Saturday, July 30, 2011

This week in death, July 30

Let's start with Hazel Toepfer (no relation). Last Sunday at coffee hour, someone told me she'd seen this obituary and wondered if there was any connection. Alas, no, for she sounds fascinating. In fact, I aspire to BE Hazel Toepfer...except I think it's too late for me to join the Navy. I can still join the Peace Corps after I retire, though.

I thought the obituary for James T. Molloy, the last Doorkeeper for the House of Representatives, was a fascinating study of "how'd you get THAT job?"
As a young man, Mr. Molloy worked at grain elevators and for the Buffalo Fire Department to pay his way through Canisius College, from which he graduated in 1958. He joined a local Democratic club and became a protégé of Joseph Crangle, chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party. In 1969, Mr. Crangle helped him get a job as chief disbursing officer in the House of Representatives. He had been the House’s chief finance officer for two years when he was elected doorkeeper.
“I had an uncle who had a saloon on Seneca Street that was a focal base for politics — Fuzzy Molloy, of all names,” he told The Buffalo News. “I had another uncle who was the Democratic chairman in Lackawanna. So politics was kind of a family business with us.”
Good old Uncle Fuzzy.

It is also worth noting that the position was eliminated in 1994 as a cost-cutting measure. Understandable, I think, though he did much more than the title suggests.

The New Kobbe's Opera BookI only saw the obituary for George Lascelles, the Earl of Harewood, this week in the NY Times, but I like the opening they reference from an earlier one in The Guardian better: "George Lascelles, the seventh Earl of Harewood, who has died aged 88, was unusual for a member of the royal family in deserving a substantial obituary on account of what he did rather than who he was." Namely, as a promoter of opera in England, including founding Opera magazine and editing and revising Kobbe's Complete Opera Book.

Finally, I was intrigued by this obituary for Polly Platt who is praised "for her ability to spot things that would translate well to the screen." Things like, say, Matt Groening's underground comic Life in Hell, which eventually became The Simpsons.

I'm pleased that her marriage to Peter Bogdanovich is duly noted but incidental except as it relates to her own skills and contributions, such as bringing the novel The Last Picture Show to his attention. The obit writer duly notes the irony of that decision. Indeed, I don't see how one could resist. But the fact that Bogdanovich is noted as "Ms. Platt's second husband" seems different from the obituaries in which a woman is noted because she was married to a Great Man. At any rate, she deserves an obit in the Times for her own contributions and gifts; that's certainly how I read it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Various and Sundry, July 29

Whew! Crazy busy week, but I've got the first episode of Project Runway waiting for me to remind me it could be crazier and busier.

So let's see here...

First of all, I just this afternoon saw a headline that the Uganda Little League team was denied visas to come to the U.S. "because of discrepancies over players' ages and birth dates", which is a crying shame, in my opinion. What a disappointment.

"[Little league representative Richard] Stanley said birth records in Uganda are not strictly tracked, as in the United States.

"Now when the parent comes in, they get asked, 'What's the birth date of your child? Are you the birth parent?' They don't even know what that means in some cases, so they can't answer the question," said Stanley..."So now it's a question of credibility. All you need is one person to not be credible and the visa officer is not obligated to issue a visa," Stanley added, "and if they don't issue one visa, they're not going to issue any visa."

Well, rats.

In the Christians Jumping On the Popular Culture Bandwagon Department, I'm sorry to report there are two--TWO--zombie-themed Books of Spiritual Inspiration. First is Dance Lessons for Zombies: How Jesus Delivers Zoned-Out Followers From Their Worried, Joyless Lives; next (and arguably worse) is The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook due out in October. I wish I could say I was making this up.

I am also not making up the fact that 12 percent of the population of Napa County is here illegally. That would be over 16,000 people. Let's just admit it: our immigration policy is nuts.

The ever-thoughtful Ta-Nehisi Coates has left the Civil War for the moment to focus on the 30-years war, about which I know nothing. From what he is reading, he draws a number of interesting conclusions. "First, it's really startling to read about the utter barbarism which Europe sank to during the War, and then contrast it with popular images of Africa as "the dark continent." I hope this doesn't sound cold, but immediately it occured to me that all the sins the proto-white racists put on Africa--cannibalism, slavery, wanton rape--were very much known to them. The very Germans who fled from Palantinate to a country that derided Africans as savages, were, themselves, the children of such savages. From that perspective, racism is again revealed as not simply amoral but as phrenology, as Intelligent Design."

