Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Resolution

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine preached a terrific sermon (which you can listen to here), drawing from the book The Art of Possibility. One of the authors, Benjamin Zander, teaches a class on Interpretation at the New England Conservatory. He starts each class by announcing that every student will get an A. The only requirement is that each student write a letter, dated the following May, that tells in as much detail as possible what will have changed in them because of this class.

The students may, if they wish, mention specific goals reached or competitions won. "But," I tell them, "I am especially interested in the person you will have become by next May. I am interested in the attitude, feelings, and worldview of that person who will have done all she wished to do or become everything he wanted to be."

When the class was asked a few weeks later how they felt about this, one student from Taiwan responded this way:

In Taiwan, I was Number 68 out of 70 student. I come to Boston and Mr. Zander says I am an A. Very confusing. I walk about, three weeks, very confused. I am Number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A student...I am Number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A. One day I discover much happier A than Number 68. So I decide I am an A.

In her sermon, my friend preached that this is the essence of the gospel: you have the A. How are you different because of it?

After all the moaning I did yesterday about my strange decade, I realize I'm still trying to decide that I am an A. Not because of any goals or achievements, but because of the person I am becoming. I think it's going to take me a while to believe it, but I also think it's true. The A is a given; now what will happen as a result?

My resolution is not to live up to the A, but to relax into it, trust it's there, and see where it leads me. I'm looking forward to continuing to explore that with you.

Happy new year, and blessings for 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

...the only status that you could fail to achieve is the status quo. The only thing, the only failure in life was not to make the effort to change our station.

Jon Stewart in his remarks about Bruce Springsteen in the Kennedy Center Honors. This part was unfortunately left out of what was broadcast, but it was part of Backstreets News. (And thanks to uberfan, Molly, who found this.)

The sentiment seems apt for the start of a new year and a new decade.

Here's the expurgated version of Stewart's presentation, which is still wonderful:

My unsettled decade

I was thinking back over the aughts the other day. There's the headline news version of this crazy decade, of course, but I was thinking about what it was like for me personally. And I realized it was incredibly unsettled.

Let's start with the living arrangements. I realized, upon consideration, that I have lived in 12 places since 2000. When writing my Christmas cards this year, I noted that I have moved 5 times in the last 2 years. I lived in three states (California, Ohio, and for one summer, Washington state) and two countries (Uganda, natch). My longest stint was in a dreadful apartment from which I did not move because I kept expecting to move to something more permanent. That didn't happen until I was laid off, which in many ways was the best thing to happen to me. (It got me out of that apartment for one thing.)

Then I started thinking about work. Of the past 10 years, less than half was spent in full-time employment, in three separate jobs. I was employed part-time for about three of those years, was unemployed for a total of one year (in two separate stints), and was a student for 1 1/2 years at the very beginning of the decade. I'm actually amazed I'm in financially as sound a situation as I am, especially given I'm living in California, but I know that's largely due to the generosity of family, friends, and church.

With all of that, I was starting to feel very depressed about wasting 10 years of my life. But then a Facebook friend, looking at my blog the other day, commented that I was very impressive. I couldn't imagine what he was talking about. But there it is, over in the "about me" column: I was a Kiva fellow in Uganda, and I'm the managing director of a non-profit, which I guess does sound impressive. Then I realized I also got a graduate degree, did a couple of triathlons, and started a college chaplaincy. If you look at it that way, it was a really good decade.

If there's one thing I've learned from obits it's that a life that looks impressive in summary takes an awful long time to live. And if there's one thing I've learned from cemeteries it's that your accomplishments don't remember you.

I'm not sure, summing up, whether it was a good decade or a bad decade for me. It was what it was. How was it for you? Personally, I'm happy it's over. I'm looking forward to a new decade and curious to see what happens. I'm hoping for something more stable. But you never know.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Persimmon bread update

I finally made the persimmon bread and I have to say it was a disappointment. Not bad. No, nothing wrong with it. There just wasn't anything distinctive about it. It didn't taste like persimmon bread. It tastes like...bread. Your generic quick bread with cinnamon and nutmeg. And there's nothing wrong with that. I was just hoping for something that said, "I am an exotic and delicious bread made with a fruit you don't find just anywhere."

If I do make it again, I think I would put in dried cranberries. But make no mistake, if I make it again, it is entirely because I need to do something with the tons of persimmons on the tree in the backyard. I mean, look at that thing. What do you do with all those persimmons?

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Top 10 list of 2009

I spent a lot of yesterday poring over the Top 10 Everything of 2009 lists on This is entirely Jan Edmiston's fault over at A Church for Starving Artists who lured me in with the Top 10 political cartoons, and then suddenly Sunday was gone. And still no persimmon bread.

The thing that's weird for me is I really can't remember what things were notable in 2009 and not other years. That makes my top 10 list very limited, but here it is:

Laura's Top 10 list of favorite things that I can remember doing/reading/hearing/seeing/occurring during 2009

1) Best restaurant I ate at: Eggheads in Fort Bragg, where I had lunch after church at St. Michael's each Sunday

2) Best non-fiction book I read: The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose about his year posing as an Evangelical Christian at Liberty University.

3) Best fiction I read: I read a lot of Emma Lathen mysteries and just loved them. None of that fancy-schmancy prize winning contemporary fiction for me. So what if they weren't published in 2009. Or in this millennium even. They are still pertinent today. And well-written always.

4) Best movie I saw: Herb & Dorothy, a documentary about unexpected NYC art collectors. It was such a treat.

5) Favorite blogger I followed: Ta-Nehisi Coates, as you might have guessed. He makes me think, and I do like that. Here's a post that I particularly liked from earlier this year.

6) Best audio I heard: This American Life had hands down the best, clearest reporting on the recession and health insurance among other lighter fare, such as this episode on 24 hours at a rest area in New York State. Which is three things, but they're all friggin' awesome.

7) Best TV show I saw: continues to be The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

8) Coolest place I visited: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in L.A.

9) Biggest new time-waster: Twitter. 'nuff said. Though learning how to set up an RSS feed didn't help any.

10) And finally: Biggest personal accomplishment, 2009: Growing hollyhocks from seed. Seriously, I'm very pleased about that. It's going to be hard to beat that in 2010.

