Friday, July 30, 2010

Various and sundry

As July Snarkfest 2010 slinks to a close, I apparently have run out of spleen to vent. Or whatever it is one vents when one vents one's spleen. In other words, other people say things so much better than I do, why should I bother? Oh, was that snarky? Maybe there's life!

At any rate, here are a few things that I found (or was sent) this week that were all very interesting but to which I had nothing to add. Read them as your fancy strikes you.

Molly D. sent me this great article on the Bay Area graves of famous people. I'm going to have to hie me to Colma one of these days to go visit Joe DiMaggio and Wyatt Earp. (I also need to rent Colma: The Musical.)

I stumbled across an article in the NY Times about microfinance lending in the United States. Sounds like a good idea to me. I'm glad to see microlending is not just for "those poor people over there."

The fabulous ladies at Dirty Sexy Ministry have a list of things they wish weren't true. I think my favorite is

8. We cannot run other people's lives. The most pervasive acts of violence are unsolicited advice. Most of the time, when people tell you their troubles, they simply want you to listen, not to tell them how to fix what's hurting them. Trust that if people want advice, they will ask. Otherwise, just listen, hold hands, or give them tissues when they cry.

That's probably because I'm still in denial about chocolate ice cream having calories (#1 on their list).

Finally, I loved this essay by a music industry insider called How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Technology.

Every creative field, maybe even every field, has been shaken by technology in recent history. Technology can be cruel. With one hand it gives and with the other it takes. It doesn't do it because it hates you. It just really doesn't care about you. It doesn't even know you exist. You are Molly Ringwald in the first act of every '80s movie she was in and technology is the boy she's crushing on.

I know, I know, it hurts. Take it from me though, that huge wave of technological progress sweeping over [insert your career field here] doesn't have to mean the end. At least, not the end of your career. Your life will definitely change. Your field will too. If you want to survive, I'll help you.

I read this [inserting Church here] and found it incredibly helpful. But I'm hardly in a position to use my new-found illumination, so I hope some people who do will read this and pass it along.

That should keep you busy for a bit! Have a terrific weekend.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

When spellcheck attacks

From a friend's Facebook status update this morning:

R. finds it amazing that once you figure out what you're actually trying to say your sermon goes from way too short to way too long.

P. Ran into that this week to. 4 pages of exegetical work on the verses oh the great commission. Could have made it longer! Since it is meningitis prayer this Sunday... Better keep it short I guess!

R.: Meningitis prayer? Sorry, like I said before, different prayer book up here. I assume this is a certain collect?

P.: Wow. Thanks auto correct spelling! Morning prayer is what I meant!

An Episcopalian practicing his meningitis prayer.

Don't let them take away your words! And, really, is "meningitis" more commonly used than "morning"? I ask you. Don't let this tyranny go unchecked. Or checked. Or something.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, July 27

After a couple of weeks away, I'm getting my Teaser Tuesday on. You know the drill:

* 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 and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book if they like your teasers!

Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us - and How to Know When Not to Trust ThemI've only just started the book Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us--And How to Know When Not to Trust Them, but I think it's going to be good!

Here's the teaser:
I'm not saying that experts don't make any progress, or that they ought to have figured it all out long ago. I'm suggesting three things: we ought to be fully aware of how large a percentage of expert advice is flawed; we should find out if there are perhaps much more disconcerting reasons why experts so frequently get off track other than "that's just the nature of the beast"; and we ought to take the trouble to see if we can come up with clues that will help distinguish better expert advice from fishier stuff.

If David H. Freedman can do that, this is important stuff! I smell DATA in my future!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quote of the day from the obit du jour

He was apprehended and identified as the intruder on the evidence of two bruises that exactly matched the horns of the family's pet gazelle, which must have butted him, but complained bitterly about Mrs Bailey "behaving in an unladylike manner, coming downstairs like that in her nightdress".

The "he" in question is the man who attacked the subject of our obit, Ronald Bailey, "Diplomat who was almost assassinated in Yemen and offered succour, but no visa, to Jesus Christ."

I hope Joan Bailey, who died in 2001, got a fabulous obituary send-off too.

Monday Morning Preacher: Notes vs. Manuscript

I took my first preaching class from the Baptists, which was just awesome. One of the things we were required to do for the class was preach one time from manuscript and one time from notes. Each time we were videotaped. And without question, every single person was better preaching from notes than from a manuscript.

Which didn't stop me from preaching from a manuscript for years. Years! And there are some good things about it. For one, if people want a copy of your sermon, you can give it to them. For another, it allows for complete consistency from one service to the next. For another, it makes it easier to use very specific words or phrases that are sometimes more interesting or compelling: words or phrases you wouldn't come up with on the top of your head. Finally, and this is both positive and negative, using a manuscript means you don't (necessarily) have to do the verbalizing preparation that notes require because you know all the words are there. And I hate the verbalizing practice--so embarrassing! (Which is crazy, because there's no one there to hear you; why it is more embarrassing than the actual preaching itself, I do not know.)

