Sunday, December 30, 2012

From our Neighborhood Watch email list

Dec 28, 2012, at 8:24 PM:

Neighborhood alert:

Tonight, Friday December 28, 2012, around 5:00pm our doorbell rang. At the door were two suspicious looking male teens in white shirts and cheap neckties. They said they were missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Paul said “Thank you but we are a gay household and no one here wants to talk with you.” and closed the door. Then the two young men on the outside of the door prayed in loud voices that God cures all of their homosexual afflictions.

We will need everyone’s help. After 17 years together and a lifelong interest in men this will mean a major life change. You may be called on to fix us up with women, give basic dating advice and lend us all your old Victoria’s Secret catalogs. We plan to check daily so we can tell you as soon as the big change happens.

In the mean time we will be returning their prayer with a prayer that cures their acne.

Paul and James

Dec 29, 2012, at 10:02 AM:

Paul and James,

I turn away all missionaries, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and born agains, explaining that I am not religious. You are perhaps the more fortunate; these people never pray for me, apparently recognizing that I am totally lost and happily headed for Hell, which at least has a balanced budget.

I would like to help you but threw out all of my old copies of Playboy years ago. All I can do is wish you Happy New Year and tell you that I feel lucky to have you as neighbors and as friends.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

O Come All Ye Faithful

This will be the last Christmas hymn I post this season. Not that Christmas is over, but I think I'll be able to make it now, having weaned myself from constant Christmas music over the past few days.

Let's end with a classic. For to us a child is born: Come let us adore him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Various & Sundry: The Sound of the Music of the Wolves of the White Christmas of the Dead. And some other stuff.

Hey, how about we have a normal Friday evening V&S post before the end of 2012. Won't that be fun? Let's see here.

For some lightness, let's start with Tom & Lorenzo's devastating take-down of White Christmas. There were never such devoted sisters. "Honeys, if a gay man over 35 tries to tell you that they don't know EVERY SINGLE WORD to this song, don't believe them. Trust us on this."

Meanwhile, the Baroness Schraeder regrets to inform you that her wedding to Captain Von Trapp has been canceled.
But I don’t want you to be angry at him. We are all adults here. “But Baroness,” so many of my friends have said, “you must be devastated. You yourself are fabulously wealthy, so you cannot have wanted the Captain for his money—you must have truly loved him.” It’s true. But so, I am sure, does his new fiancée, his children’s nanny. Her wardrobe is made of curtains. She’s definitely not a gold digger or anything.
Ha. That will bring us back to dough. (oh oh oh)

Speaking of dough, I thought this article on women and organizational leadership made an absolutely fascinating point: when asked why there was a disparity in leadership representation, the men blamed the system; the women blamed themselves.  It suggests a radically different approach to creating change in an organization which was, in many ways, a huge relief.

Also on the issue of gender/racial balance, the Columbia Journalism Review did officially what I have done only casually and analyzed who gets a NY Times obituary. Among other things, dead people most often went to an Ivy League school. Did you know that? State school people apparently live forever. The gender imbalance is noted in the chart below:

I loved this idea of the Virtual Food Drive from the Alameda County Community Food Bank.  
Why a Virtual Food Drive?

  • It's the greenest (and easiest) of all food drives

  • You save the Food Bank precious resources – schedulers, drivers, food sorters and fuel
  • Your donations allow us to purchase our most-needed items
  • And, they point out, they can stretch every $1 donated into $4 of food by buying in bulk. Sounds sensible.

    Finally, I was very sorry to see that this was the Anglian Wolf Society, not the Anglican Wolf Society. But I think someone ought to start an Anglican Wolf Society. Then we can all have a Wolf Experience and Llama Walk, instead of needing to go to North Bedfordshire. Might be worth a trip, though.

    Unto Us a Boy is Born [Feast of the Holy Innocents]

    It's the Feast of the Holy Innocents today, which has a lot more resonance this year for me. This is the hymn that came to my mind shortly after the Newtown massacre for its verse about Herod -- "all the little boys he killed" -- what a horrible, horrible story.