Speaking of Intelligent Design, the Futility Closet points out the anomalies in this Ohio map created by a Michigan grad:

Oh, those wicked, wicked Michigan cartographers!

And finally, because it made me laugh, here's Doonesbury from Tuesday (click to enlarge):

So smooth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday book blogging: Revelation by C.J. Sansom

Revelation: A Matthew Shardlake Mystery (Matthew Shardlake Mysteries)Not that I've done any book blogging for a while. Or much book reading for that matter. But I'm having a grand time with the fourth of the Matthew Shardlake mysteries, Revelation, and have a moment to share a teaser with you, complete with familiar figure from Anglican history, for those of you inclined that way:

"One of Archbishop Cranmer's own boats was waiting for us at Three Cranes Stairs, four oarsmen in the Archbishop's white livery in their places. Harsnet told the men to row fast for Lambeth Palace."

Such great books.

OK, back to work for me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sermon: Jacob and Rachel and Leah and Laban

Yesterday’s Old Testament lesson was about the marriage of Jacob to Leah and Rachel which seemed like a wide-open invitation to me to knock down the notion that there's a "Biblical concept of marriage." Well, maybe there is, but I don't think it's one we should follow, as you will see. Here’s my sermon (taken from notes, so not exact--and probably better for writing it down):

So let’s talk about the Biblical basis of marriage...

It will probably not come as a shock to you that I support same-sex marriage and the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church. This sermon is not really about that; it is more about how we use and abuse scripture to support our culturally held positions. But given how often people use the Bible as a basis for talking about what marriage ought to look like, this lesson seems a prime example for exploring that the Bible may not be as clear-cut as we would like it to be.

Leaving aside the issue of the two wives, let’s take a look at how this passage describes marriage.

First of all, if you look at the story, you will see that Laban, Jacob’s uncle, is giving Jacob one of his daughter as a payment. She is basically traded away for seven years worth of work.

Second, the woman involved apparently has no say whatsoever in whom she marries. At the last General Convention, I heard Barbara Harris, the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church who knows a thing or two about contentious issues, preach about the issue of the ordination of homosexuals, and she pointed out something interesting. She noted that until recently, all marriages were same-sex marriages, because they were contracts between a father and a groom.

Third, you will notice that Jacob doesn’t know who he is marrying. [From congregation: because it’s dark.] He marries someone and he doesn’t even know who it is.

Fourth: When Jacob complains to Laban that he has been duped, Laban, the girl’s father, says, just “finish out the week.” A week?! That’s what qualifies as sufficient time for an official marriage?

I’d also like to point out a parenthetical remark that may seem insignificant: it says, “(Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.)” Let’s be clear about this: he is giving his daughter this woman to be her slave. And we’re not just talking about someone to do the dishes, here. In the next chapter of Genesis, which you won’t hear, Rachel and Leah get into a child-bearing war that escalates rapidly as Rachel sends her “maid” to Jacob to bear children for her, and Leah sends her “maid” to Jacob to have further children.

And finally, and here is my favorite part, the line that echoes through history, when Jacob asks Laban why he has sent Jacob Leah instead of Rachel, Laban replied, "This is not done in our country--giving the younger before the firstborn.”

“This is not done in our country.” It’s not the done thing, it goes completely against the norms. I can just imagine how the rest of that conversation goes as Laban would explain that if he allowed Jacob to marry a younger daughter, then other men would want to marry younger daughters. And if that happened, then maybe the daughters would start to get ideas that they should have input in who they marry. And if that happened, then father might start getting cut out of the marrying-off process altogether. And you know what? He was absolutely right. And I don’t think any of us would want to go back to the way it used to be in their country.

In the Gospel for today, Jesus tells a series of parables, and unlike the previous two weeks, these parables are not explained with equivalents: “the sower is this, the seed is this, the wheat is this, the weeds are this...” Instead, we are left awash with images about the kingdom of heaven. In some of the parables, the kingdom of heaven is an object, like a treasure or a net. In some, the kingdom of heaven is an actor, like the merchant. In some, it’s kind of a mix: a seed that grows or yeast that spreads.