So I'm trying to figure out what it is about preaching from notes that makes it better. Frankly, if I didn't have that videotaped evidence from all those years ago, I wouldn't believe it. I still have a hard time thinking that my sermons from notes could possibly be better than the carefully crafted language of manuscripts.

sermon notes I found in the sacristy yesterday
One thing I do know is that when I am preaching from notes, I am more present to the congregation. I am not buried in the manuscript. Even on my best days reading from a manuscript, I still have to stay very connected to the text in a way that I don't when I am preaching from notes.

Here's the thing that still scares me when preaching from notes: what if I say something wrong? With a manuscript, I feel like I'm totally in control of what comes out of my mouth; with notes...well, it varies from service to service. And what if I get it wrong? What if I say something stupid?

Here, for example, is a section from the notes from the sermon I preached yesterday:

*Lord's Prayer
-normal language
-made fancy


That's not a lot to fall back on!

It's still hard, even after all this time, for me to trust that the words are going to be there, and that they are going to be valid and life-giving and gospel words even though they're not all laid out ahead of time. Every time I preach from notes I realize again that preaching is an act of faith, no matter how much I prepare. Maybe the best thing about preaching from notes is how humbling it is.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Funnies

I just finished To Kill a Mockingbird yesterday. It was better than I remembered--and often much funnier. I thought I'd post Lee's description of Scout and Jem's Aunt Alexandra for your reading pleasure today.

When she settled in with us and life resumed its daily pace, Aunt Alexandra seemed as if she had always lived with us. Her Missionary Society refreshments added to her reputation as a hostess (she did not permit Calpurnia to make the delicacies required to sustain the Society through long reports on Rice Christians); she joined and became Secretary of the Maycomb Amanuensis Club. To all parties present and participating in the life of the county, Aunt Alexandra was one of the last of her kind: she had river-boat, boarding-school manners; let any moral come along and she would uphold it; she was born in the objective case; she was an incurable gossip. When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning. She was never bored, and given the slightest chance she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Garden update, July 24

Mid-summer, and the flowers are going crazy! I'm going to try to limit myself, but it will be hard to tell, given the number of pictures I took this morning.

The bed along the front fence is finally all planted, though it needs to fill in some.
I think it's going to look terrific once things reach their full growth.

I'm anxiously waiting for this rudbeckia to bloom. It's been working on it for several days now. C'mon, baby! Don't be shy!

I'm super pleased about this next flower, another discovery at Annie's Annuals. It's called Antirrhinum Majus, or Chantilly Peach, and is from the snapdragon family, but doesn't have that snappy motion. Instead, it has these gorgeous little peach-colored flowers that fade into a beautiful butter yellow. I love this thing!

Meanwhile, over on the side fence, things are working according to plan. The plan was to have sweet peas growing on the outside of the fence and to have dwarf (or at least not giant) sunflowers peeking over them. So far, so good, but I need more of everything! I've got some more sweet peas started, but it will take a while.

And on the other fence, the tomato jungle is beginning to ripen.

I really need to stake these guys today.

And there may be an ear or two of corn soon.

Finally, in front, the hollyhocks are coming on strong. They look like satellite dishes, don't they? This is the flower that gets the most comments from people walking by saying, "What is that amazing flower?" I am happy to enlighten them.

The beds in the back are looking good, too. I especially love the black eyed Susans. They're going crazy!

I've had to put cages over some of the plants, though; otherwise they'll be flattened by the apples. What I should be doing is picking the apples!

Lots to do, but it's coming along. And I'm so glad to get to enjoy each bit as it develops. For me that's the best thing about the garden; the process is as satisfying as the result.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another Knowles of note

From the online miscellany Futility Closet:

In July 1979, Horace A. Knowles applied for a patent for a “novelty toy which assists the user in twiddling his thumbs”:

Heretofore no equipment has been available to the thumb twiddler to assist him in the twiddling procedure. To those twiddlers who lack sufficient coordination, not only is the repose and peace of mind which thumb twiddling normally brings not available, but the inability to carry out the twiddling successfully, including the inadvertent bumping of the thumbs against one another during the twiddling motion, causes additional frustration.

Is this satire? I can’t tell, and neither could the Patent Office — they approved Knowles’ application the following year.

Extra! Extra!

As in be an extra!