    And there's a strange thing going on in this story I hadn't thought about before: about how other people suffered when Jesus came into the world. Other innocent people. I don't have much more than that; it's something I'll need to ponder.

    Here's the collect for today, which I think is powerful stuff:
    We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
    No subtitles today. This hymn isn't among Christmas' greatest hits. It is strange to be reminded of grief at Christmas, but important. The grief is there; burying it under layers of Christmas cheer is not to our benefit, I feel.

    Unto us a boy is born!
    The King of all creation,
    came he to a world forlorn,
    the Lord of every nation.

    Cradled in a stall was he
    with sleepy cows and asses;
    but the very beasts could see
    that he all men surpasses.

    Herod then with fear was filled;
    "A prince," he said, "in Jewry!"
    All the little boys he killed
    at Bethlehem in his fury.

    Now may Mary's son, who came
    so long ago to love us,
    lead us all with hearts aflame
    unto the joys above us.

    Gromit's Christmas Present

    What'd'ya get, Gromit?


    Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Of the Father's Love Begotten

    The Christmas sing-along continues with another hymn for you on this, the feast of St. John the Apostle, aka Man of Mystery.

    Of the Father's love begotten,
    ere the worlds began to be,
    he is Alpha and Omega,
    he the source, the ending he,
    of the things that are, that have been,
    and that future years shall see,
    evermore and evermore!

    O that birth for ever blessèd,
    when the Virgin, full of grace,
    by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
    bare the Savior of our race;
    and the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
    first revealed his sacred face,
    evermore and evermore!

    O ye heights of heaven, adore him;
    angel-hosts, his praises sing;
    powers, dominions, bow before him,
    and extol our God and King;
    let no tongue on earth be silent,
    every voice in concert ring,
    evermore and evermore!

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    In the Bleak Midwinter

    Merry Christmas!

    You know the thing that gets me about the way we celebrate Christmas in this country is not that we play Christmas music throughout December, but that it just vanishes at the stroke of midnight on December 25. I'd like a little more Christmas, please!

    This video has subtitles so you can sing along. I'll also post the words below. Love this hymn

    In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
    In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

    Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
    In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
    The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

    Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
    But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
    Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

    What can I give Him, poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
    Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    On the Mystery of the Incarnation

    Thank you to David Lose for bringing this poem to my attention.

    Various & Sundry: Maximum Guns

    As you can tell, since Sandy Hook, the issue of guns has been on my mind. Here are a few more things I've seen that I thought were illuminating, thought-provoking, helpful, or hopeful in the swirl of information.

    Let me start here so it doesn't get buried: In the "but what can we do?" category, the most helpful thing I've found this week is the Children's Defense Fund's document Protect Children, Not Guns. It was written earlier this year, and is an issue they have been working on a long time, so it wasn't a rush-to-find-an-answer kind of a thing. I also like that they had calls to action for all of us, not just "them."

    Knowing that you can examine any non-profit's 990 tax form, I thought I'd take a look at the NRA's, and found this post examining their finances for 2010, the year in which Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, made $835,469 (plus another $125K and change in "other compensation"). It's a fascinating document to dig into. You know who's on the board of directors? Grover Norquist.

    If you are wondering, "How did we get to this place?", Terry Gross's interview with Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center, tracing the history of the rise of the assault-style weapon for the civilian market, may be something you want to listen to, or read the transcript. The information is disturbingly fascinating, and presented in a very matter-of-fact way.

    Also looking at history, Tony Horwitz notes the similarities between the gun lobby and the slavery lobby of the 18th century. And blogger Nancy Kho found similar parallels after seeing the movie Lincoln on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings.

    Lance Mannion had two posts that resonated with me. The first is the satirical Dear Gun Nuts, Uncle Sam needs you! The second, Against any grand unifying  theories explaining Sandy Hook, is one he says he's not happy with and will add to later. His summary in the comments is this: "I think rather than trying to explain anything and everything in reference to broad social issues, we'll learn more if we focus on the individual stories of the killers themselves and we're better off asking not what causes violence in general but what would have stopped this particular killer well before he got to killing people." But everything we're posting and thinking right now is a work in progress, it seems to me.