And now on to the persimmon bread.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday funnies

From the fabulous folks at Improv Everywhere

Find the rest of the story here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Doyenne of the Diaphanous

It's been a while since I've pulled out an obit for your reading pleasure and here, just in time for Boxing Day, is a beauty: Alice Schiller, Impresaria of Striptease!

Oh, it's so good.

Mrs. Schiller, who by her niece’s account never drank or smoked or swore, had not set out to own a supper club in which performers left the stage vastly lighter than when they came on. But for nearly two decades, from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, she reigned gamely as a doyenne of the diaphanous, owning and operating the Pink Pussycat with her husband, Harry.

And then,

The club was also internationally famous for its attached institution of higher learning, the Pink Pussycat College of Strip Tease, familiarly called the Navel Academy of the West

which taught classes like “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “Applied Sensual Communication” and “Dynamic Mammary, Navel and Pelvis Rotation.”

Just excellent!

Merry Christmas to you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

All of a sudden I feel the need for stillness. Not the stillness by the manger, but the stillness of the night in the field with the wind moving and a small fire crackling and boredom for company. No more excitement or stimulation or hurried preparations. No music and no expectations. Just a little spot of settled solitude.

Maybe even a little sleep.

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.

Peace and blessings to you and yours this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Organized religion

So there I was, checking out the NY Times online this morning, and I looked over at the "Most Emailed" and saw (ranked #5) the headline, New Pipe Organ Sounds Echo of Age of Bach. Though I like the organ, I might have thought nothing of it had I not noticed the subhead, beginning, "In upstate New York..."

Could it be? I thought, and clicked on the link. Dateline: Rochester. Yes, it was! The organ in my home parish, Christ Church, downtown!

The article is interesting, and it's very fun to see names and places I know well, but there's a good chunk left out of the story. The negotiations began long before the events the story relates.

One part I'd like to point out: there had been plans in the works for some time to build an organ at Christ Church, but they fell through. The reason? As I understand it, the Eastman School wanted to require Christ Church to stop its feeding program, A Meal & More. Even though it meant passing up an amazing new organ, that was a deal breaker for the parish.

Instead, they held out until both sides came to a mutually agreeable position--and kudos to them all. To Eastman, for its wonderful organ, and to Christ Church, for understanding the primary function of a church.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The feast of St. Thomas

One of the essays in Jesus Girls I read last Thursday included this quotation from Garry Wills:

The great enemy of believing is pretending to believe...the only way is the long way, through indirection, doubt and a faith that survives its own daily death.

Of course I thought of this today when I realized it was the feast of Doubting Thomas, blessed be he for his honesty. And blessed be the rest of the apostles for not requiring Thomas to pretend to believe. I wish our churches were as generous as they.

If you don't believe something, you don't believe it. You can't make yourself or anyone else believe by force of will. Thomas gives us that gift of knowing and being able to acknowledge he doesn't believe.

One of the things I love about belief is that you never know when it will strike. Thomas had his set list of things he needed to believe, but when the moment came, he didn't actually need them. And the thing I suspect from my own experience is that he didn't know until the moment arrived that belief would come upon him.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts from Quiet Day

Yesterday, I went up to Bishop's Ranch for a Quiet Day, which was absolutely lovely. I realized, as I read Morning Prayer and studied the lections for the day, that since I haven't had any pulpit supply gigs for a while, I haven't had a reason to dig into any Scriptures, and that I missed it. I need to keep that in mind.

The gospel of the day was the story of the 10 maidens waiting with lamps for the bridegroom to arrive. One thing the fabulous Interpreter's Bible (1951) pointed out is that the wise maidens were prepared, not for the worst, but for the best. "They lived, not merely for the moment, but against tomorrow's emergency of joy." I love that phrase: emergency of joy.

I also noted (and am not the first to do so) that despite Matthew reporting that Jesus said, "13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour," everyone in the parable fell asleep. Sleep is not the problem.

I noted in the psalm one of the offertory sentences that we use in church: Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High. Which is a bit ironic since the context of the psalm is that God doesn't need your stuff.

I spent much of the rest of the day reading the remaining essays in Jesus Girls, which were by and large very good and truly moving. I especially liked Inventing a Testimony by Melanie Springer Mock, which was very funny while also pointing out how the Evangelical culture "privileges weaknesses of the flesh over those of the spirit;" Feminist-in-Waiting by Kimberly George which begins, "When a personal Lord and Savior was offered me, I thought he sounded appealing for surviving junior high;" and The Slope by Shari MacDonald Strong which ends,

For years, I was warned by church leaders not to question doctrine, not to challenge the patriarchal order. I was told that doing these things would land me on a slippery slope. It turns out they were right. In my thirties, I did lose the faith I had in an angry, patriarchal, puppet-string-maneuvering God--just as they warned I would.

But I've discovered a new faith. A faith in a loving Other that is, inexplicably, simultaneously Out There Somewhere and also within. A faith that has room enough not only for me to believe in God, but for me also to believe in myself. The proverbial slope is, indeed, slippery. But the grass is soft, and it smells green and sweet. The roll down the hill is freeing. And as I lie here at the bottom, looking up at the clouds, for the first time in my life, I feel as if I have a clear view of heaven.

Much for me still to ponder.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Posts from GayUganda

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the blog GayUganda. The last couple of days he has had some particularly powerful posts I wanted to bring to your attention.

First was his Conversation with a Ugandan Legislator. One email he got from the MP began, "Hey Gay Pervert." Isn't that lovely?

And then, very movingly, he writes an entry titled Don't blame yourself.

When this bill becomes law. Even as harsh as it is. Don't blame yourself. [snip] I know, there are some who will claim that the fierce, horrified opposition from the rest of the world made this bill pass. No. It didn’t. It will not pass because Ugandans have a knee jerk reaction to ‘political interferance’. It will not pass because Ugandans are having this need to appear very good. And, it will not pass because Ugandans have a highly developed sense of morality. [snip]

It will pass because our government wanted it to pass. It will pass because our President wanted this bill to become law.

And, it is going to pass, because our people believe in their right to persecute homosexuals.

That is the plain sense of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Anthologist

Over on Lorin's blog, she always does Teaser Tuesdays

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

Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!

Well, I'm not following those rules. Rules are for breaking, baby. But I did want to rave about the book I'm currently reading, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.