I keep forgetting to tell you: they are filming Moneyball in Oakland and they need extras for filming next week. I'm waffling about whether or not to sign up and go. But then again, why wouldn't I?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wyn Knowles

The "K" in LKT is Knowles so I was (perhaps inappropriately) excited this morning to see a Knowles in the obits--and a Knowles worthy of the name: Wyn Knowles, "Editor of Woman's Hour who covered the advent of women's liberation and broadcast the first expletive." Excellent!

And here's a wonderfully British sentence for you: "The contraceptive pill and legalised abortion were both introduced on her watch, and the programme covered both subjects on air with considerable vigour."

Neither contraception nor divorce, for example, was supposed to be covered without permission in writing from senior management. But under Wyn Knowles, Woman's Hour simply pressed ahead with these matters on the basis, in her words, that "the men were all at lunch".

Isn't that fabulous? But you want to know about the expletive, don't you? Ah, here we are:

Early in Wyn Knowles's editorship, in 1971, the programme weathered one of its most ferocious storms, when it became the first BBC radio programme to air the "F-word", which was used by an 18-year-old sixth-former in a discussion about the underground press that had flourished in the 1960s. Ironically, the student used the word to illustrate, and denigrate, the kind of language used in those publications – "f---ing this and f–ing that" – but a considerable fuss ensued and, whipped up by outraged press coverage, more than 200 listeners jammed the BBC switchboard with calls.

Here's to a woman who knew how to handle a considerable fuss. And on the feast of Mary Magdalene, too. Press on, Ms. Knowles.

Vague thoughts on turning the other cheek

I wrote this whole long post yesterday tracing the Shirley Sherrod imbroglio. And then Blogger ate my post, which is probably just as well. It was convoluted and not terribly clear. But there were two actual points that I wanted to make.

The first was this: when I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about sexism, there's an implicit assumption that if you are reasonable, other people will be reasonable too. I just wanted to be clear that, if we are doing our best to be reasonable, the chances are only marginally better that those responding to us will be reasonable in return. And that someone else being unreasonable, vindictive, cruel, or spiteful is not a sign that we have done something wrong.

Which brings me to my second point: turning the other cheek. I think the notion of "turning the other cheek" has gotten a peculiar rap for weakness. But turning the other cheek is not saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'll never do that again." It's standing your ground: neither attacking nor retreating. You say your truth and, even when someone slaps you down, you keep saying it. That to me is what is meant by turning the other cheek.

OK, let's see if I can post this this time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A celebration of persistence

It's the day I've been nagging about.

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Brief bios here.

Gospel for today is Luke 11:5-10

Jesus said to his disciples, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."

I am thankful for the witness of persistence today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tomorrow is the feast of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman

There's still time to join the Facebook Group that calls for the use of their full names.

Monday Morning Preacher: Interactive Sermons

Yesterday's gospel lesson (as many of you know) was the story of Mary and Martha. Great text but, similar to The Good Samaritan, difficult to find something new to say. I went to a church yesterday where the priest basically said, "I've preached on this a lot; so what do you think of this story?" which was either brave or foolhardy. I think it worked all right because the church is small and the congregation stable--not a lot of visitors. But "What do you think of it?" is a mighty broad question to be throwing out to the congregation, in my opinion.

It was hard for me to keep my mouth shut! I had a sermon I could have preached, seeing as this congregation had never heard it before. It's actually interactive, too, but with very specific questions: How many of you picture Martha in the kitchen? How many of you picture Martha cleaning?

The great thing about having interaction with the congregation during the sermon is that the congregation is awake and involved. The problem can be that you get a Certain Type that are happy to share while a lot of people who might have interesting and worthwhile things to say tend to keep to themselves. That's why I like to really focus the interactive part, making it safe for everyone to contribute while keeping a bit of a rein on those who would want to take over.

Yesterday's reactions were fascinating--excellent sermon prep for the next time I get to preach on Mary and Martha. All but one of the people who shared were women, all of them expressing pain at the way Martha is portrayed. The one man who talked, talked about Martha's "negative energy." I noticed that he was not paired with a woman. I wasn't totally surprised.

Great story, Mary and Martha, but boy howdy have women been poorly served by the church with this text. Over and over the women who shared said something along the lines of: Someone still has to make dinner and women do not get let off the hook. Basically, what I heard is that when most women hear this story, they hear that they have to drop everything and also still do everything. This is a story that tends to weigh people down--women down, I should say. That's something I hope the church can combat.

I wouldn't have done the sermon this way, but I admit I was very glad to hear these reactions. Next time I'm given Mary and Martha, I'll be able to speak about the pain I heard. A most unusual and most enlightening sermon.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Funnies

Here's one of the reviews for Anybody Can Be Cool at Amazon:

Coolness always came easily to me. Whether over a game of cribbage with my pals, or a shared float at the malt shop, I really emanated a significant amount of "cool"...I'm not going to lie. People would be heard to remark "Mike, you are cool". This wasn't just once or twice.

