Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quote of the day

“It won’t be a tourist attraction,” Isgrig said, “but it’s something.”

From a NY Times article on "three baseball fans [on a] quest to locate every former Negro leagues player without a headstone and do their share to right the wrong." Very touching.

On marriage: Mind your own business

It wasn't until I was in seminary that I heard for the first time the notion that "the church should get out of the marriage business." The argument is that if marriage is a civil contract related to property and inheritance rights, taxation and other financial issues, and custody concerns, then that's really a state issue. The church's job should be to counsel and bless.

It wasn't until same sex marriage became an issue that I started hearing that "the government should get out of the marriage business." The argument here is that if marriage is indeed a sacrament, then it is completely inappropriate for the government to provide such a thing.

A number of years ago, I remember hearing from friends about their daughter's wedding in Costa Rica. They told me that it was in two parts: the legal wedding, performed by a judge, and then the religious ceremony. I was looking this morning to see if I had indeed remembered this correctly. This answer is, sort of. "The catholic priests are the only "pastors" of any religion who have the legal authority to carry out a marriage. For this reason, protestant parishioners must first get a civil marriage and then proceed with the religious ceremony," apparently.

It seems to me that one of the complications to this issue is that both the church and the state have a role in the wedding business. Marriage has a legal meaning. It also has a spiritual meaning. The problem is that we've squished them together. They really don't fit.

I agree that the church should be out of the marriage business: the part that decides on the legal ramifications, the financial entanglements, and the general "what does this mean in a court of law" questions, and marks the relationship with red tape.

I also agree that the government should be out of the marriage business: the part that blesses and prays for people, and marks the relationship with religious ceremony.

Of the two, the faith side has the mushier job, which seems in keeping with the fact that people have many different faiths. Getting married should mean the exact same thing for everyone, legally, but will mean vastly different things for people, religiously. Isn't that the way it is already?

I personally would love to see the Costa Rica two-step process for everybody. Everybody is legally married in front of a judge with a set kind of swearing-in and then, separately, have whatever kind of religious ceremony suits them best. Well, I can dream, can't I?

My two cents.

My further two cents on church wedding issues.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Icon of Peter and Paul

I'm not exactly sure why, but whenever I think of Peter and Paul together, I imagine them as old men playing checkers.

Yeah, like that. Paul comes out when things are slow at the Pearly Gates and they play a few games, do a little trash talking, reminisce. Like that. Not much to get all het up about.

Teaser Tuesday, June 29

On Tuesdays, it's our habit round these parts to join in the Teaser Tuesday Tradition of Miz B at Should Be Reading. If you want to join in, just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page on your blog (or in the comments of the Should Be Reading blog)
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Hardball (V.I. Warshawski Novels)This week's Teaser is from Hardball a new(ish) V.I. Warshawski novel from Sara Paretsky I saw lying around the Hot Read table at the library last week.

Here's the teaser:

I tried to smile, but Rivers's fury made my mouth wobble. I drove slowly to my office, staying off the Ryan: I wasn't steady enough to deal with semis roaring around me.

We're still trying to find out what made Rivers furious. A typically good offering from Paretsky, and a savory 400 pages of reading to boot.


Previously on Teaser Tuesday: I was reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks which is a terrific book. I reviewed it here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The church loses another eccentric

This morning, a friend of mine sent me the link to Anglican Online's weekly update which bemoaned the loss of the church's eccentrics.

Of all places, the Church should be the encourager and caretaker of character in its deacons, priests, and bishops. Forgive us whilst we indulge in a massive generalisation, but it seems that there are far too many terribly earnest but dreadfully dull people in collars these days...One wonders whether we're so intent on weeding out the barmy and deranged that we excise the merely colourful.

And then today I saw the obituary for Father Paul.

Father Paul, otherwise known as Lieutenant-Commander the Reverend Paul Inglesby, who has died aged 94, held unconventional views on the origin of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and once tried to stop the Queen watching Steven Spielberg's alien film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, claiming it was a satanic plot to seize control of her mind.

He wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to urge him not to let the Queen attend the premiere "as, he claimed, the film had a satanic theme involving mind-control." I bet the +ABC longs for the days when he got letters like that. I bet he was also happy when Father Paul decided to jump ship and join the Greek Orthodox. Why they took him, I do not know. In the interest of full disclosure, I note that this happened after a trip to California.

Father Paul seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to warn anyone who would listen "about the dangers of an obsessive interest in flying saucers and the like. This interest, Inglesby cautioned, was fraught with menace for the unwary and riddled with heresy and false belief." I find this somewhat...ironic. Are you spending a lot of time worrying about UFOs? Do you have a complete set of the Flying Saucer Review? Did you know there was such a thing as the Flying Saucer Review?

His book, UFOs and the Christian, is, alas, out of print. And the church has lost another of its eccentrics.

Rest in peace, Father Paul. The truth is out there.


Monday morning preacher: Amen and other sign-offs

Technically, one is not supposed to end a sermon with Amen. "Clyde Grubbs notes that saying amen is appropriate at the end of the sermon if the last part of the sermon is a prayer. But without a prayer, the amen has lost its context and I would give it the boot," writes the Boy in the Bands.