I read these two sentences last night and I thought, Everyone must hear this. I'm just saying, these are not picked at random. They're just too good not to share.

No, this is going to be an anthology where every poem you alight on and read, you say to yourself, Holy God dang, that is good. That is so good, and so twisty, and so shadowy, and so chewy, and so boomerangy, that it requires the forging of a new word for "beauty."

Which sums up the book pretty well. Chewy and boomerangy. I'm only a third of the way through, though. I hope it holds up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'll be undead for Christmas

I know what you've been saying to yourself. You've been saying, "I haven't heard much about zombies lately on the Infusion. I wish she would tell us what's new in the world of zombification." Well, your wish is my command as two things have recently come to my attention.

First, naturally, you need a book of zombie Christmas Carols. The website includes recipes such as mincemeat brain pie--yum! And the carols include "I saw mommy chewing Santa Claus," "Have yourself a Medulla Oblagata," and, of course, "Slay Ride."

And then for the special someone in your life, you can commission a custom portrait depicting you or someone you love as a zombie. From the website: "By simply providing a clear headshot, you can stop wondering what you'd look like as an animated corpse on a hunger crazed killing spree!" Doesn't that sound lovely? And there are lots of other zombie products for your holiday gift-giving needs.

h/t (you might have guessed this) to The Bloggess for pointing this out and answering other gift-giving questions.

extra h/t to commenter qoe for directing me to this song from the Kingston Trio!

Sports movies, manipulation, reconciliation

I love sports movies. Especially those based-on-a-true-story, underdog-wins-the-day, bring-your-tissues kind of story. Chariots of Fire, Remember the that.

And then there are two--TWO--the opened this seasons. My sinuses may never recover.

First The Blind Side, based on the terrific book by Michael Lewis. And though I liked the book better, I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would. Sandra Bullock was fun to watch. And what a treat at the end to see the actual footage of Michael Oher being picked in the first round of the NFL draft.

But I preferred Invictus, the story about Nelson Mandela using the hated Afrikaaner rugby team, to bring the country together.

I admit there was one part towards the end that I thought was horribly manipulative. It made me roll my eyes. Then I came home and watched an interview with the real rugby team captain from a couple of years ago--and he told the story exactly as it appeared in the movie. Accusations of manipulation duly withdrawn.

The thing I particularly liked about about the movie is that Mandela, instead of pooh-poohing the human tendency to root for "our" team, recognized sports as a powerful unifying force. And was willing to use--and convert--a tool that had previously represented oppression as a symbol of liberation and reconciliation. Very, very smart. And a wonderful lesson about not despising that which seems despicable.

But I guess there is manipulation, there. It was fascinating to watch Mandela manipulate the emotions of a nation through this unexpected and--I don't know if humble is the right word, but at any rate sideways source. Sneaking reconciliation in the back door. Again, I'm impressed by how Mandela went about it; if you simply announce to people, "Reconcile!", how successful would that be?

I keep thinking of the verse, "The stone the builders rejected as worthless has become the chief cornerstone." How inappropriate is that!

I guess my point being, we shouldn't count out sports as a mere sidelight to that which is important. But I must ponder more.

In the meantime, I whole-heartedly recommend Invictus.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday (and seasonal) funnies

From the fabulous Dave Walker, an Advent cartoon (click on it for a larger, more readable version):

And from the ever-blessed Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, a little Hanukkah ditty:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Jon Stewart
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Friday, December 11, 2009

More on Rick Warren, or the bigotry of good people

I've got to say, I'm really tired of the Rick Warren bashing. What gets me is how mad a lot of people on the left are after he made a statement denouncing the Anti-Homosexuality legislation in Uganda. Because we all know the way to win hearts and minds is to tell people they are bad people and deserving of punishment. That the way to woo them to your side of the argument is to beat them up when they have supported your position.

To be honest with you, I don't know much about Rick Warren. I've never read Purpose Driven Life. The only times I've heard him speak were the prayer at the inauguration and the dealy-bobber I posted yesterday. He may be a terrible person, I don't know. Is he a homophobe? Probably. He may just be a product of his time and culture. He may be a mix of things.

Personally, I would tend to believe the analysis given by David Link in the Independent Gay Forum (referenced by Andrew Sullivan): "Like so many other heterosexuals of his age and older, Warren is caught in a bind. He believed the lies and misperceptions about homosexuality that history, particularly as embodied in his religion, have taught him. He relied on those distortions, and built his belief system around them." Link thinks "a bit of empathy may be in order." So do I.

This is partly on my mind after reading The Help. One of the strengths of this book, as I mentioned, was that it allowed things to be complicated--and particularly the relationships between the white employers (for lack of a better term) and black servants. Were the whites bigots? You bet. But not in a cartoony way. Not in a way that writes them off as human beings.

We've got lots of bigots in our history. We celebrated the feast of St. Ambrose on Monday--a big name in the early church. It is also well known that he was virulently anti-Semitic. A commenter on the blog a while back asked if I would note that William Temple "demanded Bp. R.O.Hall's resignation (Bp. of Hong Kong) for ordaining The Rev. Florence Li Tim Oi." Were they bad people? Were they good? Were they a mix of things and products of their times and cultures? And how will people look at us down the road? How will we see ourselves?

My main man Ta-Nehisi Coates gets this very well:

This expectation that "good people" won't be bigots is rather amazing. I came up in a world where it was nothing to hear the word "faggot" bandied about. Where those people awful human beings? Nah. Were they bigots? Yep. And I will tell you, without a moments hesitation, that I was one of them.

[I heartily encourage you to read TNC on the subject of bigotry and racism. Actually, I encourage you to read him all the time.]

People change; they are converted. But they're not converted by accusations and abuse. Or by fear. Or by assumptions. Or by avoidance. Love, love, love, people. Even if they never get it. Even if they don't agree with you. Even if they persecute and revile you--remember that part? Jesus didn't say it was going to be easy.

World in Prayer prayers

It was my week to write the prayers for World in Prayer, and I found it a real struggle yet again. At least it took me a lot longer than I expected. I think it was because there were certain things I wanted to pray that may not be appropriate for a group to pray. At any rate, here they are.

World In Prayer
December 10, 2009

Praise be to God for all things good,
For humble service and hopeful hearts,
For two steps forward with one step back,
For signs of peace, however small.