What it is not is a checklist: the kingdom of heaven is not something you can find by ticking off the proper boxes. Instead, Jesus gives us something far more tricky: AMBIGUITY

And that’s not easy. We want the Bible to give us clear-cut answers and straightforward directions and to tell us Exactly What To Do. But maybe it’s not as easy as that.

This series of parables ends with a final parable which, you will notice, is not describing the kingdom of God. Instead it says, “Every scribe...” It’s a parable about the readers and interpreters of Scripture. It says, “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

What is old and what is new. What this says to me is that we are called neither to get rid of all the old traditions in favor of what is the new wave of the future. Nor are we called to cling to our past and avoid strange new innovations. Instead, we need to be wise enough to find the treasure in them both and use them. It’s not as clear or clean as we would like it, but in the messy jumble of all the options, that is where we search diligently for the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Funnies, July 24

I embarrassed myself greatly at the dog park, walking about and listening to this episode of Judge John Hodgman. You need to hear it. Really. Cow.

The Cow Beef

Ted brings this case against his father Paul, who has become obsessed with cows. Ted argues that his father's cow collection and his inclination to randomly say the word cow, among other issues, indicate the need to tamp down the cow-talk. Paul argues that his obsession is merited, because "cows are our most important animal friends."

The Sound of Young America

Saturday, July 23, 2011

This week in death, July 23

Amy Winehouse, God rest her weary soul.

Here are the other obituaries that particularly caught my eye this week, most of them related to the entertainment industry in one way or another, with the following exception.

First up: the Rev. Mary Michael Simpson, one of the first women ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, died on Wednesday.
"Canon Simpson did not begin her career with a zeal for ecumenical equality. It was more than 20 years before she began advocating for women in the priesthood.

“'My reading and thinking led me to the conclusion that there was no barrier to the ordination of women; it just had not been done,; she wrote."
Doesn't she look fabulous?

I was intrigued by this obituary for Alex Steinweiss who designed the first album cover art.

"His first cover, for a collection of Rodgers and Hart songs performed by an orchestra, showed a high-contrast photo of a theater marquee with the title in lights. The new packaging concept was a success: Newsweek reported that sales of Bruno Walter’s recording of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony increased ninefold when the album cover was illustrated."

There's a straight-up lesson in marketing for you. But what intrigues me is that there's always a first, someone who says, "hey, what if we put art on the album covers?" And that there are people willing to try it and find out.

Also intriguing is this mysteriously understated obituary for jazz singer Joe Lee Wilson.

"Mr. Wilson, a baritone with a resonant, seductive voice in the tradition of Billy Eckstine and a style rooted in the blues of his native Southwest, seemed destined for big things when he signed with Columbia Records in 1969. But for reasons that remain unclear, most of the recordings he made for Columbia were not released, and although he went on to record for various small labels, and to enjoy critical praise and some success — especially in Europe, where he spent the last three decades of his life — he stayed largely under the radar for most of his career."

It's a mystery. And now one of the people who knows has died. Hmmm...

Also in the world of entertainment, I enjoyed reading about the life of Marion Konyot who was a vaudevillian and remained so almost all of her life. The obituary ends with the nice touch, " Her nephew David Konyot is a star clown at Zippo's Circus." Runs in the family, I guess.

And finally, another one of those "Who knew there was a person behind that?" obituaries, for Ed Flesh who designed the wheel for "Wheel Of Fortune."

"In the pilot for “Wheel of Fortune,” the wheel stood upright and was rather small, making it difficult to see on screen. Mr. Flesh laid it flat and made it big enough so that home viewers could clearly discern its markings.

"The first wheel he created, in 1975, was a humble affair of cardboard, paint and light bulbs; the current incarnation is steel and Plexiglas and weighs more than 2,400 pounds."

So now you know.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Various & Sundry, July 22

I have a new laptop. This means transferring all the files from my old laptop to my new laptop, see? I tried to do that on Tuesday morning--all morning--to no avail. This morning I got on a customer service chat and we figured it out. Did you know that a USB cable is not the same thing as an ethernet cable? Boy do I feel dumb. Sometime I'll post the chat between myself and the very patient Manolo, who I hope was wearing terrific shoes.

In the meantime, here are a few of the interesting things I discovered this week.

