anything that I expected it to say regarding clinical trials on many common cardiac procedures, like bypasses and angioplasty.
The results raise a philosophical question of the goal of medical treatment: alleviating symptoms or lengthening lives? “How much is it worth investing in a surgical procedure, with all its risks,” he asks, “if all you’re doing is relieving symptoms?”
In philosophical news, I highly recommend this imagined conversation drawn from the writings of Megachurch Positivity Pastor Joel Osteen and Megadepressing Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Unless you are inclined to despair. In which case you might want to skip the next pull-out quote.
OSTEEN: Well, guess what, Arthur! Our life is a gift from God, and the appropriate response to His gift is joy.

SCHOPENHAUER: Human existence, far from bearing the character of a gift, has entirely the character of a debt that has been contracted. The calling in of this debt appears in the form of the pressing wants, tormenting desires, and endless misery established through this existence.
Thank you for coming this morning, Arthur. Continue to be a sunbeam for Jesus.

I have to say, though, speaking of cheery things, this week had a bumper crop of obituaries of fascinating women who lived long and amazing lives.

There's Princess Lilian of Sweden, born Lillian May Davies in Swansea. "She originally spelt her name with two “l”s, but changed to Lilian when she adopted a career variously described as fashion model, ballerina and singer." Doesn't she look fabulous?

Then there's Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (103), the New York Socialite who started Bundles for Britain at the outbreak of World War II and is the only non-British woman to receive an honorary Commander of the British Empire. The 13th Duke of Hamilton, Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, was her fourth husband. (The obit notes she was a devout Christian and a member of St. Thomas' on 5th Avenue. "The fashionable St. Thomas' church," it says.)

And finally, there's Dorothy DeBolt who had six children of her own, and then adopted 14 more, most of them with special needs. She also started the organization Adopt a Special Kid (AASK), which is in nearby Oakland, CA, and was part of an Academy-award winning documentary about the family.

I especially loved the final paragraph of the obit:
Two children, J.R. and Twe, died as adults. Along with her husband, Dorothy DeBolt's survivors include her children, Mike, Mimi, Stephanie, Noel, Kim, Marty, Melanie, Doni, Ly, Dat, Trang, Phong, Tich, Anh, Reynaldo, Sunee, Karen and Wendy, 27 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and her brother, Art Nortier.

St. Augustine makes the case for Martha

Martha is up again in the second round of Lent Madness against the seriously kick-ass Harriet Tubman, so I have no idea how Martha will do. But in doing the research for quirks and quotes, I came across this sermon by St. Augustine that I think puts a beat-down on the whole "You should be more like Mary" argument that gets bandied about. I mention it in passing in the write-up, but thought I would post the whole thing here, with key quotes highlighted. [The other Augustine quote in the Lent Madness write-up comes from, of all things, his writings on The Trinity.]

It's a bit dense, but I think if you read just the bolded bits, you will get the gist of the argument. And if you get nothing else, I think the quote I pulled in the image sums the whole thing up succinctly.

Sermon LIV.

Again, on the words of the Gospel, Luke x. 38, etc., about Martha and Mary.

1. When the holy Gospel was being read, we heard that the Lord was received by a religious woman into her house, and her name was Martha. And while she was occupied in the care of serving, her sister Mary was sitting at the Lord’s Feet, and hearing His Word. The one was busy, the other was still; one was giving out, the other was being filled. Yet Martha, all busy as she was in that occupation and toil of serving, appealed to the Lord, and complained of her sister, that she did not help her in her labour. But the Lord answered Martha for Mary; and He became her Advocate, who had been appealed to as Judge. “Martha,” He saith, “thou art occupied about many things, when one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.” For we have heard both the appeal of the appellant, and the sentence of the Judge. Which sentence answered the appellant, defended the other’s cause. For Mary was intent on the sweetness of the Lord’s word. Martha was intent, how she might feed the Lord; Mary intent how she might be fed by the Lord. By Martha a feast was being prepared for the Lord, in whose feast Mary was even now delighting herself. As Mary then was listening with sweet pleasure to His most sweet word, and was feeding with the most earnest affection, when the Lord was appealed to by her sister, how, think we, did she fear, lest the Lord should say to her, “Rise and help thy sister”? For by a wondrous sweetness was she held; a sweetness of the mind which is doubtless greater than that of the senses. She was excused, she sat in greater confidence. And how excused? Let us consider, examine, investigate it thoroughly as we can, that we may be fed also.