The problem is that, as an oral/aural form, listeners need something to cue this is the end, and one thing I don't remember ever learning was that I needed to develop a sign-off. You know, like "And that's the way it is," or "Good night and good luck" or "You stay classy, San Diego." All we were told was, "Don't say 'Amen.'"

So all lot of us ended up fresh out of seminary, preaching our sermons and then simply walking away from the pulpit when we'd finished our prepared text. It feels really awful--at least to me, kind of clunking at the end. So I end up saying Amen because I've never thought about how to get out of the sermon aside from sitting down.

I think you need a ritual ending to signal the close of certain kinds of ritualized speech. A "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America" kind of a thing. (Also a ritual beginning which, in most Episcopal churches I know, is "Please be seated.")

I did learn about this in storytelling classes that I took some time ago--once upon a time, even--that listeners need ritual beginnings and endings to enter and exit the story. There's "And they all lived happily ever after," of course, but there's a lot more: "And if they have not died, they are living there to this very day," for example. My favorite is Jackie Torrence's, "And that's the end of that." (I love this list of endings--and note it includes "Amen.")

Yesterday, the preacher at the church I attended ended with, "I speak to you in the name of the Savior," which, even though I had never heard her preach before, I knew was the cue to say Amen. So there are other ways to end it!

I would feel a bit nervous about claiming that I speak in the name of the Savior. I'm going to have to work on a good closing line. In the meantime, I'm sticking with Amen, prayer or no prayer. It's quick, to the point, and signals closing in a way that people understand. Although I confess I'm tempted by, "You stay classy, Saint Swithin's," or whatever the name of the church may be.

And that's the end of that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Today is the UN's observance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. I have to say it is embarrassing to me how few of the major U.S. news outlets are recognizing this at all.

The big headline on CNN is that the UN urges Iraq to ratify the convention against torture. The article doesn't even mention what to me is the headline: that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, "Torture cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever, whether during a state of war or in response to terrorism, political instability or any other public emergency.”

I am embarrassed that my country has participated in torture. I am embarrassed that we don't even seem willing to admit it. I am embarrassed that we seem to be willing to continue to participate in torture in the name of emergency circumstances, national security, or the war against terror. Embarrassed, ashamed, and deeply, deeply sorry that we have played any part in torture in this world.

And so I plan to mark the day by writing a letter to President Obama reiterating this point: that torture cannot be justified for any reason. I hope you will consider joining me, and praying for those who have been victims of torture.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Interesting things that other people have written, said, or done

Because what better way is there to spend your time on a beautiful Friday in June than reading a bunch of stuff on the internet?

Peculiar but fascinating

I love Errol Morris. And not just because he made a documentary about pet cemeteries and not in a creepy Stephen King way. Errol Morris sees things. And then explores them. And then tells you about it. He's one of those people that I would put on my list of "If I could have dinner with anyone," except that I would probably just gawk.

At any rate, Errol Morris wrote what was supposed to be one article for the NY Times that ended up being a five-part article on how we don't know what we don't know called The Anosognosic's Dilemma. (He tweeted: "APOLOGIA: I promised my editor something shorter. Oopsies. Another 20,000 word epistle. (People get badly punished for this sort of thing.)") Somehow it covers Woodrow Wilson, French surrealism, a bank robber who covered his face with lemon juice, phantom limbs, and how we convince ourselves to believe things we don't really believe. It's a mind-boggler, though it does leave me a bit shaken, wondering what I don't know I don't know. Which I think is the point.

Isn't that a great diagram?

Another dilemma

I stumbled across a different five-part series at (which carries Doonesbury): The Humanitarian's Dilemma, written by a young woman who went to DR Congo to work for an aid organization and got very caught up in the complications of trying to make things better for one boy. Oh, do I understand what she's talking about. It starts:

I met the boy on the streets of Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. I was there because I wanted to learn about poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, that thing we are supposed to feel guilty about and don't really understand. I did feel guilty about it, but I don't anymore.

It's a painful read because it doesn't resolve anything. But I was glad I found it.

Zombie diplomacy

This was a fun thing to skim. Someone writing for Foreign Policy magazine developed an international relations theory of zombies, exploring the difference between realist, liberal and neoconservative approaches.

Realism predicts an eventual live-and-let-live arrangement between the undead and everyone else. Liberals predict an imperfect but nevertheless useful counterzombie regime. Neoconservatives see the defeat of the zombie threat after a long, existential struggle. These scenarios suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon's dominant narrative of human extinction is overstated.

It's good to be thinking about these things ahead of time.

Zombie tennis players

Because otherwise, you'll be eaten at Wimbledon. I didn't find this live blog of the Isner/Mahut match until too late to pull the quote that I later put in my blog entry yesterday. But the whole thing is pretty funny, and just keeps getting funnier.

6pm: The score stands at 34-34. In order to stay upright and keep their strength, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have now started eating members of the audience. They trudge back to the baseline, gnawing on thigh-bones and sucking intestines. They have decided that they will stay on Court 18 until every spectator is eaten. Only then, they say, will they consider ending their contest.


I really like this YouTube that I saw at the Internet Monk which talks about and refutes "the belief that the larger the impact of our ministry, the more legitimate we are as ministers of the gospel." Very encouraging.

OK, I'm going outside now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksIn 1951, a tissue sample taken from a woman being treated for cervical cancer in the colored ward at Johns Hopkins became the first cell line successfully cultured and kept alive. The woman, Henrietta Lacks, died. The cells, named HeLa, lived. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the story of both--and particularly of the Lacks family and the impact this story had on them.