First of all, how cool is it that a Little League team from Uganda is competing in the Little League World Series this year? I think it's mighty cool. "Rev. John Foundation Little League from Kampala, Uganda, won the Middle East and Africa Region Tournament today with a 6-4 victory over 17-time World Series qualifier since 1991, Arabian American Little League from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia." Go, team! I also recommend the Uganda Little League Baseball blog which explains some of the struggle there is for this team to get to the World Series--such as the $35,000(US) it cost them to play in the regional tournament. How much does it cost U.S. teams to travel to regional contests? Anybody know?

I loved this satire at Internet Monk, Group Seeks Genesis Ban.

A spokesperson for “People Involved in Saving, Securing, and Defending the Old-Fashioned Family” (PISSDOFF), said that decent citizens have come together to protest the publication and distribution of Bibles containing Genesis. They say that our culture cannot go on promoting materials like Genesis to our children without devastating consequences.

For theology geeks, David Congdon has a great post (as usual) about what the controversy about Rob Bell's book Love Wins is really about. If the words "Calvinism vs. Arminianism" set your heart a-flutter, this post is for you. If those words mean nothing to you...really, you're just as well not knowing.

For Kiva lenders and others interested in aid and development, Saundra Schimmelpfennig at Good Intentions are Not Enough reposted what I think is a fair and clear-eyed look at microfinance generally.

Finally, The Daily Dish has had a very interesting thread in which people have talked about lessons learned on the job--particularly their first (often crappy) jobs. This post was particularly philosophical with one person describing how working at the drive-through prepared him/her for ordained ministry. Another talked about working at Sears and wished everyone had that experience.

That's when it hit me -- it isn't the job that teaches you anything. After all, there are plenty of people who are or were waiters who never learned a damn thing from their job. It's whether you bothered to learn from whatever job you might have: Successful people learn lessons where ever they are. That's the difference.

Here's to life and learning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The feast of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman: a final rant

It's Margaret posted a lovely entry today on her blog and noted that it was my day, saying, "She loves to celebrate these four strong women --liberators and prophets."

It was so kind of her, but to be honest, I don't give a rats ass about celebrating these four women in the Episcopal church. In fact, I have some strong objections to lumping them together and I think Elizabeth Cady Stanton would hate being part of a feast of the church at all. But since we HAVE included them, it gets my goat that they are then abbreviated because the length of their names is inconvenient.

Do I know that's why it happened? No. I'm jumping to conclusions. I don't care. All I want is for the collect of their feast day to follow the same style as that of ALL OTHER feast days, and that means including their full names. That's all. I don't understand why that is so hard.

I'm tired of the Episcopal church being half-assed and claiming the heroes of other traditions to boost its own equality credentials--heroes who may not want to be part of this tradition at all. I grow weary of hagiography.

You'll be glad to know that this is my last year to go on and on about this. I find I just don't care much any more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Funnies, July 17

“What the hell is wrong with me!?”
That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? You woke up in a drainage ditch covered with skin ulcerations and nasty flesh wounds. Your body is numb and your memory is foggy. Someone tried to give you medical attention, but you repaid their kindness by savagely killing them and eating their brain.

“Did I just do that?”

Yes, you did. You did it because you must. You are a zombie, my friend, just like me. Though most zombies are slow and stupid, the fact that you are reading this tells me that you are different. Some of us are. Welcome the PACE virus apocalypse.

“What Now?”
Stick with me; I’ve been through it. I will show you what you have become. I will teach you how to hunt and kill. You will wear your tattered flesh like a uniform in the war against the uninfected.

J.D. McGhoul was a Midwestern, working-class lab assistant before being killed and reanimated by a PACE virus infection. Now a zombie author and activist, he divides his time between eating brains and educating the zombie public at large. Being one of a small minority of zombies who have retained their intellect and bodily speed, he recognizes his responsibility to give something back. McGhoul sees it as his mission to teach zombies what they have become, to show them how to hunt and kill, and to encourage them to wear their tattered flesh like a uniform in the war against humanity.

Available from Amazon and as an iPad app. You can also check out a helpful brain-eating tip in the video.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

This week in death

As I mentioned, there were a lot of interesting obituaries this week and they deserve their own feature. I may not do this all the time, but the obituaries this week were particularly compelling.