2. For what, do we imagine that Martha’s serving was blamed, whom the cares of hospitality had engaged, who had received the Lord Himself into her house? How could she be rightly blamed, who was gladdened by so great a guest? If this be true, let men give over their ministrations to the needy; let them choose for themselves “the better part, which shall not be taken from” them; let them give themselves wholly to the word, let them long after the sweetness of doctrine; be occupied about the saving knowledge; let it be no care to them, what stranger is in the street, who there is that wants bread, or clothing, or to be visited, to be redeemed, to be buried; let works of mercy cease, earnest heed be given to knowledge only. If this be “the better part,” why do not all do this, when we have the Lord Himself for our defender in this behalf? For we do not fear in this matter, lest we should offend His justice, when we have the support of His judgment.

3. And yet it is not so; but as the Lord spake so it is. It is not as thou understandest; but it is as thou oughtest to understand it. So mark; “Thou art occupied about many things, when one thing is needful. Mary hath chosen the better part.” Thou hast not chosen a bad part; but she a better. And how better? Because thou art “about many things,” she about “one thing.” One is preferred to many. For one does not come from many, but many from one. The things which were made, are many, He who made them is One. The heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that in them are, how many are they! Who could enumerate them? who conceive their vast number? Who made all these? God made them all. Behold, “they are very good.” Very good are the things He made; how much better is He who made them! Let us consider then our “occupations about many things.” Much serving is necessary for the refreshment of our bodies. Wherefore is this? Because we hunger, and thirst. Mercy is necessary for the miserable. Thou breakest bread to the hungry; because thou hast found an hungry man; take hunger away; to whom dost thou break bread? Take houseless wandering away; to whom dost thou show hospitality? Take nakedness away; to whom dost thou furnish clothes? Let there be no sickness; whom dost thou visit? No captivity; whom dost thou redeem? No quarrelling; whom dost thou reconcile? No death; whom dost thou bury? In that world to come, these evils will not be; therefore these services will not be either. Well then did Martha, as touching the bodily—what shall I call it, want, or will, of the Lord?—minister to His mortal flesh.

But who was He in that mortal flesh? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God:” see what Mary was listening to! “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us:” see to whom Martha was ministering! Therefore “hath Mary chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.” For she chose that which shall abide for ever; “it shall not be taken from her.” She wished to be occupied about “one thing.” She understood already, “But it is good for me to cleave to the Lord.” She sat at the feet of our Head. The more lowlily she sat, the more amply did she receive. For the water flows together to the low hollows of the valley, runs down from the risings of the hill. The Lord then did not blame Martha’s work, but distinguished between their services. “Thou art occupied about many things; yet one thing is needful.” Already hath Mary chosen this for herself. The labour of manifoldness passeth away, and the love of unity abideth. Therefore what she hath chosen, “shall not be taken from her.” But from thee, that which thou hast chosen (of course this follows, of course this is understood) from thee, that which thou hast chosen shall be taken away. But to thy blessedness shall it be taken away, that that which is better may be given. For labour shall be taken away from thee, that rest may be given. Thou art still on the sea, she is already in port.

4. Ye see then, dearly Beloved, and, as I suppose, ye understand already, that in these two women, who were both well pleasing to the Lord, both objects of His love, both disciples; ye see, I say (and an important thing it is which whosoever understand, understand hereby, a thing which, even those of you who do not understand ought to give ear to, and to know), that in these two women the two lives are figured, the life present, and the life to come, the life of labour, and the life of quiet, the life of sorrow, and the life of blessedness, the life temporal, and the life eternal. These are the two lives: do ye think of them more fully. What this life contains, I speak not of a life of evil, or iniquity, or wickedness, or luxuriousness, or ungodliness; but of labour, and full of sorrows, by fears subdued, by temptations disquieted: even this harmless life I mean, such as was suitable for Martha: this life I say, examine as best ye can; and as I have said, think of it more fully than I speak. But a wicked life was far from that house, and was neither with Martha nor with Mary; and if it ever had been, it fled at the Lord’s entrance. There remained then in that house, which had received the Lord, in the two women the two lives, both harmless, both praiseworthy; the one of labour, the other of ease; neither vicious, neither slothful. Both harmless, both, I say, praiseworthy: but one of labour, the other of ease: neither vicious, which the life of labour must beware of; neither slothful, which the life of ease must beware of. There were then in that house these two lives, and Himself, the Fountain of life. In Martha was the image of things present, in Mary of things to come.

