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.