We pray for the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change being held in Copenhagen.

We pray for the people of Iran where on Monday, thousands of people rallied against the government at universities around the country.

We pray for the United States Senate where health care reform legislation may yet become law.

We celebrate World Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the United Nation Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

We await the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

Our King and Savior now draws near;
Come let us adore him.

As the days grow short, we pray for those
Who live in darkness, who suffer from want,
Who cower in fear, who lash out in anger,
Who struggle to survive.

We pray for all those who have lost jobs or homes in the global recession.

We pray for the people of Iraq where a string of car bombs on Tuesday killed 127 people.

We pray for the people of the Midwestern United States and New England where winter storms are blamed for at least 17 deaths.

We pray for those 50+ people held hostage by gunmen at a school on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

Be our light in the darkness, O Lord.

Our King and Savior now draws near;
Come let us adore him.

We pray for our loved ones, for the poor, for those who are sick, for those who rejoice, for those who hold authority, for those who are weary, for those who rest.

Prepare in all our hearts a place for you to dwell, O God. And guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thomas Merton's prayer

It is the proposed commemoration of Thomas Merton who died 41 years ago today. He's the author of perhaps my favorite prayer, or at least one that rings true to me. Here it is:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

from "Thoughts in Solitude"

Good for you, Rick Warren

"The potential law before your parliament is unjust, it's extreme and it's unChristian towards homosexuals."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Help

I finally read The Help by Kathryn Stockett which has been sitting on my shelf since a friend loaned it to me in July. Terrific book about three women, two maids and one daughter of the plantation in Jackson, Mississippi during 1963-64. The three of them work together to write an account of the help's experiences working in the Junior League ladies' households. It gets harrowing at times. But it's not a clear-cut good or bad, which is one of its strengths.

Towards the end, when news gets out about their project, one of the maids is sitting with another who is less concerned about the potential outcomes, to the other's surprise. "But I try to understand where Minny's coming from," she says. "We done something brave and good here. And Minny, maybe she don't want a be deprived a any a the things that go along with being brave and good. Even the bad." I thought that was lovely and wanted to share it with you.

Very good book. I recommend it.

Gnashing of teeth

It's probably just as well I didn't have internet on Monday or I might have written something I regret. As it is, I'm still ticked off at the Archbishop of Canterbury (who I doubt is concerned by that). All that "working behind the scenes" stuff in Uganda, and then, mere hours after a partnered gay woman is elected Suffragan Bishop in Los Angeles, he sends out a shaming little screed about how this "raises very serious questions" about our place in the Anglican Communion.

OUR place? When a priest and teacher in the Church of Uganda can say "not even “cockroaches” who are in the “lower animal kingdom” engaged in homosexual relations"? In a funeral sermon?

There's now a Facebook group called "Anglicans who want THIS statement from Canterbury," namely:

The proposed legal actions that would make homosexuality punishable by death in Uganda, and the lack of outrage regarding this proposed action by the Church of Uganda, raises very serious questions not just for the Church of Uganda and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The proposed legislation has not yet become law, and could be rejected, with the Anglican Church of Uganda leading the opposition. That decision will have very important implications. The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that offering pastoral care and listening to the experience of homosexual persons is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.

I'm not holding my breath.

Andrew Brown writing in the Guardian puts it well:

Consider the case of two Anglicans of the same gender who love one another. If they are in the USA, the Anglican church will marry them and may elect one of them to office. If they are in Uganda, the Anglican church will have try to have them jailed for life, and ensure that any priest who did not report them to the authorities within 24 hours would be jailed for three years; anyone who spoke out in their defence might be jailed for seven.

Under Williams, the church that marries two women who love each other is to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion. The church that would jail them both for life, and would revile and persecute their defenders, stays snugly in his bosom. Not even the Archbishop's remarkable gift for obfuscation can conceal these facts forever.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The bunker decade

I finally have wireless internet back at home so that I can sit here snuggly (sans Snugglie (tm)) and read, among other things, this terrific essay from my lovely Obit online magazine. I think the author captures the zeitgeist of the Aughts (as he calls them) bee-yu-ti-fully. Check it out.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday funnies

Have yourself a dismal little Advent,
Filled with guilt and gloom.
You’ve got these four weeks to contemplate your doom.

Turn down all those party invitations;
Mustn’t celebrate;
You should stay home fasting, and self-flagellate.

Shun the lure of the shopping mall,
Where they’ve decked the hall since May.
Just recall it’s the eschaton
You must focus on today.

It’s no time for singing Christmas carols;
That we can’t allow!
Chant Psalm 51, if you remember how–
And have yourself a dismal little Advent now!

Mary W. Cox
December 17, 1992

Courtesy of Scott Gunn over at Seven Whole Days.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Statement from the Presiding Bishop and others

Hello from the library where I get free wireless internet access since there still isn't any at home.

The news today--well, one piece of news, anyway--is that the Presiding Bishop has issued a statement regarding the proposed Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda. I was glad to see it.

It was a fascinating statement, in my opinion. Very well thought out. I appreciated that it wasn't a simple, "We are right, you are wrong," kind of a thing. Instead she (saying "we" on behalf of Americans) "note[d] the distance our own culture still needs to travel in removing discriminatory practice from social interactions, yet we have also seen how changed hearts and minds have followed legal sanctions on discriminatory behavior."

I also loved--LOVED--that she turned the tables on colonialism by apologizing for the colonialist behavior of Americans that encouraged the Ugandan government to propose this legislation. Very nice.

Still nothing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who says he's working behind the scenes, as well he might be. But it does seem strange to say, "I'm not saying anything because I'm working behind the scenes, don't you know [wink, wink]".

But one person with a great deal more to lose than the Archbishop has spoken up loud and clear, and that's The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a priest in Uganda. I am impressed by his courage.

Please continue to keep Uganda in your prayers.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Guinea Pig Diaries

Yesterday, for reasons too mundane to relate, I spent much of the day on the phone to various internet service providers. At one point during the day, I thought, "I wish I'd hired someone in India to do this." The only reason it occurred to me to think this was because I had recently read The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs.