This all changed the day I met Chet out by the bleachers...

There he was, on that brisk autumn afternoon, his feathered blondness in stunning contrast to the fallen leaves. He was reading a passage from the Book of Ezekiel to his friends Chin-qui, Ugabe, Svetlana and Rosa. How emphatically and with what enthusiasm did he read! After finishing, there was a marked minute of silence, followed by " are AWESOME!".

My world came crashing down. I had always thought "cool" was the highest adjective one could aspire to. How could I compete with "awesome"?

I must have said that last part out loud, because Chet handed me the book I'm currently reviewing, which for some reason had the exact same scene I was looking at one the cover, and said "Mike, you don't need to compete with can BECOME awesome! But it'll take practice".

And practice I did. Through diligent commitment and daily sacrifice, I now too am able to attract groups of visible minorities whenever I read from the bible on the schoolyard.

If you are evil like me, you will want to read all the reviews.

h/t Jan at A Church for Starving Artists

Friday, July 16, 2010

On usury

I was reading an article about the passage of the finance reform bill yesterday and a strange little phrase grabbed my attention. Here it is:

"Usury laws were set aside."*

Usury! There's a word I haven't heard in a while! You know what usury is? Well, yes, it's the charging of interest on loans. You know what else it is? It's an abomination!

Check out Ezekiel 18:13 -- If a man "takes advanced or accrued interest, shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself." I haven't heard much call for the execution of bankers or other lenders--at least not on Biblical grounds.

I saw a great quote from N.T. Wright today, from his final sermon as Bishop of Durham: “It’s fatally easy to imagine that all my prejudices are theological convictions and that all your theological convictions are mere prejudices." I think it also can be true that we can have a mix of things, holding both a theological conviction and a prejudice at one and the same time, each reinforcing the other.

When what we are reading in the Bible assists our pre-determined theological conviction/prejudice, it jumps right out at us. What I find more fascinating and much harder is seeing the theology that doesn't jump out at us. Because the world around us (or our own preconceptions) makes it seem so darn normal. Like interest rates.

Oh how I wish people had been walking around these past few years with signs saying "God hates usurers! Ez. 18:13" What a different conversation the church would be having if we were as concerned about that abomination as we were about who's sleeping with whom.

*BOY do I know nothing about usury laws in the U.S., but here is (perhaps) the relevant information from the not-always-reliable Wikipedia:

Each U.S. state has its own statute which dictates how much interest can be charged before it is considered usurious or unlawful...However, there are separate rules applied to most banks. The U.S. Supreme Court held unanimously in the 1978 Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp. case that the National Banking Act of 1863 allowed nationally chartered banks to charge the legal rate of interest in their state regardless of the borrower's state of residence.[31] In 1980, because of inflation, Congress passed the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act exempting federally chartered savings banks, installment plan sellers and chartered loan companies from state usury limits. This effectively overrode all state and local usury laws.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jack reviews the day so far

I would tend to agree.

Vernon Baker

Beautiful and moving obituary today for Vernon Baker, "the only living black veteran awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in World War II, receiving it 52 years after he wiped out four German machine-gun nests on a hilltop in northern Italy."

As Mr. Clinton placed the Medal of Honor around his neck, Mr. Baker stared into space, a tear rolling down his left cheek. “I was thinking about what was going on up on the hill that day,” he said later.

I think this says it all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: Dissolution

I saw Dissolution by C.J. Sansom on another Teaser Tuesday blog and knew it was a book I'd want to read. Oh, it was great. And what's more, Sansom's written several more books with the same character. Whoo hoo hoo! A new mystery series for me to sink my teeth into. And set during the English Reformation, too, to satisfy my nerdly Anglican heart.

Our hero is a hunchbacked lawyer, a very likable protagonist, named Matthew Shardlake. In Dissolution, Shardlake is sent by Thomas Cromwell to the Monastery of St. Donatus, Scarnsea to solve the murder of another lawyer, sent by Cromwell earlier to encourage the monastery to "voluntarily" give up their lands and property. In the course of trying to figure out what's going on at the monastery, Shardlake himself is disabused of some of his idealism about the new world he hoped the English Reformation would usher in. He discovers that people remain human, no matter their theological stance; his own heroes take a serious drubbing as he uncovers dirty details everywhere he goes.

The book reads like a movie--and I mean that as a compliment. I hope it won't be made into a movie because I've already seen the one in my head. But the plot, the characters, the settings are all very vivid and compelling. Sansom certainly knows the trick of ending a chapter so you want to read the next one.

But the most compelling thing for me was that Shardlake didn't just figure out what happened; he learned more about himself in the process. And by so doing opened up for me a better understanding of the time in which he lived, and also of my own.