It's an incredible story. From a science point of view, these cells allowed us to cure polio. From a social point of view, what are the ethical implications of using people's cells without their knowledge in the furtherance of medicine--especially when you add race and class into the mix? From a religious point of view, what happens to us after we die? What is body and what is spirit? From a personal point of view, who was this woman, and how did her death/immortal life affect her whole family? And from the intersection of them all, what happens when you discover that your mother, who has been dead for umpteen years is still, in some ways, alive?

Henrietta seems alive and active throughout. When her cells are responsible for curing polio, it's because her cousin once suffered from it and "She always did say she wanted to fix it. She couldn't help me because I had it before she got sick, but she saw how bad it got. I imagine that's why she used them cells to help get rid of it for other folk." When her cells contaminate other cell lines, it's because "My mother was just getting back at scientists for keepin all them secrets from the family."

Those secrets are oppressive. There's an incredible scene towards the end of the book when Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, receives prayer from her cousin, Gary, while the author, Rebecca Skloot, watches and takes notes.

Looking at me, Gary said, "[Deborah] can't handle the burden of these cells no more, Lord! She can't do it!" Then he raised his arms above Deborah's head and yelled, "LORD, I KNOW you sent Miss Rebecca to help LIFT THE BURDEN of them CELLS!" He thrust his arms toward me, hands pointed at either side of my head. "GIVE THEM TO HER!" he yelled. "LET HER CARRY THEM."

I sat frozen, staring at Gary, thinking, Wait a minute, that wasn't supposed to happen!

Ah, but it did, and so many more things besides.

It's an incredible book. Rebecca Skloot writes both with clarity and great sympathy. Certainly it feels to me the she does carry those cells for the whole Lacks family.

I was especially grateful for the "Where are they now?" section at the end--but don't read it until the end (as I did); it will give away some things you won't want to know until you get there. It's sometimes painful to get there. But you'll want to get there. It's very much worth it.


I only watched the last hour of the Mahut-Isner match--wow! Eleven hours and five minutes! Over three days! Incredible. Congratulations to both men.

In case you hadn't heard, "John Isner finally brought an end to the longest match in tennis history today as he broke the serve of Nicolas Mahut to secure a 70-68 victory in the deciding set of their first-round Wimbledon encounter."  That's not a set of tennis; that's a basketball game!

Update: the LiveBlog from the Guardian puts it much better:

The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It's tennis's equivalent of Waiting For Godot, in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky.

Pretty much, yeah.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Quote of the day

"You never create anything without help. None of us is more important than the janitor."

-Wendell Logan

Is this the trashy novel I've been looking for?

For John Lennon, a young, idealistic zombie guitarist with dreams of global domination, Liverpool seems the perfect place to form a band that could take over the world. In an inspired act, Lennon kills and reanimates local rocker Paul McCartney, kicking off an unstoppable partnership. With the addition of newly zombified guitarist George Harrison and drummer/Seventh Level Ninja Lord Ringo Starr, the Beatles soon cut a swath of of bloody good music and bloody violent mayhem across Europe, America, and the entire planet.

...Through all this, one mystery remains: Can the Beatles sublimate their hunger for gray matter, stay on top of the charts, and stay together for all eternity?

Inquiring minds certainly want to know!

Wendell Logan

I never knew Wendell Logan while I was at Oberlin, but I was still moved when I saw his obituary today in the NY Times. Jazz studies became a major while I was there "more than two decades ago," as the article so kindly reminds me.

That's not that long ago. Especially when you note that Logan began offering jazz studies in 1973, more than three decades ago, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded their seminal album Jazz At Oberlin in 1953, more than half a century ago. (That's still my favorite jazz album, and I don't think it's because it was recorded in Finney Chapel.)

My flute teacher at Oberlin also played saxophone. If I'm remembering correctly, I believe he told us that back in the day, students were fined for playing jazz in the practice rooms. None of the official sources talk about that. I hope I'm not just making that up. Does anyone out there have the straight scoop on that?

Whether or not that's true, it is true that up until a couple of months ago, the jazz studies department was housed in the basement of what used to be the gym. On May 1, Oberlin dedicated a new building dedicated to jazz studies. It is beautiful, in Oberlin's typical architecturally incoherent way.

I learned from the write-up about it "that Oberlin did not allow the jazz piano pioneer Dave Brubeck to use its best Steinway for his now-legendary 1953 concert."

[C]onservatory Dean David Stull '89 asked, "How do you get from there to here?" The answer, he said, was Wendell Logan, professor of African American music and jazz studies chair. Stull then announced that the building's commons area would be named for the revered professor. Logan ended the ceremony with advice: "Make sure the focus is on the music."

You know what I love about that? To me what that says is that Professor Logan didn't need a building to prove jazz was legitimate; jazz is legitimate all on its own, whether or not other people believe it. To be able to keep that attitude for the 10+ years that jazz wasn't accepted as a major and the 20+ years when jazz there wasn't room for jazz groups to rehearse in the conservatory building...well, that takes an amazing spirit, I think. And when the major is in place and the building is built, to still say it's the music that's important--surely there's a lesson in that. What really matters here. It's a question I need to ask.