What Martha was doing, that we are now; what Mary was doing, that we hope for. Let us do the first well, that we may have the second fully. For what of it have we now? How far have we it? As long as we are here, how much of it is there that we have? For in some measure are we employed in it now, and ye too when removed from business, and laying aside domestic cares, ye meet together, stand, listen. In so far as ye do this, ye are like Mary. And with greater facility do ye do that which Mary doeth, than I who have to distribute. Yet if I say ought, it is Christ’s; therefore doth it feed you, because it is Christ’s. For the Bread is common to us all, of which I too live as well as you. “But now we live, if ye, Brethren, stand fast in the Lord.” I would not that ye should stand fast in us, but in the Lord. “For neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”

Thank you, Augustine. Now, let's have no more of this talk of Martha's work being somehow irrelevant to the life of the Christian.

Go Team Martha!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Best. Obituary. Ever.

OK, so I've said it before, but I mean it this time. This is the best obituary ever. A sampling:
He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.

He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread.

He excelled at growing camellias, rebuilding houses after hurricanes, rocking, eradicating mole crickets from his front yard, composting pine needles, living within his means, outsmarting squirrels, never losing a game of competitive sickness, and reading any history book he could get his hands on
As one person who also fell in love with this obituary noted, "The key to being remembered after you're gone is to do your best to be the kind of person people enjoy remembering." Words to the wise. And it's not about doing something worth remembering, but being someone worth remembering. I'll try to remember that.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

From the annals of Law Enforcement Social Media

From the Solihull Police in the West Midlands, UK.

And for anyone wanting a dose of police dog cuteness, the West Midlands Police has a Flickr Feed. Awwww.

Day 247 - West Midlands Police - Police Puppy

Friday, March 8, 2013

Various & Sundry: Oatmeal, Kittens, Rowers, Robbers

I'll have to restrain myself since I have two weeks worth of stuff that's been piling up in the List of Interesting Things. I'll try to keep it to the cream of the crop.

And you know what's good with cream? Oatmeal. Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't only write brilliantly about racism, he also knows his way around a bowl of steel-cuts.
For those who know this great country, like I know this is great country--which is to say those who have heard the gospel of awesome oatmeal and found themselves born anew--I have glorious news. I have discovered the greatest bowl of oatmeal ever made, in the most unlikeliest place in the world. The place is Flour Bakery in the town of Cambridge.
Oh, TNC, take me there! The close-up photos of croissants and other pastries look mighty good too.

You know how there's that made-up Lorem Ipsum text that's a placeholder when you're building a website? Well, now there's PlaceKitten!

How smart is that! And how cute!

In the Inspirational Story file, I only learned this week about Team Bad Company, paralympic rowers who took bronze in London last summer. They are
DSC_0098Oksana Masters a young women who was adopted from the Ukraine by a single mom at the age of 7. She became an amputee as a result of radiation that caused severe birth defects; she has strived to live life to the fullest, not letting her disability define her.

Rob Jones a former US Marine. The everyday hometown hero that went to Afghanistan to serve his country; he came home an amputee as the result of an IED explosion. He decided that the losses of his legs were not the loss of his life and he has become an amazing adaptive athlete.
And they're impressive as hell. (Image from U.S. Rowing's Flickr feed)

Also inspirational and beautiful: this story about how We Found Our Son in the Subway. Just lovely.

On the depressing end of things, this report on where the money meant to rebuilt Haiti actually went just makes you want to go and kick things. Or at least I do.

So keeping with the theme of highway robbery, I loved the recent obituary for Bruce Reynolds, "the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery" in Britain in 1963. Of course, there's always something appealing about a good mastermind.
The late Fifties and early Sixties were halcyon days. He was earning £1,000 a week from his activities and gaining the respect of the criminal fraternity. As if born to the role, he behaved with the suavity of a gentleman thief. He holidayed in the South of France, escorted women to expensive restaurants and nightclubs, patronised Jermyn Street tailors, drove Aston Martins, and mixed with the new aristocracy of actors, models, pop stars and hoods.
Besides, isn't he the spitting image of John Hodgman? Who, I must point out, has neither confirmed nor denied that he was, in fact, Bruce Reynolds.