    In the thought-provoking category, Mike the Mad Biologist writes that Nothing in Movement Conservatism Makes Sense Except in the Light of Creationism: The Second-Amendment Edition, which shows similar ways of thinking about gun rights and creationism, the same resentment about anyone who wants to "take them away," or not take their logic seriously. It's worth reading for the "oh" of understanding.

    I'm assuming you've read Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker about the Simple Truth about Gun Control. I'm just not sure it will convince anyone who isn't already convinced. But it just seems to damn obvious. As tweeter Mary Matthews said, "The 'right' says to limit IN ANY WAY an American's right to drive a racecar down a suburban road at 150 mph infringes on their freedom."

    After all of this, I don't know about you, but I needed to see a picture of baby hedgehogs. Here you go.

    Peace be with you.

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Comfort ye

    I heard this yesterday on the radio as I was headed in to the winery. It was, in fact, very comforting.

    Also inspiring.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    After great pain

    I'm still speechless after the shootings in Newtown last Friday. I have nothing to offer but sadness.

    Here are a couple of things that have helped me:

    Mr. Rogers' wonderful wisdom:
    "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
    And Brene Brown's insights and observations:
    Prayer and activism are not mutually exclusive.
    For many of us they are inextricably connected. We don’t need to criticize those who are praying. You don’t have to pray or even believe in prayer, but be respectful (or at least quiet). 
    Politics is easier than grief.
    To skip over feeling and rush to policy-making dehumanizes the process and weakens policy.

    Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort.
    It has nothing to do with accountability. Accountability requires long, difficult, respectful conversations. Blame fizzles out with rage, where accountability is in for the long haul. 
    Self-righteousness is a sign of fear and uncertainty.
    It has nothing to do with activism or change. The loudest and most vitriolic among us are often the most afraid. As my friend Harriet Lerner says, “Change requires listening with same level of passion that we feel when we speak.” 
    You can't shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing.
    Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, violent behaviors than it is to be the cure. We need courage, vulnerability, hard work, empathy, integrity (and a little grace wouldn't hurt).
    I'm going to be quiet for a bit longer now. And listening. What has helped you in the past few days?

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Review: The Leftovers

    I'm not really sure if I'm writing a review per se. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

    The Leftovers starts with this premise: what would people do if a rapture-like event happened? And what would happen if it didn't look like what anyone expected? Would you rename it, as the people in this novel do, the Sudden Departure?

    When I talked to a friend of mine about this, she said she would set up a huge database to run the information on all of the people who had disappeared to find out what they had in common. Which makes sense. And perhaps somewhere in some government office in this alternate world, someone is doing this. But that is not this novel.

    This is not a plot-driven book; it's character-driven -- something that rarely works for me any more unless I am really intrigued by the people, as I am here. And I'm not sure why they are so interesting to me, except that the author allows their confusion to shine through in different ways. The book focuses on one family: mother, father, two kids (one starting college, one starting high school) and how they respond. There's another woman who gets a spotlight, whose husband and two children both disappeared. I liked them all. I sympathized with them all.

    I can see how this book might frustrate you if you're looking for answers. What's in that database? What really happened? But I think one of the points of this book is, there is no common denominator why one person is taken and another stays; sometimes you will never know why things happen. And isn't that life as well? Why does one person get cancer and another doesn't? Why is one person in a car accident and not another? You can find some commonalities, but you just can't get it all nailed down, settled, and answered. Live your life as best you can, but it's not about whether or not you will be rewarded. And be kind to one another; you do not know what they have seen or experienced.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Candy Cane Camellias

    We had a beautiful weekend here last weekend and I dumped a whole lot of mulch on the beds, hoping to keep the dahlia bulbs warm enough so I don't have to dig them all out and store them under the house for the winter.

    Everything's pretty much kaput now except the azaleas and these fabulous camellias. They make such a mess, dropping everywhere, but for right now at the start of the bloom, they are so wonderful and cheery with their peppermint stripes. So festive. I just wanted to share.