I'm glad Professor Logan got to see the building. I hope, even more fervently, that he gets to hear the music. Blessings and peace.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 22

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
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksI'm in the middle of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is a fantastic book. Review should be coming soon. In the meantime, here's a teaser:

Henrietta knew nothing about her cells growing in a laboratory. After leaving the hospital, she went back to life as usual.

Sounds like sci fi, doesn't it? True story, though.

Previously on Teaser Tuesday: Well, I slogged my way through Touch the Dark, skimming large swaths of it to see if a plot finally kicked in, which it didn't. Two main problems that I saw: one was the risible number of supernatural creatures. First it was just vampires. Then, as our hero is clairvoyant, there were ghosts (which vampires don't believe exist). Then werewolves. Then mages, witches, fairies, pixies (!) and a golem (!!) for good measure.  Also were-rats, and something involving the Oracle of Delphi.  I lost track.

But the real problem for me was that the book was ALL exposition, leading to dialogue like this:

A: "But why...?"
B: "explain explain explain"
A: "And where...?"
B: "explain explain explain"
A: "Then who...?"
B: "explain explain explain"

Which is fine at the beginning of the book, but when you're on page 200-something and you're still doing this, there's probably something wrong. I could go on, but will just say I didn't care for it.  I need some good trashy novels, people!  Your recommendations welcome.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Verbalizing

Oh, I was not happy with how my sermon went yesterday. The point, I think, was good, but the content needed some serious pruning in the middle.

I think my big mistake was that, until the service itself, what I was saying was only on paper. It looked pretty good on paper. But I hadn't done what I usually do which is talk it through with another preacher friend.

When I talk it through, I don't read a manuscript; I talk about what it is I'm trying to convey. Just having that in my head and having allowed it to come out into the air helps me a lot.

Only rarely do I practice doing the whole sermon out loud. Mostly it's just pieces, chunks of narrative that I try out, or summary statements that take me through the narrative flow. But I find it's embarrassing to do that, even though I know it makes my preaching better. It's something I have to make myself do. I'll mutter to myself in the car, perhaps, or while I'm watering the plants.

But I didn't do that last week and it showed--at least to me. I had a good place to land at the end, thank goodness, but in the middle I wandered around for what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights. I've pared it back to the gist for blogging purposes, but definitely not a grand performance.

Sermon for when you've run out of brave (greatly abridged)

It could have been so different. Elijah, fresh off his triumph massacring the prophets of Baal, could have stood up to Jezebel and said, "Who do you think you are? God will save me."

But that's not what happened. The way I read it, I think Elijah expected this empirical proof of Yahweh’s superiority to turn things around, but it didn’t. Things didn’t change. Jezebel came after him. And, as a friend of mine puts it, he ran out of brave.

I’m actually glad—-on our behalf—-for Elijah’s struggle. I think all of us reach a point at times where we’ve run out of brave and being told “Don’t be afraid; God loves you, God’s in charge” isn’t enough.

This morning I'm thinking about a friend of mine who has just learned that the melanoma she thought was gone has metastasized to lungs, bones and other parts of her body. She's still wondering what to do with that information. It strikes me as the same kind of shock Elijah experienced when he realized that even after his victory Jezebel was still going to kill him.

I think there are times when we don’t need to leap into courage mode, when we don’t need to convince ourselves of our unflappable faith, when we cannot convince ourselves to get back in there and fight. Sometimes what we want to do is run away. One of the beautiful things about this story is that God runs away with Elijah.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I looked closely at this story is that God does not speak in a still, small voice. He seems to speak quite clearly, saying to Elijah, "What are you doing here?" He asks it twice, and gets the same answer twice: "I've worked hard; they're trying to kill me; I'm all alone." The responses God gives to Elijah each time he says this are completely different and, I think, give us a clue of what we need and what we can do for others when they have run out of brave.

The first answer God gave was not to give an answer at all. No words would do. To me, the answer of the sound of sheer silence is the answer of presence, of just being there, of not having an answer, of not fixing things. Sometimes we don’t need solutions. We just need someone to say, “yeah, that’s rotten. I see that there's chaos and destruction going on for you. I’m not going through that, but I’m here.”

The second answer, and I'm so mad at the lectionary because it leaves this part out, is that God provides Elijah with support. The lectionary ends with the "Get back in there!" sounding phrase, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus." But what they don't say is that when he gets there, he's anointing a couple of kings and Elisha to become prophet in his place. Plus, he reassures him, there are 7,000 others like you who haven't worshiped Baal. He reassures Elijah he is not alone.

We need help! This is not a story about "get back in there and be brave." It’s a story that you are not alone. God gives Elijah a support system. It’s not just you and God. Whatever it is you are facing, God does not require you to face it all on your own. Where do we find God when we are in trouble? We find God wherever we find nourishment, love, support, encouragement, and peace of mind.

When we are in trouble, God knows we need help. And from this story, it looks like help comes in the most fundamental forms: sleep, food, rest, time away from the struggle, someone to listen to our complaints, presence without solutions, friends. And some reassurance that God is there through it all: through the chaos and the upheavals and the destruction. We don't have to always be brave, always be strong, always be certain. Even when we have run out of brave, even when we run away, even when all we want to do is complain of life's unfairness, God will be there.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Funnies

OK, I want to explain why I'm posting this even though it has nothing to do with Father's Day or anything else related to today. I'm posting this because my mom hates Romeo and Juliet. And because I think it's funny.