Starting with Major Lionel Meynell who did bomb disposal during the blitz. Everything must seem like a piece of cake after something like this:

"On October 16, at Church Lawford, near Coventry, an oil incendiary device was reported to have fallen near an RAF aerodrome. When Meynell arrived he found that the bomb, which weighed 250 kilograms, was not an incendiary but was actually fitted with a time fuse which was ticking down. He had received no explicit instructions on the workings of that type of fuse, but in view of the need to deal with it without delay decided to remove it immediately and did so successfully."

Then there's Kip Tiernan who founded the first homeless shelter for women in Boston in the 1970's. She sounds remarkable. And it is remarkable to me this assumption she faced that only men were homeless.

On a lighter note, lots of people noticed the death of Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of both Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch.

But there's also the obituary for Barry Bremen, who is labeled a "professional impostor," but was really an amateur, in the best sense of the word. "Mr. Bremen played golf next to the P.G.A.’s Curtis Strange, made a few layups in the company of the N.B.A. player Otis Birdsong and chased fly balls off the bat of the Kansas City Royals star George Brett. But despite his best efforts as a human Walter Mitty action figure, he never managed to fool anyone for longer than the span of a glance and a double take."

Finally, I read this morning the obituary for Jerry Ragovoy, a songwriter you will know whether you know it or not. Somehow, I find it odd that the writer of Piece of My Heart was the son of an optomotrist and lived in Stamford, CT. But that's just my prejudice. This kind of passion and heartbreak can happen anywhere.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Various & Sundry, July 15

Too many interesting obituaries to list here, so that will be a separate entry and probably a new feature. Something like "This week in death," perhaps. I'll post it tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are some other interesting things I saw this week.

I wish I'd seen the recipe for this cake before the 4th of July. I'll just have to remember to do it next year. Actually, I'll probably have to do some sample cakes because the technique looks a little tricky, but heck. I like cake.

Under the heading of "Things that irk me," I read this article about a woman who will potentially be sentenced to 93 days in jail because she is growing vegetables in her front yard. Yep. As opposed to “suitable, live, plant material.” Are you thinking to yourselves that vegetables are live plant material? Ah, but they are not "suitable." And what is suitable? Not vegetables, apparently. I'm glad I don't live in Michigan or I would have been thrown in the hoosegow long ago.

I cannot wait to see the new Harry Potter movie. Actually, I guess I can wait or I would have seen it already. In the meantime, I loved this profane and straight-talking piece that contends the books should be named after Hermione Granger and makes the case why.
When the time comes around to fight, the boys are like, “Oh wow, look at this thing that happened. Isn’t that crazy?” while Hermione is like, “Idiots, I figured that out like 5 books ago. CAN YOU PLEASE FOCUS.”
Awesome.  (I said something similar last year, but hers is much funnier.)

The thing about the Harry Potter movies is that they make the passage of time so clear. It seems appropriate to share with you 40 things that will make you feel old. Including this picture of Daniel Radcliffe at the time of the first movie. He's so young! I feel old all of a sudden.

Continuing our theme of the passage of time, I absolutely loved this photo of a father and son at the first and last space shuttle launch. The son posted the pair on Flickr,saying it was "The picture we waited 30 years to complete." Details here. Isn't it lovely?


Have you been wondering what's kept me so busy I haven't been able to blog the past few weeks? OK, there's a puppy. But there's also...

Yes, indeed, I've been working hard to create a website which finally went live yesterday. You may note that a couple of the blog posts look familiar. You can also follow us on Twitter.

But what is Cephas Media, you ask? It is a subsidiary of Cephas Consulting, which has been around for 20 years "combining strategic marketing and communications services with traditional consulting tools such as process re-engineering, strategic analysis and economic modeling." Cephas Media is the social media arm of the organization. My official title is Director of Marketing and Social Media--la di dah. I'm working with six clients thus far and searching for more. If what we have to offer sounds interesting, please let me know. Or if you know someone who might need our services, pass the word along.

We'll see where this goes!

World in Prayer

It was my week to write the World in Prayer prayers this week. Let's just say that looking at the news depressed me this week.


God, what do you see when you look at this world? How is it that you can love those who hurt others and destroy your creation? How, if I may be so bold, do you deal?

How do you deal with a suicide bomber who walks into a mosque in Afghanistan where people are paying their respects to a national leader?