Which one is John Hodgman? And which is a train robber? Or is John Hodgman a train robber? Only one man can decide.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels

We're going into the second round of Lent Madness and I've done the write-up for Jonathan Daniels, who is up tomorrow. In case you have an hour and want to learn more about him, take a look at this documentary which covers a heck of a lot that I could do in 450 words.

Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels from Episcopal Marketplace on Vimeo.

I'm going to be happy whoever wins in this match-up. I'm a big fan of Janani Luwum as well and look forward to learning more about him. So as far as I'm concerned, vote for whomever your conscience calls -- but vote!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness

I love a good storyteller, and Joel ben Izzy is an excellent storyteller. I actually heard him for the first time at, of all things, a convention for professional fundraisers as he told a story about King Solomon that illustrated how non-profit organizations need to be able to tell their own story.

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness also starts with a story about King Solomon -- and stops just as Solomon reaches the crisis point. And then ben Izzy begins his own tale, which is just as harrowing.

A storyteller by profession, ben Izzy is happily married with two lovely children, making a living doing what he loves, when the worst thing that could befall a storyteller happens to him: he loses his voice. And it doesn't come back.

We have both the print book version and the audiobook version, and I ended up listening to the audiobook over the course of a couple of weeks as I drove here and there.

Now, one of the great things about listening to this book as an audiobook is that you know that somehow his voice does come back, since he's telling you the story. But I was still anxious to see how this would play out for him.

Another great thing about listening to this as an audiobook is that you get to hear him tell stories. Each chapter begins with another story from all over the world -- some I knew, but many I didn't. They're chewy stories, ones that have stuck with me since I heard ben Izzy tell them as I try to digest them fully.

And then ben Izzy does something really amazing: in telling his own true story, he helps you realize that you are (most likely) in the middle of your own story -- and that you don't get to skip out of it. You just get to go through it.

He concludes with one of the best explanations  that I've yet heard -- a hard-won answer drawn from personal experience -- of whether everything happens for a reason.

And then you get to hear what happens to Solomon.

But that's another story.

A Plea for Martha

Martha is up against Therese of Lisieux today in the first round of Lent Madness and I am completely partisan, having done the write-up for Martha (and as a big, big fan of hers). The Plea for Martha is not my own, however, but that of the Interpreter's Bible (1952), of which I am also a big, big fan. I mention one snip from this exposition in the Lent Madness write-up, but it is transcribed in full below.

The exposition is by Arthur John Gossip (1873-1954) who deserves a write-up of his own. He was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and was a chaplain with the Glasgow Highlanders in WWI. He later served as professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow from 1939-1945.

N.B.: I'm not responsible for the "weaker nature" comments about Mary. Remember: the author is a 70-year-old Scotsman, born in the 1870's. I'm simply happy to share him as a fellow Martha fan. Enjoy. And vote for Martha!

Commentary on John 11:1-2
A Plea for Martha. -- Although in these verses Mary is mentioned first, as if she were the more important, everywhere else throughout the narrative precedence is given to Martha, who would appear to have been the eldest of the family, as Lazarus almost certainly was the youngest; and indeed, in Luke  10:38 we are told that the house was hers.

As the records unfold themselves in the N.T., it seems that we are obviously meant to regard Mary as the finer of the sisters. Yet, obstinately and distinctly, may not one prefer Martha as being both the stronger character and the more likable as well? She looks at us out of the pages, a curiously vivid personality; downright, honest, practical, unselfish; a little flustered at times, it may be, by the lesser rubs of life, but in a major crisis splendidly and unshakably calm and steady-eyed. While Mary is of a softer and much more emotional type, apt to be swept away into extravagances of mood and action, a little trying surely for those round her. Thus, although Martha is obviously deeply wounded by her brother's death, an iron self-restraint allows no outward show of feeling; which terrible silence is as a rule the sign and proof of the most poignant grief of all. "I tell you hopeless grief is passionless." [E.S. Purcell, Life of Cardinal Manning (New York: The Macmillan Co, 1896), I 123.] When Manning lost his dearest, "Do not speak to me," he said, "I can just bear it when I keep quite quiet." But Mary's weaker nature could and did find relief in recurrent bursts of passionate weeping (vss. 31,33).