And to my dad and all you fathers out there, I'd like to say,
Onward and upward.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I learned at Fundraising Day

What I intended to write about yesterday, before mitregate took up all my brain space, was what I learned at Fundraising Day. I went last year and got all snooty about events as a result.

This year, once again I learned a ton, but here are a few things that really stood out for me.

At the first workshop I went to, "How to deliver superlative donor care," the presenter, Mal Warwick, said as a throw-away line something apparently that's commonly understood in fundraising circles: "If you want advice, ask for money; if you want money, ask for advice." And I thought of how often asking for money in the church is a top-down deal with the plans already in place, presented with a take-it-or-leave-it, support us or disappoint God sort of attitude.

One of the ways to deliver superlative donor care was to provide engagement, and asking for advice--consulting with donors--was one of the ways to do that. I'm not sure that we in the church have made that connection, that financial contributions are in part tied to whether the congregation feels it has been part of setting the course for the church. I think we often do ask for input, but I wonder if being aware of that connection would change how we go about designing pledge campaigns.

The second workshop I attended was called "Fundraising is a Team Sport: Building a Culture of Fundraising in your Organization," and although I got a great deal of useful information about that topic, the thing that stood out to me was something completely different.

The presenter talked about someone who had wanted to quantify what is the exact number of times of asking for money that is too many times. Is it that every month is too much but every other month is OK? Quarterly is too much but three times a year is OK? And what this person found was that the number of times an organization asked for money didn't matter; what mattered was that the organization was able to show the impact of the previous gift.

That made so much sense! I can imagine it as a conversation between two people. "Give me $5," says one. "I gave you $5 last week. What did you do with it?" "I just need $5 more dollars." I've had those kind of conversations and they are a real turn-off. And I can see how we often do that in the church, mindlessly asking for money without reflecting on how it has been used or how it has made an impact.

But their contributions do make an impact! I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the "God wants you to give money" trope. I realize now that this is partly because I was unclear how the church was using the money I gave to God. How much easier would it be to ask for money year after year if we were able to say, "Your money does this and this and this; we want your input other whether those are good things to do, if this is the mission to which we as a group feel God has called us. If you do think these are good things and part of our call as people of faith, we want you to know that your financial contributions will help us to do those good things and more in the future."

Thursday, June 17, 2010


'Tis true, my friends! The Presiding Bishop confirmed that she was asked not to wear her mitre at Southwark Cathedral last Sunday. In addition, "In the week before her visit, the presiding bishop said, Lambeth [palace, aka the Archbishop of Canterbury's office] pressured her office to provide evidence of her ordination to each order of ministry." Because you can't be too sure about these women bishops.

This whole debacle is on twitter as #mitregate where Diana Butler Bass wrote, "Has anyone in the CoE [Church of England] ever read American history? That was just abt the worst thing ABC RW cd have done in light of TEC origins." She talks about it further on her blog.

The problem, of course, isn't the headgear; it's the power trip. Do I give a rat's ass who wears a mitre? Not normally. But this has totally pushed my buttons. DBB is right. This does not sit well with me. Who knew I was such a rebellious colonist?

Personally, I would love it if all bishops carried their mitres this Sunday in support and in protest. Or maybe they could wear some of this militant millinery instead.

A little purple, in both men's and women's styles:

Or maybe a seasonal green, with a World Cup theme to boot. (So to speak.)

If you want to stick with the readings for the day, maybe this one could be the whirlwind.

Or, if you want something more practical, this one doubles as an aspergillum. Or aspergilla perhaps.

How the world will look at us if the Anglican Communion falls apart over headgear, I do not care to imagine. I'm going to take a deep breath now and remember that this is exceedingly unimportant in the Grand Scheme of Things.

hat tip (as it were) to Tom and Lorenzo who pulled these photos from Royal Ascot 2010.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How petty!

The headline at The Episcopal Cafe this morning:

Rowan to Katharine: don't wear your mitre in England

The Guardian reports:

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the US church and the first woman ever to lead an Anglican province, preached at Southwark Cathedral last weekend despite muted hisses of disapproval by conservative evangelicals. But close observers would have seen there was something missing: no mitre on her head. Who could be responsible? Step forward, Rowan Williams, Archbish of Canterbury, birthday boy (60 yesterday), who couldn't stop her preaching but said she could not wear the symbol of her office, or carry a bishop's crosier. Something to do with women bishops not yet being allowed in the C of E. A bit petty, some say, as Jefferts Schori is indeed a bishop and head of her national church – but in any event, she carried the mitre. And the subject for her sermon: God welcomes everyone, regardless of dress or condition.

UPDATE, I should add if true, petty, indeed. Also stupid. Let us count the ways:

1) Not wearing the hat doesn't mean you're not a bishop If the Archbishop really thinks that somehow not wearing a mitre reduces the authority of a bishop, well, that's just sad. Personally, if I were a bishop, I'd welcome the excuse not to wear the thing which, frankly, makes anyone look quite silly.

2) Way to win over the womenfolk!
Because this move says to me that the ABC is nothing but a mouther of platitudes about inclusion.

3) More publicity for the PB's visit Had the ABC merely done nothing, the PB would have preached and carried on. As it is, the PB preached, and the message of her sermon is repeated yet again today.