How do you deal with a man who abducts and then murders a boy abducted from an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York (U.S.)?

How do you deal when you see people dying from treatable, preventable diseases; or suffering from hunger when food is abundantly wasted; or living homeless when houses stand empty?

Don’t you want to scream?

Do you scream?

Do you have something to say to us? Some words of wisdom or encouragement or comfort? Is there something you want us to do? Some grace you wish to bestow?

Where are you, God? Are you only in the beauty of holiness, or are you also in the ugliness of suffering?

Oh, God, may we seek you and may we find you. May we see you in the beauty of creation and may we not despair of you in the suffering of this world. May we deal kindly with one another and with ourselves. May we face the world with courage and may we, by your mercy, find you there.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

See all the people

A couple of days ago, I was on a TweetChat with folks talking about the church and social media. The moderator asked, "Which social media tools are you using with your church or organization? Successfully or unsuccessfully?"

Now, maybe I was just imagining this because I'm looking at the TweetChat transcript and I'm not seeing it, but what I remember was a number of people saying, "We use Facebook. Members of our congregation aren't on Twitter." To which I thought, that seems like it makes Twitter a PRIME target for churches. After all, isn't one of the major goals for churches reaching out to people who don't come in the doors?

Legend has it that famous bank robber Willie Sutton answered a reporter who asked him why he robbed banks with the pithy phrase, "Because that's where the money is." It seems to me that churches who only use the social media their congregations use are like a bank robber who is constantly checking the balance of his own savings account!

Here are three suggestions for how churches can use Twitter as a strategy to reach out into the community and the world.

The first is listening. Find the people in your community who are tweeting and follow them. See what they're saying about your city. The easiest way to do this is to enter the name of your locality in the Twitter search box, but Mashable offers 8 other ways to find who's tweeting near you.

Don't worry about whether they follow you or whether they have any interest in the church. This is an excellent opportunity for you to hear what's going on in your community without people clamming up because you are religious. Just listen.

The second is respond. This may seem obvious, but churches are amazingly bad about responding to someone who tweets to them or about them. Church Marketing Sucks, which noted this problem, also has an excellent follow up on why this happens and what to do about it. Something to bear in mind if you set up a Twitter account is that, even if you never post anything, you still need to know if others are trying to reach you and respond appropriately.

And finally, of course, is share. And don't limit yourself to announcements about what the church will be doing and invitations that people should come on by. What about having someone live tweet your services on Sundays? Why not let people lurk beyond your doors and hear what you have to say? It doesn't always having to be about "come to us." Through Twitter you can convey "we will come to you where you are." And isn't that what our faith is all about?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quote of the Day

I find it wonderfully appropriate, looking at it now, that this is the quotation I eliminated from my sermon because it was not the sound of the genuine in myself:

"There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that someone else pulls." -Howard Thurman

Rev. Thurman was clearly preaching to me last Sunday.

Birthright (a tidbit from a sermon)

Here's the thing to know about this story about Esau giving up his birthright: it's basically an ethnic joke. "How dumb are the Edomites?" is the set-up, and the punchline is, "The Edomites are so dumb, they'd give up their birthright for a bowl of lentils."

The truth is, Esau is a pretty decent, hardworking guy, just trying to do the best he can. Jacob, meanwhile, is a con artist with a great deal of chutzpah, always looking for the main chance.

Which one of these characters do you think most people are like?

As many of you know, I work with a program called Confirm not Conform. For the adult program, there is an exercise we ask people to do where they keep track of how they spend their time over the course of a week, marking it down on a chart. When the class meets, we ask them to take a look at that time chart and compare it with those things that are most important to them. Almost invariably, people see that they spend the most time on the things that mean the least to them, and the least time on the things that mean the most.

I think we are often being asked to give up our birthright for a bowl of lentils. But the question this raises is, What is your birthright? What is it you are being asked to give up for the sake of someone else's agenda? Because it is only when we are able to name our birthright that we are going to be able to see when someone is asking us to give it to them.

Monday Wednesday Morning Preacher: By the seat of my pants

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So anyway...

There I was in Fort Bragg with my sermon notes all set out ready to go. But I wasn't happy about the sermon, and I wasn't sure why. I had an hour before the service. I took Andy for a quick walk and realized: although I was saying something that was perfectly fine, I wasn't saying what I actually wanted to say. Which meant I had to figure out what that was.