I've read all three of A.J.'s books, all of which are about the author taking on crazy tasks and then writing about them. First was The Know-It-All in which he read the Encyclopedia Britannica; then The Year of Living Biblically in which he followed all of the commands of the Bible as literally as possible. They are both terrific reads, but the thing that's particularly great about this book, to me, is that A.J. is a much more pleasant person now than he used to me, and in large part because of these strange tasks he set himself.

This book is a little thinner (both literally and figuratively) than the other two. Each of the tasks--such as spending a month practicing Radical Honesty, living according to George Washington's rules of civility, and (as I mentioned) outsourcing his personal life to an assistant in India--is only for a month, which is probably about right for the scope of the tasks involved. For those who have also read the other books, you'll be glad to know that one of his tasks was to do everything his wife wants for a month. She also gets her say in the coda for that chapter.

Each section is fun and breezy, though it feels a bit like he is going to the same well again. I enjoyed it, no doubt, and I'd recommend it, too. But mostly I read this with a strange personal connection with the author, watching him grow up, or mature, at any rate. I feel glad to see him settling into his own skin more and more, less of a smart-ass and more genuine. It wasn't so much about reading a book as checking in on a friend, and feeling pleased to know he was doing so well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I don't know what to do about Afghanistan; do you?

I'm with James Fallows who is torn about the decision to stay. Well, I hope he's right is the headline of his entry.

I'm also with Andrew Sullivan who, the morning after, "thinks this strategy is doomed," but sees the strategy in it: "If McChrystal does his best and we still get nowhere, Obama will have demonstrated - not argued, demonstrated - that withdrawal is the least worst option."

I'm also cognizant that Afghan women leaders have asked for the troops to stay:

In a series of conversations with a dozen women leaders spanning a range of sectors, from health care to business to politics, some of whom rarely speak to journalists, the consensus was that existing troops must stay for now-if only because things would be far worse were they to leave. Insecurity would, the Taliban would gain power, and women and girls would immediately lose ground.

Should we not listen to them?

And then there's Thomas Friedman's very reasonable editorial in this morning's NY Times, saying our efforts in Afghanistan are "just too expensive." I would tend to agree with that.

But I also feel deep in my gut what fellow-blogger Rick put into words: "In all the sensible, well reasoned, apparently prudent words of the President's speech, every time it panned to the audience, all I could think over and over was, 'Dear God. They're just kids.'"

All I really know is that I'm glad I'm not president. I'm glad not to be put into a position where no decision is clearly and unequivocably good, where no matter what you do, people are going to be hurt or killed. I don't have the moral fortitude for that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nicholas Ferrar, Little Gidding, letting go

We celebrate the feast of Nicholas Ferrar today, though he died on December 4th, not December 1st, 1637, and though I'm not sure if he will still be on the calendar next year when we may remember instead Charles de Faoucauld. But for today we remember Nicholas Ferrar, and I find it very apt that this observance may disappear since the religious community he founded at Little Gidding lasted 20 years and no longer.

So often we remember people who establish things that last. I'm finding myself pleased this day to recognize someone who established something ephemeral. Something's permanence is seen as a sign of its strength and quality. For me I know I feel good about the fact that some of the programs I have set up are still going on. But what if they hadn't lasted? Would that mean they were bad?

I am grateful to Nicholas Ferrar today for suggesting to me that good things may last a short time, and that that is not a sign that it wasn't part of God's plan or according to God's will. It's made me think, in fact, how much better so many of our institutions would be if we could let more go, if we weren't so concerned about establishing things for a lifetime and beyond.

I'm grateful also to T.S. Eliot for making me think these very things upon reading Little Gidding from the Four Quartets. To wit:

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

As Nicholas Ferrar and his community vanished. And I hope have been renewed and transfigured over and over again.

Belated Thanksgiving

It's never too late to give thanks, however. I got this wonderful email from a friend last week and got her permission to reproduce it. Some of the names have been changed to protect the (truly) innocent.


Picture a line of 6 children standing at the top of the chancel steps in front of the altar. There's one grown-up off to the side with a guitar, and another on her knees behind the kids to help them with their parts. They sing a song they wrote themselves by listing things they were thankful for and putting them to music. Each time a verse gets to a particular child's contribution, that child steps forward. Got the idea? Here are the words:

Thank you God for Christ the King (the theme of the day to warm us all up), thank you God for Christ the King, thank you God for Christ the King, here in the world.

Thank you God for fleecy lamb (the littlest girl steps forward and waves her lamb doll in time to the music), thank you God for fleecy lamb, thank you God for fleecy lamb, here in the world.

Thank you God for making Alan (the littlest girl's sister sings very happily about one of the youth group members), thank you God for making Alan, thank you God for making Alan, here in the world. (as far as I can tell, Alan neither blushed nor dove under his pew).

Thank you God for making Richard (this line is the actual creation of Richard himself, who jigs vigorously all the way through his verse), thank you God for making Richard, thank you God for making Richard, here in the world.

Thank you God for Robert's friends (this from Robert), thank you God for Robert's friends, thank you God for Robert's friends, here in the world.

Thank you God for Sylvia's brother (that would be Robert), thank you God for Sylvia's brother, thank you God for Sylvia's brother, here in the world.

Thank you God for making all the people in the world (this takes a quick pick up in tempo, but everyone makes it), thank you God for making all the people in the world, thank you God for making all the people in the world, here in the world.

Thank you God for Christ the King (now the whole congregation is singing), thank you God for Christ the King, thank you God for Christ the King, here in the world.

I tell you what, it was the cutest thing ever!

I wish I could have seen it. But I thank you God for friends and email, here in the world. And to my friend for sending this along.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Seasonal news from the world of tea

Just what the religious tea-drinker needs: a TEA ADVENT CALENDAR! No, I am not making this up. Check it out:

The Tea Advent Calendar is back! The Tea Advent Calendar is numbered from 1 to 24 - a tea surprise for every day of Advent! 24 different, delicious infusion bags filled with organic tea.

As a child we were so excited when we had an advent calender to help us get through the long wait until Christmas Eve. The pleasant anticipation was wonderful, just like the excitement when we got to open a new door each day and fish out the mostly sticky contents!

Today it is healthier, easier and even more fun with the unique Tea Advent Calendar for all organic tea lovers. Each of the 24 bags are individually packaged and beautifully decorated.

The individual bags are numbered from 1 to 24 for each day with a wonderful Christmas illustration.