4) He managed to please absolutely no one
The PB still preached which would displease evangelicals, who hate her liberalism, and traditionalists, who don't believe she should have any authority at all. But he still managed to annoy liberals by the way she was treated. And the lack of hospitality would embarrass almost anyone.

5) Good job making yourself look like a jerk! Didn't he ever read that part about heaping coals of fire on someone's head? The PB managed to miss the coals and the ridiculous mitre too.

The Archbishop confuses me greatly. I really have no idea why he does these things.

The Presiding Bishop's sermon ended this way:

Those who know the deep acceptance and love that come with healing and forgiveness can lose the defensive veneer that wants to shut out other sinners. They discover that covering their hair or hiding their tears or hoarding their rich perfume isn't the way that the beloved act, even if it makes others nervous. Eventually it may even cure the anxious of their own fear by drawing them toward a seat at that heavenly banquet. There's room for us all at this table, there are tears of welcome and a kiss for the wanderer, and the sweet smell of home.

I wish the Archbishop had been there to hear it.

[image by Adrian Worsfold at Pluralist Speaks]

Teaser Tuesday, June 15

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
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 1)Today's Teaser is courtesy of Beverly, bookworm in residence at The Wormhole, who left a link to her teaser on my blog last week. After all, how could I not check out a book that begins:

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the obituary. The fact that it had my name on it was sort of a clue.

Touch the Dark is not my usual kind of read, but it's certainly a break from WWII.

Happy reading to you all!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday morning preacher: plain speak

Because I like preaching a lot and have thought a great deal about it, I'm going to try a new Regularly Scheduled Feature here at the Infusion. Let me know what you think. I'm not sure yet if this is for preachers or listeners or both, but I'll stumble along and find out.

One of the things I loved about the sermon I heard yesterday was that the preacher used straightforward language to talk even about the most profound things. I mean that she used words that you use every day: ask, welcome, dinner, question. There were even some tasty unexpected words in there ("scoff" leaps to mind, but I'm not even sure that was it), but even the less common words were still commonly held.

I love it when preachers sound like people and not like...preachers. Too often I wonder who the preacher is trying to impress. Actually, I suspect I know who the preacher is trying to impress. (Oh, all right, Ms. Beezle-Bubb, whom the preacher is trying to impress.) And many a listener, I suspect, comes out of those sermons thinking, "Wow! That was so profound I didn't understand it!" or (more likely), "Wow! I didn't understand that so it must be profound!"

But profound isn't in the length of the words but the depth of the thoughts. Preaching is a way of communicating something important. If listeners don't understand it, then our work as preachers has failed, no matter how erudite we sound.

Clarity is not dumbing down. Short, clear words are beautiful.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Word Series T-shirts

A recent blog discovery of mine, and a welcome change from the many church/politics blogs on my roster, is Design Fetish, a blog by a 25-year-old designer in Lebanon who finds amazing things every day that exemplify good/interesting/creative/beautiful/funny design.

This entry featured two of my favorite things: books and baseball! Get T-shirts for the American Canon (#2, Ahab, team captain) or the National Puncs (first baseman, Jay Gatsby).  That's Bartleby, out in Left Field.  (The American Canons are kind of heavy on Melville.)

Also cool? "To help ensure that there will always be new names to add to the Novel-T line-up, Novel-T donates $1 of the purchase price of each shirt to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills."

I love the order form, too.

Now when's there going to be a Western division?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Barnabas, in light of the Anglican Communion kerfuffle

I wrote a pretty decent reflection on St. Barnabas a year ago. I'm sorry to report--well, I'm not sorry to report, it's just true, that I seem to see all of these feasts nowadays through the lens of the current conflict in the Anglican Communion.

When I commented on the Internet Monk blog the other day, Chaplain Mike asked,

If the church ultimately cannot come to agreement on what the Bible says regarding homosexuality, and if it cannot come to agreement on what is and isn’t appropriate pastoral and ecclesiastical policy regarding inclusion of homosexuals in leadership, what then?

Wouldn’t it be better just to admit there is an impasse and then decide how to handle it, rather than get off on all these issues that distract from making some hard choices?

To which I absolutely agree, and is one of the reasons I like Barnabas--and why I'm grateful for the Book of Acts. Here's the story:

Barnabas was hugely instrumental in mentoring Paul in his early days as a Christian. The two of them (plus, as you will see, some supporting players) went on their first missionary journey, had amazing adventures, and came back to Antioch to report on what happened. Then,

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord.

[Acts 15:36-40]

Did you see that? They disagreed--sharply; they separated. There's no editorial comment about who's right and who's wrong. You know what else? No one wrote a report to study the situation.

I love this icon of Barnabas (on the left) and Paul, both holding up the church.

I think it helps (or helped at the time) that though we think of Paul as pre-eminent, really Barnabas was a church leader first. I'm not sure if they were viewed equally by the church, but I certainly suspect each had authority.

I know, I know, this was a staffing issue, not a doctrinal one. But aren't we saying that we're talking about who is qualified to lead the church? Isn't this, at heart, a staffing issue? The American church seems to be saying, "These people are qualified," and others are saying, "No, they are not." Isn't that what it boils down to?