Highly recommended.

The Sanity Verses

I just wanted to draw your attention to a wonderful blog entry by the late, lamented Internet Monk, reposted on the iMonk website, called The Sanity Verses.

Sometimes, I don’t need inspiration. What I need is just my sanity. I don’t need verses that tell me I’m about to see a miracle. I need something that says God wants me to make it to tomorrow, and I’ll still be useful. Sometimes I need to know that God doesn’t always want me to be a martyr, but that he wants me to stick around, survive and serve him again.

Amen to all that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A totally lawless Teaser Tuesday!

As you know, round these parts Tuesday is Teaser Tuesday. I'm supposed to pick two sentences at random from my current read to lure you into wanting to read it too.

Well, this week, I'm breaking the rules! First of all, I'm doing this late, which means it's already Wednesday in a lot of places.

Secondly, these two sentences are totally not random.

The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics.

Third, you have to guess what book this is from. I see some of you who frequent this blog going, "Oooh! Oooh! I know!" but is that good Group Dynamics? I think not.

Maybe this is too easy, but I think if I didn't know, I'd be hard pressed to put a title to this particular quote. If you want to guess, feel free to leave your answer in the comments. And if you already know the source, or want to find out, you can check your answer.

I am just blown away by what a funny book this is.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My thoughts exactly.

So you haven't asked my opinion of the Twilight series. But just in case you were wondering, here's what I think.

Team Wooden Stake

Thank you, Telling Dad!

Uganda bombing

In case you hadn't heard, yesterday (at least) 74 people were killed in three separate suicide bomb attacks in Kampala during the World Cup finals. Please keep Uganda in your prayers today.

Monday Morning Preacher: Personal vs. Therapeutic

Oh, man, this entry has been hard to write! I used a story from my personal experience yesterday to illustrate the story of the Good Samaritan. It raised the question for me: when does a sermon illustration using a personal story pass from sharing into over-sharing?

It's so much easier when sitting in the pews. From that vantage point, it's obvious at what point someone's preaching becomes someone's personal therapy, where they're trying to work out some of their personal issues through a talking cure with the congregation as therapist. And then I hit a sermon last week and had to figure out, "Am I preaching this because it's a good illustration of the gospel? Or am I preaching this for my own personal reasons?"

There's a distinction between the personal and the therapeutic in preaching, and I'm still trying to figure out where exactly that line is. Here's my basic rule: you know your preaching has crossed over into the therapeutic if your goal, when you preach it, is to get the congregation to make you feel better about yourself.

It's a constant balancing act, though, because, as in the sermon illustration below, I do wonder at what point, "I did this or that" becomes "I did this or that. Wasn't that grand?"

And there's no doubt that mixed motives abound in preaching. I still believe (in hope) that a good sermon can have mixed motives.

As always the goal in preaching is to make the gospel clearer to the hearers, and there are certainly stories in our lives that illustrate the gospel. Sometimes even the preacher does something worth noting. It would be terrible not to use them out of a severity that says nothing personal should be involved in preaching.

I am hoping that my personal story illustrated for the congregation as vividly as it conveyed to me that "loving your neighbor" is as obvious and neglected a call as it ever was. Even a priest can figure that out, if it's impressed upon them enough.

What do you think? Do you have any rules of thumb to keep personal sharing from the pulpit within the realms of acceptable behavior?

Sermon: The Good Samaritan

[first half of sermon preached on 7/11]

Earlier this week, I was working in my office at home when I looked out the window and saw a medical supply truck in front of the house next door. It kind of surprised me because my neighbors are young—probably younger than me—and I see them all the time, two men, J. and R., one or the other of them walking their Pomeranian C. around the block.

Later that day, I was watering the plants in the front yard when a woman walked by with C. I told her I had seen the truck and asked if she minded telling me what was going on. She told me that J. had an inoperable brain tumor. He had had several surgeries before, but this time, there was nothing they could do. I asked if it would be all right if I brought over some food and she thought that would be fine.

The week flew by and then yesterday, there I was reading all of these beautiful commentaries on the Good Samaritan and how we need to love and care for our neighbor. Neighbor, neighbor, neighbor they said, practically in flashing neon, until finally the message got through to this priest: maybe it would be better at that moment for me to check on my actual, physical next-door neighbor than to labor earnestly over this sermon.

I didn’t do much. I went over with a note that had my name and phone number and explained that I was available if they needed a driver or a car or a guest room or food or someone to take care of their dog. And that I hoped they would call me.

R. answered the door. I gave him the note and told him what I hoped I could offer. He gave me a hug, and then said, “You’re Laura, right?” I took a guess and asked if he was R., which he was. C. barked at me and I said, “Everyone knows C.,” which we do. And I came home to work on this sermon and a much better idea of what to say to you.