A great idea, beautifully packaged, perfect as a small present or souvenir for someone special!

All I have to say is...ummm...I can't think of anything to say, actually.

Thanks to TeaBoat on Twitter for bringing this to my attention. Her comment: "Make of this what you will." I'm with her.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday funnies

Here's a phrase I'm sure you can use:

Found at the lovely website Oddly Specific, which I found through the blog Gleeful. How I found Gleeful, I do not know.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The ones that got away


I saw this flock of turkeys skulking around the hills of Crockett today after taking the dogs for a walk. I tried to tell them Thanksgiving was over, but they didn't believe me. They are no fools, those turkeys.
Posted by Picasa

Advent shopping without guilt

I am very grateful to the Advent Conspiracy for not being Puritanically legalistic. I have found that it's not seeking to replace one rule (shop until you drop) with another (don't shop! Shopping is evil!). Instead, it is trying to be an instrument of grace for all. Go, Advent Conspiracy!

Yesterday on Buy Nothing Day, I checked on the Advent Conspiracy website and found their blog. And what was the entry for the day? Want to REALLY do Advent Conspiracy? Go shopping. It's an excellent read. I highly recommend it.

Key point:

I’m worried that people are being guilted into Advent Conspiracy. The last thing we want is for people to feel like they can’t shop because their church or family member or friend told them it’s not the [AC] way. Because that’s not true. So what is the [AC] way? Simply this: We want to encourage people to do Christmas differently by worshiping Jesus first before anything else....Here’s what’s not a beautiful thing: Getting all bent out of shape and stressed out because someone said “we” don’t want you to buy gifts. Kind of a silly thing, especially since one of [AC]’s intentions is to help people relax and enjoy the season. The point is, make it personal by making it about Jesus first. The rest is just details.

A blessed Advent to you. Relax and enjoy the season!

Petition regarding Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality bill

You can find it here.

Here's what it says.

We call on Christians around the world, and particularly Christian leaders, to oppose the extreme and violent “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” proposed in Uganda. We call on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to end his silence on the matter, to condemn the bill in public and to urge Ugandan Christians to oppose it.

In addition to life imprisonment for consensual sexual activity between people of the same sex, the bill would introduce the death penalty for anyone whose same-sex partner is disabled. It would introduce imprisonment for anyone in authority – such as a priest or minister - who knew of homosexual activity but failed to report it.

Most Christians, who hold a range of views on sexual ethics, will be horrified by these measures. By speaking out, Christian leaders can expose the hollowness of the religious rhetoric used by the bill’s supporters. Given the place of Anglicanism in Uganda, it is important that Rowan Williams adds his voice to the opposition to the bill.

Please do pass it on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Buy Nothing Day

Christmas is coming. Maybe you don't have as much to do as you think.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New blog on blogroll: GayUganda

I've run across the blog GayUganda before, but with the anti-homosexuality legislation, I've run across it several times and finally added it to my own blog reader. I've added it to my blogroll on the left, there, but wanted to make sure you knew it was there.

This morning there was a very moving entry called Loving Hate which I encourage you to read. I was particularly heartbroken by the line, "They say they love me." Kind of reminds me of the joke Star Trek song in which Kirk says, "We come in peace (shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill)." Kind of reminds me of Elizabeth of Hungary too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One response to the Ugandan bill

I never thought I would be saying this, but thank God for Exodus International, an organization devoted "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." They have sent a letter to President Museveni opposing the anti-homosexuality bill.

It makes a great deal of sense, given their ministry. "If homosexual behavior and knowledge of such behavior is criminalized and prosecuted, as proposed in this bill, church and ministry leaders will be unable to assist hurting men, women and youth who might otherwise seek help in addressing this personal issue," they write. They conclude by saying, "Please consider the influence this law will have upon those who may seek help in dealing with this difficult issue as well as church and ministry leaders committed to demonstrating the compassion of Christ to all."

Good on you. I also suspect (and hope) this to be a very persuasive argument. Fingers crossed. Prayers continue.

John of the Cross

Today is the proposed commemoration of St. John of the Cross, a saint I appreciate personally for helping me revise another of my youthful beliefs that I no longer find useful.

In seminary, I took a wonderful class on John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, three very different saints and mystics (though John and Teresa knew each other). The wonderful thing I got from John of the Cross was the notion of the dark night of the soul. Specifically, that the dark night is not a bad thing, but in fact a time of great spiritual growth. As I understood it (and vastly simplified), that time when a person feels dry and distant from God doesn't necessarily mean that the person is doing something wrong. John's advice (again as I understood it and vastly simplified) is not to get upset about it, but recognize it for the part of spiritual life that it is.

What a change from the message I heard growing up, that "When God feels far away, guess who moved," that clearly you are doing something wrong, and that your efforts need to be redoubled. I am so grateful to John of the Cross for teaching me to embrace the dry and dark times and not harass myself in the midst of them. The dark night of the soul is not a flaw or a failing and God continues to be present.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Elizabeth of Hungary, belatedly

Long time no write. I've been busy, I guess, or didn't have anything to say, or a combination of things. But I've been thinking...

First of all, let's talk about Elizabeth of Hungary. Her feast day was last week, but she's been preying upon me. She got a lot done in a very short time, what with dying at 24. The write-up James Kiefer did is very beautiful:
The numerous "St. Elizabeth's Hospitals" throughout the world are for the most part named, not for the Biblical Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, but for this princess of Hungary. She was concerned for the relief of the poor and the sick, and with her husband's consent she used her dowry money for their relief. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, while her husband was away in Italy, she sold her jewels and established a hospital where she nursed the sick, and opened the royal granaries to feed the hungry. After her husband's death in 1227, her inlaws, who opposed her "extravagances," expelled her from Wartburg. Finally an arrangement was negotiated with them that gave her a stipend. She became a Franciscan tertiary (lay associate) and devoted the remainder of her life to nursing and charity. She sewed garments to clothe the poor, and went fishing to feed them.

Sounds great.

Then I read further. First of all, she got married at 14. I suppose 13 in the 1220's is older than 13 today and marriage at that age was pretty common (Francis died in 1226, just to place you in the period), but still. I mean, the marriage was a political one, planned since she was four years old. Her mother was murdered when she was 6; the first prince she was supposed to marry died so she got handed down to the younger one, Ludwig, who was 21 when they married, and sounds like a very decent man.