Oh, I'm getting myself all tangled up now. The point is, sharp disagreements come. People separate. It doesn't mean that either side is evil. "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other," as Lincoln said. Conflict is not necessarily a sign of sin. "Gracious restraint"--giving in to one another's strongly held opinions--is not necessarily a virtue. That's one of the lessons I have learned from Barnabas. Blessed be he.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ephrem of Edessa

I needed a little break from the sturm und drang of the contemporary church, so I was glad today is the feast of Ephrem of Edessa who lived in the fourth century when things were oh-so-settled, doctrinally speaking.

The website where I get biographical sketches for each saint includes this fasting prayer he wrote:

O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of laziness, meddling, self-importance and idle talk. Instead, grace me, Your servant, with the spirit of modesty, humility, patience, and love. Indeed, my Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults, and not condemn my brothers and sisters, for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

which was lovely. I decided to read a little more Ephrem, who wrote a lot! Hymns, homilies, prayers, letters--the works--much of it while living in a lovely cave outside Edessa (now Antakya) in Turkey. And though he spent a lot of time rebutting heresy, the thing I read today that touched me was a letter he wrote to a wanna-be monk.

It wasn't the theoretical part ("array thyself in humility"), which is mighty easy to write and not so easy to do, that got me. It was the nitty-gritty things to do that made Ephrem real to me.

For example:

When thou wishest to drink from the water-bottle do not let thy throat make a gurgling noise like a layman. When thou art sitting in the midst of the brethren, and phlegm riseth up in thee do not eject it in the midst of them, but go some distance away, and eject it there.

Isn't that fabulous? "Don't be gross" as advice for faithful people. You can just imagine that Ephrem had to deal with some folks who had no social graces. Baseball players, probably.

And then there's this one:

If thou art on a mountain, or in a place wherein there is a sick brother, visit him twice daily: in the morning before thou beginnest to work with thy hands and in the evening. For it is written, my beloved in the Lord, `I was sick and ye visited Me.'

What I love about this is that Ephrem clearly knew that being a monk, being a solitary, didn't mean you didn't stop caring for the people around you. And not just in an "I'll pray for you" sort of way, but in the very practical, hands-on, seeing, talking, visiting kind of a way. Twice a day. Every day. I can learn a lot from Ephrem's sermons, I know, but this letter is going to be the far greater challenge.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On the current Anglican Communion kerfuffle

Those of you who could not care less about the machinations and intrigues of the Anglican Communion will want to skip this. Even for those of you who care, there are probably better things to do with your life than catch up on the latest poo-flinging. But for those of you who want to know and haven't heard, here's the latest in the saga:

So. Mary Glasspool, a priest partnered with another woman, was elected a bishop in Los Angeles and consecrated about a month ago. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth, plus a stern warning after the election from He Who Has Fantastic Eyebrows, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The consecration happened anyway. Sky remains intact.

He Who Has Fantastic Eyebrows writes another stern letter at Pentecost saying that those provinces who have strayed from three moratoria asked of the church (not consecrating (openly) gay bishops, not poaching parishes from other countries, not blessing same-sex unions) "should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged."

In response, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, aka the "nice American banker lady" [h/t Simple Massing Priest], wrote a response "which amounted to a very Anglican 'get stuffed.'" Much cheering from the American side.

The plot thickens. A letter is sent forth from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion "to those Episcopalians serving on the communion's ecumenical dialogues informing them that their memberships have been discontinued." ASTONISHMENT! Something actually happened!

But what's this? It only happened to the U.S. church, not to, oh, England where they celebrate the Friends of Dorothy sotto voce. And the Province of the Southern Cone North (a.k.a. the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, not to be confused with the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin)...well, that's just a partnership between supportive friends, not a border crossing at all, is it? Just write us a little note assuring us of the fact.

So. Got all that? Everyone who flouts the moratoria will be rebuked as long as the initials of their province are U.S.A. OUTRAGE!

There's a couple of things:

First of all, I hope we'll get over our outrage. The way it's coming across is, "If we get punished, they should get punished, too." Well, yes, it's not fair. But I hope we'll stop looking back about this and talking about what the Archbishop should do and instead think more deeply about what The Episcopal Church should do.

Second, the punishment we're talking about is penny-ante stuff. ++Williams can't de-consecrate anybody; he can't force the Presiding Bishop to resign; he can't require The Episcopal Church to stop electing whoever it wants as bishops; he can't stop people from different countries from talking with one another; he can't even stop ecumenical dialogue. HE KICKED SOME PEOPLE OFF A COMMITTEE! That's all the power he had. Lesson learned here: if he had more power, he'd use it, but he doesn't.

And thirdly, the punishment he meted out hurts him more than it hurts us. What has he shown himself to be but a tin-pot tyrant without any fangs at all. And he's shown that not only to us, but to the wider church as well. What has he said in kicking people off of an ecumenical committee is that, "when push comes to shove, when we disagree with you, we'll tell you to be quiet." I'm sure that's just peachy for the dialogues he hopes to have.

OK, I've gone on too long about things that aren't important. Please resume your life. Unless, of course, you are a hopeless church geek, in which case you might want to read the next post.

Larger Issues: Anglican Communion geekery

For serious Anglican Communion blog/politics geeks only.