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, December 9

    Answering the age-old question: how to spell...ummm...the religious holiday that Jews are celebrating at this time?

    Saturday, December 8, 2012

    Various & Sundry, December 8: Art, Life, Peace

    A few quick things before I dash to drop the first of the deposits at the White Elephant Sale...

    In art news this week, check out these fabulous trompe l'oiel pieces from John Pugh. For example, these aren't windows:

    And that is not a reflection of a truck in the window. Isn't that amazing?

    In a similar vein of amazement, check out these beach creatures:

    Oh, heck, while we're at it, here's some architecture for dogs.

    Speaking of architecture and animals, I loved this obituary for John Heyworth who turned his family estate into a wildlife park. Isn't that picture a kick? How lovely, though, to be remembered thusly: "A kind, modest man, he was a devoted patron of the estate’s living, and served for more than 50 years as a church warden." And had rhinos.

    How do you want to be remembered? And how do you want to remember your life? A friend of mine passed along this great article on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. It's a beautiful article. Please check it out.

    In another deeper turn, an anthropologist wrote this initial reflection on what peace looks like as an empirical reality, exploring in particular the behavior of a town called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which has a history of welcoming the outsider going back centuries, which made it possible for the whole town to be involved in the work of hiding Jews during WWII. I'll be interested in hearing more about this woman's research. But here's what she says for the moment:
    Peace is knowable — in gorgeous, imperfect detail — down to the level of everyday habit and choice. And what are those choices? To walk down streets with unfamiliar faces and to open your own countenance as you do; to buy baskets of fruits from someone whose accents are not your own; to allow the happy, teary scramble as your children figure out how to play with new arrivals to their school; to open the door at the threshold of your home even when storms threaten outside; to hear of the vivid suffering of others even when it weighs down the heart; to invite to the hearth, to break bread, together now. The foot crosses the threshold, the face is open, the habits — discernible to the eye — over time, become fixed (and knowable) and sure. 

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Dave Brubeck

    I drove home yesterday listening to all the Brubeck at my disposal -- Time Out and Jazz at Oberlin. But I had not realized until I read the obits yesterday about Brubeck's religious music in support of racial equality. (I also hadn't realized he grew up in my neighborhood, being born in Concord and attending Mills College.)

    But check out his work The Gates of Justice. The texts he uses are perfect for Advent, too. A snippet below:

    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, December 2, 2012

    I've posted this before, but at a less timely time of year, and I think it behooves us all to take time to listen to noted jurist, Daily Show correspondent and Mac pitchman John Hodgman advise us on the proper time to put up Christmas decorations. Enjoy.

    Photo of court-ordered "sadness tree"

    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Various and Sundry: Andrew, Advent, Aid, and Autism, among others

    "I'm not barking at YOU."
    Happy end of November! It's the feast of St. Andrew who, to my astonishment, I've never written about. This is especially egregious since we have a dog named Andrew who's registered name is Tollwest Quack Come and See. Did you know that according to legend, "young women should note the location of barking dogs on Saint Andrew’s Eve: their future husbands will come from that direction"? Too late now. You'll have to wait until next November 29th. I wonder if Andrew is the patron saint of single women because he was a fisher of men...

    Of course the feast of St. Andrew means Advent is nigh, and I loved this collection of the 42 worst nativity sets, some of which I admit I like, and one of which I bought for my mother. It's not this one, though.

    This spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette looks delicious, doesn't it? And it contains an actual vegetable! (And lots of bacon.)

    In other food and wine news, I appreciated this post about teaching people to appreciate the pleasure in wine with flavors that sound awful: minerals, barnyard aromas. And it goes beyond that to talk about appreciating those things that challenge us -- in food, in art, in life.
    [I]f we think more deeply about pleasure, we realize it isn’t always so straightforward or even comfortable. After all, why do so many of us love sad poems, disturbing horror films, or intense, subtitled psychological dramas. Why am I capable of loving Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” or The Smith’s “Meat Is Murder” or Elliott Smith’s “From a Basement on the Hill” — while at the same time I can enjoy T. Pain, Taylor Swift, and dancing with my kids to Psy’s “Gangnam Style”?
    Here's a really touching story from Bill Murray about Gilda Radner.