After his death, though, when Elizabeth was 20, things seemed to go downhill. Just in terms of her not having any defenses. As you saw in the blurb above, her in-laws kicked her out. Perhaps worse, as far as I'm concerned, was her "spiritual instructor," Master Conrad of Marburg. Here's the relevant passage from the fairly affirmative Catholic Encyclopedia entry:
[Conrad] was a very ascetic and, it must be acknowledged, a somewhat rough and very severe man. He was well known as a preacher of the crusade and also as an inquisitor or judge in cases of heresy...Conrad treated Elizabeth with inexorable severity, even using corporal means of correction; nevertheless, he brought her with a firm hand by the road of self-mortification to sanctity.


There is also conjecture that Elizabeth was not kicked out by the in-laws, but "left the Wartburg voluntarily, the only compulsion being a moral one. She was not able at the castle to follow Conrad's command to eat only food obtained in a way that was certainly right and proper."

Ew again.

And then,
Elizabeth's aunt, Matilda, Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery of Kitzingen near W├╝rzburg,...sent her to her uncle Eckbert, Bishop of Bamberg. The bishop, however, was intent on arranging another marriage for her, although during the lifetime of her husband Elizabeth had made a vow of continence in case of his death


And to top it all off, after Elizabeth had become a third order Franciscan,
Conrad of Marburg still imposed many self-mortifications and spiritual renunciations, while at the same time he even took from Elizabeth her devoted domestics. Constant in her devotion to God, Elizabeth's strength was consumed by her charitable labours, and she passed away at the age of twenty-four, a time when life to most human beings is just opening.

After reading all of this, it left me furious. This woman was abused by so many people, and especially in the church, I find myself livid. Thank God for Ludwig, but how sad, how shameful that the Church would kill a young woman and then be pleased to call her a saint. I continue to find this disturbing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When commission chairs attack

Previously, on the Infusion...

You might recall that I went to see Explosive Graphite at the Riled Marmot Film Festival. Or you might not. It was a couple of months ago. At any rate, I promised that I would post the episode with the fabulous fight scene. At long last, here it is. The evil leader of the fight on the bridge ("Bodyguard 1") is the chair of a certain church's Parish Life commission. I find that delightful.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Uganda World Day of Prayer

I don't know if you've been following the news about a new anti-homosexuality bill that has been proposed in Uganda. It's a harsh piece of work: prison for anyone convicted of homosexuality; the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality;" prison for "promotion of homosexuality;" criminal penalties that apply to citizens and permanent residents living outside of Uganda; and declaring null and void any “international legal instrument whose provisions are contradictory to the spirit and provisions enshrined in this Act.” [summary courtesy of an editorial in today's Daily Monitor.]

A group of Facebookers declared today as Uganda World Day of Prayer, primarily in response to this bill in Parliament, and I do ask your prayers. I'm sure they'll count through the end of the week. Maybe even later.

It has been suggested that people write to various members of the Ugandan government; I personally doubt the efficacy of this move, though if you feel so called, then you can find all the names and addresses here.

The reason I am skeptical about this is because the Ugandan government is in no way accountable to individuals outside its borders. Given that President Museveni said just last weekend that he feels European homosexuals have started a recruitment drive in Uganda, I'm worried that direct pressure from citizens of Western countries will just encourage Ugandan leaders to dig in their heels. The chances of intercultural miscommunication seem huge and I worry that writing these letters and emails will be counterproductive.

Instead, I would suggest writing people within the U.S. who might have sway over people and events in Uganda. For example,

Rick Warren, who is a rock star in Uganda. You can write him at
Saddleback Church
1 Saddleback Parkway
Lake Forest, CA, 92630

Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
She has a strong background in African Affairs, and the U.S. mission to the U.N. has officially endorsed a declaration on the decriminalization of homosexuality. It seems a worthwhile thing to ask them what diplomatic steps are being taken on this specific issue. You can write the U.S. mission to the U.N. here.

For that matter, you can contact the UN directly with a very brief message (so I found) here.

You can also contact the U.S. State Department since they are the people most involved in foreign affairs. Here's their contact us page.

Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury has not yet made any statement regarding this bill. If you feel that a statement from him would be beneficial, you may contact him here.

And do keep praying.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reading the Bible: random thoughts

I really enjoyed reading the comments Anonymous (and I believe I know who you are, JEP) wrote on the post I put up last week about my own experiences reading the Bible. They raised a lot of thoughts which are appearing in random order here.

1) Did people who couldn't read the Bible (either due to its unavailability or their inability to read) feel guilty about not reading Scripture? How much of this emphasis on individual Bible study is modern?

2) I really do wish people in the liberal church were more Biblically literate. It would give us a much stronger base upon which to discuss why we think, as opposed to believe, that a fundamentalist reading of Scripture is erroneous. As it is, so often it seems that one side knows the Bible inside out but misses the point and the other side gets the point but doesn't know the Bible very well. This does not help either side take the other seriously. In truth, I think this is one of the weakest parts of the liberal church's argument; it would be very hard if I were a fundamentalist to take liberals seriously if they haven't seriously engaged the texts as a whole.

3) Oh, it annoys me when the Lectionary avoids tough passages, when they snip around the difficult bits. I tend to preach on those bits the most.

4) *Shameless Plug* I love the way we approach Scripture in the Confirm not Conform program. Really, the lessons about the Bible for both the youth and adult program are terrific. One of the things we ask in the Adult program for the homework is exactly what Je--I mean Anonymous writes about when she (or he) describes her (or his) early Bible memories. I, for one, am convinced that our early experiences of the Bible shape how we think we can approach the Bible as an adult, and it's important (or at least helpful) to know what those attitudes are.

5) Isn't this a great T-shirt? h/t to The Episcopal Cafe for first bringing it to my attention.

And, finally, out of curiosity, is there any particular book of the Bible that you specifically avoid reading or have never read? Is there any bit of the Bible that scares you?

Quote of the Day

When will the world learn that intolerance solves no problems? This is not a lesson which the Fundamentalists alone need to learn; the liberals also need to learn it.

From a 1922 sermon. So the answer would seem to be, "We're mighty slow learners."

