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.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Boy, howdy, did someone miss the point

No, I am not making this up.

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Jesus wept. And then banged his head on the table. Repeatedly.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Funnies

Half-heartedly watching the World Series is the least I can do for my country

Boy, was I not into it this year. Also,

Congratulations to the Yankees on winning as many championships this decade as the Red Sox

Woo hoo (one finger circling in the air).

On to whatever sports season this is. Curling. Winter Olympics, here we come!

Friday, November 6, 2009

William Temple

Hot on the heels of Richard Hooker, we celebrate the feast of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44 (among other things). My favorite part of his biography was this:

He was at Oxford (Balliol) from 1900 to 1904, and was president of the Oxford Union (the debating society of the University). Here he developed a remarkable ability to sum up an issue, expressing the pros and cons so clearly and fairly that the original opponents often ended up agreeing with each other. This ability served him in good stead later when he moderated conferences on theological and social issues. However, it was not just a useful talent for settling disputes. It was, or developed into, an important part of his philosophy, a belief in Dialectic, derived from Hegel and from Plato. He thought that beliefs and ideas reach their full maturity through their response to opposing ideas. (emphasis mine, natch.)

Why am I thinking that the response in question is a bit more than "I'm right, you're wrong, I hate you, nanny nanny boo boo"?

A lot of people would call William Temple wishy-washy, I suppose. (One quote I found from him was, "Reacting to evangelists' fondness for quoting Isaiah 1:18, 'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. . . .' [Temple replied,] 'All my sins are grey.'") But I think it's a much harder and more treacherous road to understand the position that you instinctively oppose, knowing that to understand mean you might change.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Boy, we could use a Richard Hooker or two, couldn't we?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy All Saints Day!

It's a wonderful day to remember that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
The image is from the Dancing Saints icon at St. Gregory Nyssa in SF. More images of the icon here.

I'm on vacation, so blogging will be sporadic over the next week or so. Happy November to you!