Over on Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike graciously asked, "I wonder if we have some Anglican or Episcopal readers out there who would like to comment [on the current situation in the Anglican Communion]. Give the rest of us some insight about this situation. Many of us who are evangelicals or from more conservative denominations have watched this from afar and have been shaking our heads for some time. It would be easy to cast stones from a distance, but I’m interested in some inside perspective."

Here's the comment I left. Did I miss anything major? Do you agree/disagree?


Most of the Episcopal blogs I’ve been reading today don’t think of this in terms of the issue of homosexuality, and I think it might be helpful for you to know some of the other ways in which this is being seen. Here are a few pieces that I think are in play:

1. The structure of the American church The Episcopal Church has a very different structure from many (if not all) of the churches in the Anglican Communion. Although The Episcopal Church is still hierarchical, it’s also got a number of democratic systems in place that don’t match that of the Church of England. Lay people and priests have a lot bigger vote here than many places, and that’s something I think that causes confusion outside the U.S. I believe that ++Williams (and others) have been frustrated that the House of Bishops can’t just set policy by fiat, but the Episcopal Church also a House of Deputies, made up of lay and clergy delegates. It is through both houses that church policy is set at General Convention every three years.

Furthermore, It is lay and clergy members of a diocese who elect their bishop, and a majority of bishops and Standing Committees (diocese Board of Directors) who give their approval. That is very different from other places where bishops are appointed from the top rather than the bottom. When the Archbishop writes to the American church to stop doing something, it involves getting a lot more people on board than simply announcing from the top that something is to be.

2. The authority of women One of the often-unspoken tensions in the Anglican Communion is that of the authority of women. From my vantage point, the real catalyst for the departure of what we refer to as the “break-away dioceses” was not so much the election of Gene Robinson but the election of our current Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. I think it is no coincidence that the three dioceses I’m thinking of are also the three that still refused to ordain women 25+ years after the first ordinations in 1976.

I got to meet the Presiding Bishop when she spoke to a group of clergy women a couple of years ago. She told us that when she received Anglican Communion email, all other primates are addressed by their clerical titles; she is addressed as “Dr.” A commenter above referred to her as Mrs. Schori. The Church of England only started ordaining women as priests in the 1990’s and still does not have any women bishops. It is a peculiar thing that the representative of our national church must do so among people who do not believe she has any legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

3. The United States as a superpower One conjecture floating around the Episcopal blogosphere is that even though other Anglican churches break the moratoria the Archbishop speaks of, the U.S. is singled out because it’s the U.S. Certainly the Episcopal Church has an impact far outweighing its numbers; it provides the bulk of the money for most of the international Anglican Communion events (Lambeth Conference, etc.). Kudos to the Archbishop for being willing to lose that financial support. The thing that has many people scratching their heads, however, is why not treat all of the national churches equally. My conjecture is that, as much as we in the U.S. like to think of ourselves as one national church among many, we’re really the elephant in the room.

4. The post-colonial mindset Conversely, from where I sit, the Archbishop seems tremendously reluctant to say boo to any Anglican church in parts of the world that used to be English colonies or have that kind of painful past. Although I can understand that as well, in the U.S. church there was considerable consternation that we received a warning memo within 24 hours after a partnered woman was elected bishop, but ++Williams (to our knowledge) never gave a direct response to the Ugandan church when that country was considering the death penalty for homosexuals (as indeed it still is).

5. Honest differences of opinions seem to be punished while quiet hypocrisy is ignored I’ll end with this one. I think it’s pretty clear even from the comments above that there are a range of opinions about homosexuality. That’s just the presenting issue, here. One thing that sticks in the craw of a lot of Episcopalians is that the Archbishop is lecturing the U.S. church about homosexuality while it is commonly known that there are many gay Anglican clergy in England, many priests performing same sex blessings in England, and a gay bishop or two in England. I think many in the U.S. church are saying, “At least we’re being honest about who we are and what we believe and not trying to play both sides.”

A friend and seminary classmate of mine put this in her blog this morning:

“all this that we have been through and that we are still in the throes of… this was not an argument about LGBTQ in the church –LGBTQ were just the convenient whipping post that would bear the brunt of this argument —and about which much fear and energy could be culminated. This was an argument about the twin sources of yeast: power & authority and how these two things are wielded and who gets to wield them…”

I think that pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, June 8

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
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Fundraising Houseparty: How to Party with a Purpose and Raise Money for Your Cause - 2nd EditionJust to give you a break from WWII, this week's teaser is Something Completely Different: The Fundraising Houseparty!It's more of a booklet than a book, but very practical and helpful.

Here's the teaser:
Make sure that the Host is willing to invite friends and acquaintances. Because so many people are going to RSVP "no," be sure to invite three or four times as many people as you hope will eventually attend (e.g. if you want 20 people invite 60-80).

OK, so the plot's a little thin, but it's really useful information if you're part of a non-profit and need to do fundraising. If that describes you, I recommend it.

Meanwhile, back in WWII Paris, I've made it to 1941, so I've got quite a ways to go. It is a hard read for me, possibly because my concentration's shot after all the blogs I've been reading, possibly because I've never known anything about the French side of the war and the politics are hugely complicated. It took me I don't know how long to read one short chapter that involved a coup in the Vichy government. Whew! I have a couple of books waiting at the library; I may need to take a break, or at least sprinkle in some lighter fare.  I'm going to be at this book for quite a while.

I'll be looking at your Teasers quite avidly today!