I knew exactly the part where I started saying the "good" stuff instead of the "true" stuff--things that sound really good but weren't truly coming from my heart and mind and soul. You can see it there, with the big line through it, a fabulous quote from Howard Thurman I simply couldn't use. So basically all I had was that little bit at the top, which is more than it looks like because some of that is the prompts for stories, and...that's it.

So I went in to preach without a clear point, and without an ending, which is particularly bad since I think endings are my weakest area in preaching. I didn't even bother bringing out the notes since that part was clear in my head. But, boy, was the resolution of the sermon in doubt as I asked people to be seated.

The sermon started well. Intro, good; stories, good. The transition from the planned to the unplanned part of the sermon was really rough as I completely lost the thread. Somehow things managed to get on track and then miraculously a point appeared! One that was memorable, clear, and useful. Somehow the sermon ended and then the service went on. Whew!

Man, that had potential for one huge flop. I do not want to be doing that every week. I'm glad I took the risk, though, because even though this sermon would have been perfectly fine, I would have felt there was something amiss. Ask me if I feel this way after a sermon totally bombs, but I'd rather have a genuine sermon bomb than an inauthentic sermon succeed.

I still remember a sermon I heard in a preaching class. It was an absolutely unobjectionable sermon, but at the end I asked my classmate, "Do you actually believe that?" and she admitted she didn't. It had shown all over her that she couldn't get behind what she was saying. I was very grateful to my professor who didn't tell us that we should redouble our efforts to get behind the party line, but that we needed to find the message we could get behind and preach that.

I'm glad I was able to discover in time that I had written a sermon that wasn't my own, and fervently grateful to God for helping me find my sermon while I was preaching it. Here's hoping I don't have to do that again for a while.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Funnies, July 10

Who's looking forward to the last Harry Potter movie? I'm all a-Hufflepuff about it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quote of the day

Writing about Esau selling his birthright, the Interpreter's Bible (1952) states:

"That was the critical weakness of Esau and that was his condemnation. He lost tomorrow because he snatched so greedily at today.

"Consider his descendants in every generation, including ours: the young men who cannot let any long-range dedication stand in the way of appetite; the frivolous girl who says of something trivial, "I'll die if I do not get it"; the mature people for whom comfort always comes first and for whom anything like religious responsibility is ruled out if it is hard; the men in public office who will sell a birthright of great ideals to satisfy immediate clamor. Attractive traits will not save such people from ultimate dishonor."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Various and Sundry, July 8

Whew! It seems like I've spent most of the day on various forms of public transportation, but now I have a chance to set forth a few tidbits for your thinking pleasure. The theme for the week seems to be "outrage."

Roger Ebert was understandably outraged to find that there's an "intermediate level" version of the Great Gatsby being offered to students. As he writes,

"There is no purpose in "reading" The Great Gatsby unless you actually read it. Fitzgerald's novel is not about a story. It is about how the story is told. Its poetry, its message, its evocation of Gatsby's lost American dream, is expressed in Fitzgerald's style--in the precise words he chose to write what some consider the great American novel. Unless you have read them, you have not read the book at all. You have been imprisoned in an educational system that cheats and insults you by inflicting a barbaric dumbing-down process. You are left with the impression of having read a book, and may never feel you need return for a closer look."

Preach it, brother.

Over at Beauty Tips for Ministers, PeaceBang offered advice for a minister interviewing for a job. The church had asked her to take public transportation from the airport to a spot a few blocks from the church and the interviewee wondered how she could get from said stop to the church without getting extra glowy. PeaceBang's advice: That's why God invented taxis. She goes on:

"Do you think any of the people on the search committee would actually take public transportation with their luggage to an important, potentially life-changing interview? Of course they wouldn’t. I think they’re being rude and inhospitable and you should not hesitate to tell the truth of how you got there. If they want you to be on your best game right away upon your arrival they should jolly well send someone to fetch you at the airport. And so right away, dear heart, I wonder about the church’s spirit of generosity and fairness. A first meet-and-greet is no time to “experience city life.” That’s pure bull pucks and I’d be the first to say so to whoever came up with that sad excuse to leave you on your own to find your way to them."