I realized I don’t know my neighbors. Maybe it’s not like this here. Maybe you know the people who live next door to you or on your block. I’ve lived in small towns where everybody knew everybody and what car they drove. Maybe it’s like that here. But in most places I’ve lived, I’ve known the people I work with, the people I go to school with, and the people I worship with. I didn’t really know the people who lived around me. One or two, sure, but for the most part, my neighbors—my physical neighbors—have been a mystery to me. They are not part of my groups: my church, my family, my profession. I realized reading the Good Samaritan this time through how odd it is that the people I call by the technical term “neighbors” are the very people that I often literally walk or drive by.

I’ve tended to assume that they have their own groups of family, friends and colleagues who will be there when they need them. But maybe they don’t. Or maybe there’s something we can offer by our very proximity that family and friends can’t provide. In any event, I learned yet again the obvious lesson of The Good Samaritan: loving your neighbor means loving the people you meet as you go about your daily business and not just the people in your group. And helping them is the business you need to attend to.

[Second half of sermon was illustrated by the Tolstoy story The Three Questions.]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Funnies

The Onion is having Our not-at-all-bitter salute to Love and Marriage this lovely July weekend including such fabulous articles as:

God Late for Local Wedding ("Calling Himself 'free of sin,' the Lord blamed His late arrival on poor directions provided by the couple.")

and Supernatural Powers Vested in Local Pastor, reprinted in its entirety:

BILOXI, MS—Michael Cotto, 27, and Laura Winningham, 26, were pronounced husband and wife Monday, thanks to the supernatural powers vested in local Presbyterian minister Gerald Dreisbach by the Lord Himself. "We are so lucky to live near a man who is an actual conduit of God's will," Cotto told reporters after the ceremony. "We wouldn't have been able to get married otherwise." Dreisbach has also used his otherworldly authority to call for good fortune in the lives of parishioners, as well as swift passage to heaven for the deceased.

Lots of other good stuff for the bitter and not-at-all-bitter alike.

And then there's this:

OH so satisfying!

h/t Scott at Seven Whole Days.

Friday, July 9, 2010

July snarkfest continues! Today's topic: SEXISM

Because I haven't been snarky enough this week, let's talk about sexism for a moment, shall we?

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle around The Daily Show hiring only its second female correspondent since 2001. An article on Jezebel claims that "it's a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed." In response, the women who work on The Daily Show posted an open letter saying, "while it may cause a big stir to seize on the bitter rantings of ex-employees and ignore what current staff say about working at The Daily Show, it's not fair. It's not fair to us, it's not fair to Jon, it's not fair to our wonderful male colleagues, and it's especially not fair to the young women who want to have a career in comedy but are scared they may get swallowed up in what people label as a 'boy's club.'"

In response, another writer, at the end of a fair analysis of the sexist forces at work in the world (of The Daily Show, comedy, and everywhere), made a huge gaffe as she ended by saying, "if you respond to suggestions that your hiring practices may be sexist with a letter signed by all the women on your staff dismissing these claims out of hand, then your hiring practices are almost certainly sexist." Thus hurting her own arguments by claiming that the ladies can't be trusted to speak for themselves or their own experience.

All this for me personally is a backdrop to a) my recent ranting about Elizabeth Cady Stanton & co.; b) the current debate before the Church of England about whether and in what manner women can be bishops; c) the recent "mitregate" debacle; and d) my own hunt for work in the church. So I'm glad for The Daily Show issue to be able to explore this at a one-step remove. Because, the truth is, it's complicated. Here are my vague thoughts about what might be more productive in addressing any sexism at The Daily Show--or perhaps the church.

1) Get your data in order

You know about me and data. I love data. Data is helpful. One of the things that's hardest for me to grapple with when considering sexism is the question: Is this real or am I imagining things? Hard data can help with that. Jezebel didn't do a bad job getting their facts. I think they weakened their argument, however, when they went for personality, saying, "The host and executive producer's onscreen persona is lovable mensch, but one former executive on the show tells us 'there's a huge discrepancy between the Jon Stewart who goes on TV every night and the Jon Stewart who runs The Daily Show with joyless rage.'" That just opened them right up to the "disgruntled employee" line. Much harder to argue with "only one female correspondent since 2001" or "this year alone, the show’s roster of guests has featured 63 men, but only 13 women."

2) It may be counterproductive to tell someone they're sexist.

One of the things that I find problematic in the critique of The Daily Show is that what they seem to want to conclude is "Jon Stewart is sexist and should stop being sexist." To which the women of The Daily Show say, "Jon Stewart is the opposite of sexist." So that didn't get anybody anywhere except to get women arguing amongst themselves about who's right about who's sexist. And if he is or if he isn't, what has changed? Of course, their goal may be getting readers and sparking debate rather than actually changing The Daily Show, in which case, mission accomplished! But if that wasn't what they were after...