    In obituary news, I have two impressive as hell women to bring to your attention. First is Vladka Meed, "who with her flawless Polish and Aryan good looks was able to smuggle pistols, gasoline for firebombs and even dynamite to the Jewish fighters inside the Warsaw Ghetto," who died this week at the age of 90.

    The other is a woman named Maria Santos Gorrostieta who was found dead on November 17 at the age of 36. She "was a former mayor of the small Mexican town of Tiquicheo and became famous for her refusal to be cowed by the drug gangs battling for control of the western state of Michoacan."
    A doctor and mother of three, Maria Santos Gorrostieta served as mayor from 2008 to 2011. Over that time she survived at least two assassination attempts, including one that killed her husband Jose and another that left her body peppered with bullet holes and scars.
    May she rest in peace. My prayers are with her family.

    You may recall that last week I posted the parody video of Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway. As a follow-up, here's a terrific interview with the people who created the project, explaining why and how they did it and what they want it to accomplish. Good stuff.

    Finally, on the Confirm not Conform blog, I hope you'll check out this interview I got to do with my friend Emily LeBlanc, talking about how the church can better work with people with autism. Really helpful stuff.

    Have a great weekend!

    World in Prayer prayers

    It was my week to write the prayers for World In Prayer, and of course Advent set the tone. Two other things colored these prayers: first, I did a service at a rehab facility -- 7 elderly women in wheelchairs and one aide -- and I realized how often in church I hear us urging people to go out and do when there are times when it is appropriate simply to sit and receive. And to follow that up, Internet Monk had a great post this week entitled Tis Easier to Give than Receive that I thought was lovely and so true. I was also reminded of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday in which he writes "Teach us to care and not to care/teach us to sit still".

    So that's where these prayers came from.

    Here you go.

    Perhaps we do not need to do any more. Perhaps we need to learn to wait. Perhaps we need to sit in silence, listening, without an answer at the ready, without the need to spring into action.

    Perhaps we need to welcome Advent once again, O Lord, as the antidote for all our striving, as a time when we leave the world to your care.

    O God, if you want us to act, we will act. But if in this season, you want us to wait, to watch, to listen, then we will wait, we will watch, we will listen.

    As we pray for the world, may we sit still in your presence, waiting for your guidance, and watching for your return.

    We pray for those who cannot worship in quiet and safety:

    • for Iraq where a string of bombings, including one at the Imam Abbas Shrine in Karbala, have killed 45 and left another 155 wounded. 
    • for Nigeria where at least 11 people were killed when a car bomb was detonated at a Protestant Church inside a military barracks and where continued fighting between Nigerian security forces and the Islamist group Boko Haram have forced thousands to flee their homes. 
    • for Zimbabwe where some Anglicans trying to enter the cathedral in Harare have been chased by thugs and beaten with chains. We give thanks that the worshipers were able to enter and hold services there. 
    We pray for those living in areas of conflict or struggles for power:

    • for Syria where internet access has been shut down and battles between Syrian rebel forces and government troops have closed the main road leading to the Damascus Airport. 
    • for the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebels have started withdrawing from territory they captured from government troops. 
    • for Mali and for those seeking a peaceful solution to the end of months of fighting there. 
    • for Egypt where the National Assembly is voting on a draft constitution, and where people are protesting the actions of President Morsi who claimed extra powers for his office. 
    We pray for those who are sick.

    • As we mark World AIDS Day on December 1st, we pray for all those who are affected by AIDS.
    • We pray for Russia where there has been a 12 percent rise in the rate of AIDS this year. 
    We pray for those working for peace: 
    • for the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and the Latin American Council of Churches as they meet this weekend in Antigua, Guatemala to address issues of peace and security in Latin America. 
    We pray for our communities and neighbors, for our families and friends, for those who are near to us. 

    May we wait and watch and listen with them, and with all the world, rejoicing in your return and in your never-ending love for all of your creation. Amen.