Again, Martha is much the abler of the sisters. When she meets Christ (vss. 20-27), there is something vastly impressive in the stanchness [sic] of her loyalty, and the depth and reach and stability of her faith. Whereas Mary says nothing, except to repeat that cry of the heart, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," which Martha had already used; making one feel that the two desolate souls had often said to one another in the days of waiting, "Oh, if only he were here!" Martha it is who does things needing to be done, who takes command of sudden situations, who meets emergencies and sees them through, who spends herself for others. And if, in Luke 10:40, distracted with much serving, with half a hundred things to see to, hot and rushed and bustled that their guest might lack for nothing, she allows herself to be irritated because her younger sister, cool and at her ease, seems to have no wish to lend a hand in what she must know has to be done, but sits there drinking in what Christ was saying, oblivious of the fact that her sister was missing it all, had she not a right to be annoyed? She too would have preferred to listen. But someone had to get the meal prepared and think of the guest's comfort. And so Martha forgot herself and did it. Yet she was surprised at her sister; and so are we.

No doubt our Lord's surely smiling half rebuke implies that this willing energetic soul was almost fussy in her kindness, as such good people can be, and a little overwhelming in her determination to give her very best and do all that was in her power. Still, in comparison with Martha's thoughtfulness for others, Mary seems selfish, or at least self-absorbed, now in her own grief, now in her own spiritual profiting. And one can be as selfish about spiritual things as about anything else. And Martha was not selfish. Neither at home nor at Simon the leper's, could she sit still, letting others serve, but had to be up and about, in and out of the kitchen; again, on thinks, perhaps a little fidgety and fussy, but actively helpful. And when the Master reached her house of mourning and she went out to meet him, much as it mattered to her to be with him, she did not keep him to herself, but broke away to call her sister, that Mary too might miss nothing of Jesus Christ, the sister who, on her side, could sit so absorbed in listening to him that she forgot Martha altogether!

In any case, it is Martha, and not Mary, who is the patron saint of this generation; she, and not the other, who represents the type of goodness which we can understand and which we would like to reproduce. To our shame be it spoken, we have small aptitude for contemplation, and not much liking for communion with the Master in the hush and secret of his presence; and, compared with our forefathers, not much zeal in prayer. But we would fain be helpful to our fellow men, and long to leave a saner and more brotherly world behind us. [yes, yes, forefathers, men, brotherly. 1950's.] If Christ can accept that from us, we are ready to offer it. All of which may to some appear rootless and superficial. Yet the tests Christ gives us, whereby the value of our faith and lives is to be assessed at his judgment seat, are dreadfully practical. Not how much time we spent in prayer, but what came of our prayers in actual unselfishness and helpfulness to others; not simply what did we believe, but did these beliefs of ours compel us to spend our lives for those who needed kindliness and succor. That is the note that constantly rings out in the N.T, e.g., in the epistles of John, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death....If any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth" (I John 3:14, 17-18). "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (I John 4:20-21).

In any case, it is written that Jesus loved Martha. And no more is said of Mary. And indeed what better could be said?

Interpreter's Bible (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1952). Volune 8 "Luke, John," pp. 636-637.

Go team Martha!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kenya braces for critical cliche shortage

One thing I neglected to mention in the World in Prayer prayers this week is about Kenya's upcoming election. Luckily, the Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, is on the job.

Kenya was braced at the crossroads on Saturday amidst growing concern that the demand for clichés is outstripping supply. 
Critical elections loom, say senior diplomats, and there is a pressing need not only for clichés, but for colourful phrases, authentic quotes and fresh sources. Without urgent action, warned a senior taxi driver, this strategic east African nation with close ties to the West, risks being driven to the brink of an uncertain future.

Analysts and observers, however, joined diplomats in dismissing fears that coverage of the forthcoming poll will be threatened by a shortage of clichés.

"Lessons have been learnt,” said a UN spokesman, and a strategic stockpile has been built up since the last time Kenyans went to the ballot box. With the help of an emergency airlift, which includes consignments of anecdotes and first person accounts, both chilling and inspiring, reporters will be able to do justice to a crucial test of democracy/a slow motion tragedy/a land gripped by tension.

"We are now prepared for any eventuality,” said the spokesman. “Our monitors have registered an early demand for 'fears rising', 'key ally', 'strategic partner' and 'ethnic violence', and fresh deliveries will arrive within days.”

“Tribal rivalries’, and ‘ethnic violence’ is also proving popular, the UN official added, as are ‘bloodstained machetes’, ‘pangas and rungus’, and ‘mindless violence’ ‘Bitter memories’ is also in great demand.
Read the whole wonderful thing. The Onion had better watch itself.