3) Figure out the goals

One thing that might have changed this debate would have been for Jezebel to figure out what actual, measurable result they would like to see. It's one thing to say an organization is a boy's club; it's another to say, "By 2015, we would like to see that 50 percent of the employees of The Daily Show are women, with at least 1/3 of the on-air personalities and 1/3 of the guests being women." It's more fun to tear people down, but it seems to me more practical to find goals and move toward them.

4) Humor is a powerful tool

Weapon, even, I'd like to say. I don't want to give the impression that this is all about being nice and saying please and working within the system. But one way in which the Jezebel piece lost (rhetorically) to the letter from the women of The Daily Show is that the letter was funny, leaving readers with the impression that those complaining about The Daily Show weren't hired because they weren't funny, which is a problem for a comedienne. Remember that "joyless rage" quote above? Compare it with how the women at TDS describe Jon Stewart:

But what's he really like? Well, for a sexist prick, he can be quite charming. He's also generous, humble, genuine, compassionate, fair, supportive, exacting, stubborn, goofy, hands-on, driven, occasionally infuriating, ethical, down-to-earth and--a lot of people don't know this--surprisingly funny (for a guy brimming with “joyless rage”). How else to describe him? What's the word that means the opposite of sexist? That one.
(emphasis mine)

If you can laugh at your opposition and find ways for others to laugh at them too, they are hugely defanged.

5) Do NOT undermine other women!

I still cannot believe that writer suggested that Stewart had the women who work for him write a letter on his behalf. Way to ruin your credibility, there! They may be wrong, but suggesting that these women were somehow brainwashed into writing a supportive letter--it just boggles the mind. Women can certainly disagree, but to suggest that the disagreement is because of The Menfolk suggests your argument has no merit.

OK, I have a lot more thinking to do about this, and this is incredibly long and yet still very incomplete. Your thoughts and comments, as always, most welcome. More snark, no doubt, next week.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Four reasons why Holy Women, Holy Men bugs the heck out of me

I mentioned a couple of days ago that my reaction after a year of looking at the new people added to the Episcopal Church calendar was, by and large, "bleah." The complete list of recognized people, along with collects of the day (no last names and all), and recommended readings has been compiled into a book called Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (hereafter HWHM).

Yesterday, I received a press release from Church Publishing, announcing that "a formal, quantitative [online] survey will be available for users of the new resource to record their impressions of this expanded collection of commemorations. The survey... is designed to be used on a daily or frequent basis. Survey participants can comment on every collect and chosen scripture passage for each commemoration in the entire 800-page publication."

You can bet I will be a frequent contributor. And if you're as obsessed and peculiar as I am, I hope you will contribute too.

I had some initial reactions to the new proposed calendar a year ago before I had a chance to explore it. My worry was that we were "claiming people for our calendar to make us feel better about ourselves." I don't think that was a bad first call. But there are some other things that have become disturbing to me over the year.

1) It seems that "saint" has come to mean "people who did good things" Take, for example, William W. Mayo, Charles Menninger and their sons: Pioneers in Medicine. No doubt worthy of remembrance. I don't argue against that. But what does it actually mean to be a saint? Does it have something to do with the church at all? I'm not saying that every saint has to be doing churchy things. Just that many of these feasts seem based primarily on their historical importance or contribution rather than their witness of faith.

2) A number of those remembered were just doing what was normal for the time in which they lived One which stood out for me in this regard was the Pioneers of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. "In 1890, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris were sent as Episcopal missionaries to Brazil. The following year, they were joined by three other American missionaries. [They] are now celebrated as the founders of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil." Well, whoopididoo. Were they loving? Did they show any special grace? Given the history of missionary work, I need something a little more than this.

3) A number of those remembered would hate to be considered a saint Poor John Calvin. I have trouble recognizing as a saint those who would object to the notion of sainthood. It seems to offend the very people we want to honor.

4) It's so damn trendy This is just my personal feeling, and it's a tough call. But one of the things I appreciated about the commemoration of Jan Hus is that time shows his extraordinary faith in much sharper relief. There's nothing trendy about it. I worry that some of those included are simply there due to trends in faith: multiculturalism, inclusion of women and minorities--not that there's anything wrong with any of those things. It just seems to be done indiscriminately. Were you decent to Indians? You're in!

The upshot is, I don't think we gave enough thought to what we mean when we say someone is a saint. I'm not sure I can define it. I can tell you, though, that what we have now just doesn't sit right with me.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback and will continue to ponder this question myself.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On "To Kill a Mockingbird"

It's the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird this year, and there are lots of commemorative editions, a documentary, Facebook groups, and more articles than I could possibly link to here.