Preach it, sister! The comments also are worth a read. Many of them say in one way or another, "Run away! Run away!"

In rhetorical news (not really "news," I suppose), I liked this post about the various ways people use "Straw Man" arguments. The authors talk about how straw man arguments are actually a failure of dialogue, which I'd never considered before. Unlike other logical fallacies, "straw-manning involves the misrepresentation of an interlocutor’s view; consequently, Straw Man fallacies involve more than one person. When we commit a straw man fallacy, we fail to live up to the responsibilities of the exchange of reasons."

I have to say my favorite obituary this week was the life of romance novelist Emma Blair who "was, in reality, Iain Blair, a burly 6ft 3in Glaswegian actor with a 60-a-day habit and a fondness for a good pint."

But as an A's fan, I also appreciated the obit for Dick Williams who coached the A's to their 1972 and 1973 World Series wins.

“'This team was basically 25 versions of me, Williams said in his 1990 memoir, No More Mr. Nice Guy, written with Bill Plaschke. 'They didn’t care about their appearance (we looked like damn hippies) or their deportment (we fought like sailors),' he recalled, adding that they didn’t care about 'anything but winning.'”

Finally, a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook that captures the experience of Trader Joe's perfectly.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I think Harper thinks she's a cat

It may also be that the cats think Harper is a cat. A really weird cat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Book Blogging

I spent much of the weekend reading for a change, zipping through Robert B. Parker's final completed Spenser novel, Sixkill, which was pretty good. I love the new character, but I am pretty tired of Spenser and Susan always talking about their relationship. Haven't you worked it out by now? Parker's still got that snappy dialogue going. Well, all right then, did, up until he died.

BossypantsI also read most of Bossypants by Tina Fey, which is terrific. Here's a teaser for you as she describes being in a photo shoot:

With the wind blowing in your long extensions, you feel like Beyonce. The moment the wind machine stops, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and wonder, "Why is the mother from Coal Miner's Daughter here?"

I hope you had a wonderful and restful 4th of July weekend!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Garden update, July 2

It's a beautiful day and I should be out in it, but I wanted to fill you in on new developments in the garden.

We'll start in the front yard with the sad failure of the hollyhocks.

It's like the Boulevard of Broken Dreams in plant form. The one I'd been holding up with stakes and string finally collapsed and I had to pull it out. Soooo depressing. I have one proud hollyhock, which planted itself between the boysenberries and the beans:

I take comfort in that.

The green beans are going great guns! I had some earlier this week, just go out and pick a handful and steam 'em up.

They're really good.

I keep trimming the tomatoes but they still look mighty jungly. Andy is back there looking for an opportunity to steal some green beans.
"Don't mind me; I'm just being photogenic."

The cuphea I started way back when is blooming and I think is a mighty interesting plant. Harper thinks so too. And since Harper likes to pull up plants and bring them to you, I'm a little worried about the fate of the cuphea.

"Oooh! What's this?"

I've managed to keep most of the dahlias from being trampled to death by dogs of all sizes and they are starting to bloom. Pretty dramatic.

The ursinia and alonsoa have also survived ravaging puppies and are coming along. I love the colors, though you can't see them very well in this photo.

On the other side, the hydrangeas are still clamoring to get in the house while the gardenias are more ladylike about it, insinuating themselves by scent.
"Let us in!"

The "view" from my office window.

"We will seduce you with our heady perfume."

Last for the front yard, the sunflowers and sweet peas do make a very nice combination.

In the back, I've planted some pumpkin seeds. I think having pumpkins would be great fun! We'll see what happens.

Remember last month with the empty back beds? Well, I've made progress:

Now things just need to grow up and fill in.
Rudbeckia, alstroemeria, dahlia

Flycatcher, coreopsis

The corn will allllllmost be knee-high by the fourth of July. I also planted the other half with corn and the front row with peas last week, but no sprouts yet.

We did have carrots. Until Harper got to them.

I got to eat one of them.

On the other hand, the radishes are insane! And those huge lettuces behind them? That is the heirloom iceberg lettuce. It ain't no bowling ball head o' lettuce, that's for sure.

I'm always looking at the details, but what's great about doing this monthly check-in is that I take a look at the garden as a whole. And I have to say, it looks pretty good.

Off to enjoy the outdoors.  I hope your garden is blooming, wherever you are.