Another beautiful bit:

“Cantankerousness is worse than heterodoxy.” There are many opinions in the field of modern controversy concerning which I am not sure whether they are right or wrong, but there is one thing I am sure of: courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness are right. Opinions may be mistaken; love never is.

This whole sermon is worth a read.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Do yourself a favor and read this fantastic interview with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks celebrating the re-release of their 2,000 year old man routines. Enjoy!

More on Spiritual Discipline, or "What Have You"

I wrote the previous entry on backsliding rather rapidly and need to do more thinking about that. One of the ways in which I wimped out was in saying, "But of course you need spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study," when the truth is my primary spiritual disciplines are Facebook, Twitter, and blogging, mentioned in the entry under the wimpy phrase, "or what have you."

I'm not kidding about that, by the way. I do think of these things as spiritual practices that help connect me to others and to God. Which is what any good spiritual practice does.

One of the essays in Jesus Girls that resonated most powerfully with me was about the sometimes obsessive devotion to daily Bible reading churchy people often feel we must do all the time. In Quick and Powerful, Hannah Faith Notess (who also edited the collection) writes about Bible memorization, the read-the-Bible-in-a-year systems, the highlighted and underlined passages.

Oh, it was all so familiar. In high school we had a special group that met after church to practice our memory verses (which came in this nifty little packet so we could carry them around and practice). I read the whole Bible through at around that same time, starting with the Old Testament since I thought the New Testament, upon which our preacher would expound using the original Greek, would be too hard. Somewhere I still have the red binder in which I painstakingly went through all of the Pauline epistles verse by verse, giving my personal, teen-aged commentary. My Good News Bible is full of highlights and underlines.

In college in InterVarsity, I was introduced to the concept of the Daily Quiet Time. There was much praise at our noon prayer group for a good daily quiet time and requests for God's help in the face of bad ones.

This devotion to devotions has taken different forms in the Episcopal Church. There's the Daily Offices, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which treat the pray-er to great swaths of Scripture.

Then there's my bete noire: Lectio Divina which seems to be what all the really spiritual people do. Can't stand it. I've tried numerous times. Can't do it. Just can't. It's not for me.

My Bible reading these days is mostly in sermon prep. One poll of pastors reported in shock that "Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study." I fail to see the problem with that--and what makes you think that I'm not reading the Sunday lections for my personal devotions? Those passages do their work on me just the same as any other parts of the Bible.

I am very glad I did get such a strong background in Scripture, but it has been very hard to let go of the guilt that I'm not as devoted as I used to be. But Notess' essay hit it on the head--at least on my head--when she wrote, "If I was going to read the Bible in any meaningful way, I had to give all those seeds I'd crammed into my mind a little time to sprout. So at eighteen, I put the Bible on the shelf for a while. I took a step back from it, just to see what would happen."

The collect for this Sunday is one of my favorites:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The "inwardly digest" part is always the best; it makes me happy every time. Finally I get that the happiness comes not only because the image amuses me, but because it's a very freeing thought. I'm still trying to let go of the guilt of not always reading, marking and learning, but to know in my heart and not just my head that inwardly digesting is part of the process too. I am reassured by the thought that perhaps I am not refusing the nourishment that comes from Scripture but savoring the food I've already been given.

I said earlier that "I'm not as devoted as I used to be," but I don't think that's true. I think I'm just as devoted to Scriptures, but finding my way into the practices that best stir me up to love. Certainly that's my hope.

Long one today! Whew! Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Obit headline du jour: "David Lloyd, 75, Dies; Wrote 'Chuckles' Episode"

I knew immediately who that must be, but only because a friend of mine, who knows my fondness for all things funereal, marveled that I had never heard of the Chuckles the Clown episode (and goggled still further when I admitted I had never seen the Mary Tyler Moore show). She promptly sat me down and had me watch this clip:

Which, of course, raises the question: What are they going to say at David Lloyd's funeral? I expect the phrase, "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants" will make an obligatory appearance, just because that will be hanging over the proceedings unless it's said.

The obit has a great analysis of the effectiveness of the Chuckles episode, saying, "the power of the episode was Mr. Lloyd’s exploration of how people deal with shock over a death, by deflecting it with humor or stifling it with somberness."

On the other hand, I think a good funeral allows for the genuine mix of emotions to make their appearance. I hope that for Mr. Lloyd's own funeral, there will be both laughter and tears. I imagine there will be.

Snuggie alert!

I went to the neighborhood Bed, Bath and Beyond last night.
And saw a wall o' Snuggies 12 feet high! You can only get a bit of it here.

They are taking over! This must be stopped!

On the other hand, these would be a nice accessory for zombies who must find it difficult to dress, what with this rigor mortis. In fact, I bet that's what it is! It's a preparation for the coming zombie apocalypse!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The theological closet: Backsliding

One of the themes that came up over and over again in the various books I've been reading about being Evangelical is backsliding, a term I have not heard in the liberal church. Backsliding is the sense that if you do not keep up the self-discipline of a Christian life, through daily Bible study, prayer, devotions, attendance at worship, small groups, reading Christian books and periodicals, and generally staying within the confines of Christian culture, you are bound to lose your faith entirely.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this. First of all, I do think that a certain level of spiritual discipline is a good thing: regular prayer, reading the Scriptures, what have you. But the notion that unless you do all of this all the time, you are bound to fall into perdition is actually, as I think of it, rather sad. It suggests that a) we can maintain our faith through our own efforts and b) if we don't, then God will be powerless to hold on to us through God's own love and presence.

I certainly feel I have a healthier relationship with God and a better understanding of God now than I did when I was younger. Maybe it would be better, simply because of mature understanding, along with the Daily Quiet Times (DQTs) and other paraphernalia of a more conservative faith. But one of the things a more liberal faith has given me is freedom from fear.

That would be c) in the list above. I hope a lot of people are involved in their spiritual disciplines because they want to do so, but much of the time I feel it is motivated by fear: if you don't do this, then something terrible will happen. Not doing the spiritual disciplines becomes its own level of sin instead of something that will help us to be free from sin and be more loving to God and neighbor.

In the baptismal covenant, we promise to "persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord." I find that very refreshing, that if and when I sin, there is something I can do about that. There's hope.

I posted last week about Sesame Street's 40th birthday. Today is the actual day. Big Bird says it well. I'm not going to call it backsliding any more.