I first read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 7th grade as an added assignment from my English teacher because I'd already finished the book the rest of the class was reading. I believe I read it again in high school, also as an assignment, and then a third time after college. It's time to read it again. This time I hope to savor it as much as possible.

I think I've seen the movie as many times as I have read the book, if not more. It's a beautiful translation of the book, but the last time I read the novel, I realized how many pieces were missing that I hadn't even remembered because the movie image was so strong.

I'm trying to think what it is about To Kill a Mockingbird that makes it last so well. Although it is an "issue" novel, it doesn't read as two-dimensional propaganda. The characters are too well-drawn for that. There's a specificity in the action and focus on small things so that it's not all issue all the time. It's also very funny in parts; it doesn't seem to take itself overly seriously.

But there more to it than that. Here's a random paragraph:

If Calpurnia had ever bathed me roughly before, it was nothing compared to her supervision of that Saturday night's routine. She made me soap all over twice, drew fresh water in the tub for each rinse; she stuck my head in the basin and washed it with Octagon soap and castile. She had trusted Jem for years, but that night she invaded his privacy and provoked an outburst: "Can't anybody take a bath in this house without the whole family lookin'?"

This is before Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to church with her. There's nothing noble about this; looking back a page, one reason Cal takes them to church is because the last time the two had been to church on their own, "Left to its own devices, the class tied Eunice Ann Simpson to a chair and placed her in the furnace room." These are good kids, but not paragons. I think that helps.

And again, the lovely attention to detail. Not just "Calpurnia made me take a bath," but a full description of the ritual, the kind of soap, and the domestic details of the invasion of privacy.

But it's just plain gorgeous writing. I think that's one thing about this book: you can cut into this book at any point and find something beautiful.

But what do I know? There's a way that I think it's just magic: either a mystery or a miracle. Who am I to question or analyze? I think I'll just take it as the gift it is and give thanks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jan Hus

A year ago today, I was driving down to Anaheim for General Convention. Little did I know what disruption that would cause to my saint-watching practices. I'll have more to say later about the additional of all the new folks that happened last year, but my initial reaction after almost a year is, bleah. Not "bleah" as in "yuck," but "bleah" as in, "Why?" Or something. As I said, I'll have more about that reaction later.

There are notable exceptions, and today is one of them: Jan Hus, burned at the stake on this day in 1415 for doing things like, oh, saying that the church shouldn't sell indulgences to pay for wars. Heretical stuff like that.

"In 1412 his archbishop excommunicated him, not for heresy, but for insubordination." Eventually, insubordination was renamed heresy when Hus said he thought the papacy was an organizational strategy rather than a Divine Plan of God. "The Council, having just narrowly succeeded in uniting Western Christendom under a single pope after years of chaos, was not about to have its work undone. It accordingly found him guilty of heresy, and he was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415."

You know one thing I love about Hus? It's not that he is saying that the papacy is bad (from the little I read); just that he recognizes that this is a way of ordering the work of the church. Is it good or bad? Depends on whether it is doing what it is meant to do: caring for the church and all its people in a way that reflects the love of God and love of neighbor. When it does things like fleece the flock to support its wars and internecine strife, well, then...not so much.

Oh, how we love to dress up our systems and methods as divine plans! And then, once they have become divine, they cannot change or be challenged. It's a real shortcut, isn't it?, to say "but God established this way of doing things," when really it's more, "This used to work quite well in running things."

It is often so difficult to see the distinction between God and organization. I am so grateful for the witness of Jan Hus who had the clearsightedness to see what was truly human and what was truly divine.

Teaser Tuesday, July 6

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!

Here's the book I started over the 4th of July weekend:

He didn't touch politics, he asserted in a typical civil servant's denial that administration is support of a policy. Insisting that it was "not heroic to flee," he argued that it was necessary to work with the Germans to restore the necessary order for survival.
from  Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 by Robert O. Paxton.

Here's the book I actually read over the weekend:

Connie drove a silver Camry with rosary beads hanging from her rearview mirror and a Smith & Wesson stuck under the driver's seat. No matter what went down, Connie was covered.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen (Stephanie Plum Novels)from the newly-paperbacked Finger-lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich.


Previously on Teaser Tuesday: I finished Hardball, the new(ish) V.I. Warshawski novel. Vic was her typical prickly, dogged self and the plot dense and filling. Very satisfying. The one thing I do not get is, after all these years, you'd think Bobby Mallory would once--once--give Vic the benefit of the doubt. Does her track record mean nothing? I guess it's like Spiderman and the editor of the Daily Bugle. It's a convention. But it's become annoying to me.