    Saturday, November 24, 2012

    Various & Sundry: Gnawing on Leftover Knee-Jerk Reactions

    Gromit had a good Thanksgiving.
    Hello! Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone in the U.S. or American citizens celebrating abroad? How about Black Friday? Or otherwise, a good end of the week? Well, good. I've got a few leftovers all ready for you to take home and eat later. Ready?

    If you're in a profession that requires fundraising, here's information that might help you as we enter the race to the end of tax deductible donation season: 5 things charities do that turn off young donors. And, I might add, middle aged donors as well.

    While we're on the subject of donations: get that Donate button up on your website!

    After posting my very vague thoughts on Black Friday yesterday, I found these articles that challenge my assumptions about the evils of WalMart. (h/t @PeterSuderman on Twitter who wrote Why Black Friday is My Favorite Holiday, also enlightening.)

    Meanwhile, to appeal to the lefty-ness part of my nature, I thought this post on the Propaganda of Shared Sacrifice was powerful; and though I haven't finished watching it yet, this conversation between Infusion fave Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Hayes about Chris' book The Twilight of the Elites is extremely interesting. I'm going to have to add this book to my reading list.

    And to finish up this compilation of Challenges to My Knee-Jerk Reactions, I loved this website for Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway. Set up by various aid organizations in Norway, the website asks, "Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway”-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?"

    What indeed? Watch the video and see what you think:

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    Thoughts on Black Friday

    I don't get Black Friday. I could object to it on moral grounds, I suppose, and post an easy rant on consumerism run amok.

    But primarily, I don't understand what motivates people to be part of it. And it occurred to me today that perhaps the better thing to do, rather than wag my finger, is simply to ask: If you go to stores on Black Friday, why? What's the appeal? What do you get out of it?

    Is it the very competitive nature of the shopping itself that appeals? Because you know you're being taken advantage of by the stores, right?

    Or maybe "taken advantage of" is unfair; they're making money today. You're not beating the house at its own game.

    But leaving any question of morality out of it, from a strictly monetary point of view, it doesn't make sense to shop today. There are better times to shop for bargains.

    On the other side of the equation, I'd like to have a private chat with us moralists for a moment. Again, why? Why do we do this?

    Every year we have a little chat with people about the terribleness of Black Friday. I suspect it makes us feel good about ourselves. But you could not pay me to go to one of the big box stores today, much less get up at 4 in the morning to do so.

    So how moral am I, really? It's not like I'm not going to shop this holiday season. It's just that I'm mostly going to do it from the comfort of my desk, online, having others do the work of shlepping things to my door.

    What do we get out of our little lectures? Do they do anything? How can we actually help?

    Do we need to quit talking about it as a moral issue and talk about it as a monetary one? Or do we need to stop and listen first? Or do we need to change ourselves? I genuinely want to know, because I hate seeing this play out year after year.

    e.g.: Washington Post article: Wal-Mart union protests fail to deter bargain-seeking crowds on Black Friday

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    How to cook a Thanksgiving turkey

    At last, a cooking professional who dares to tell the truth!

    Tante Marie's Thanksgiving Recipes, including roast turkey with pan gravy.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Review: Two books that made me laugh

    I read these books a while ago and have been meaning to recommend them to you, if you're looking for something funny but with some real thought behind them.

    First, an oldie but a goodie: Heartburn by Nora Ephron. I knew this was a novelized version of her divorce from Carl Bernstein. I had no idea it would make me laugh so much. I loved the protagonist's brutal honesty, which is most likely Nora Ephron's own. For example:
    Every so often I contemplate suicide merely to remind myself of my complete lack of interest in it as a solution to anything at all. There was a time when I worried about this, when I thought galloping neurosis was wildly romantic, when I longed to be the sort of girl who knew the names of wildflowers and fed baby birds with eyedroppers and rescued bugs from swimming pools and wanted from time to time to end it all. Now, in my golden years, I have come to accept the fact that there is not a neurasthenic drop of blood i my body, and I have become very impatient with it in others. Show me a woman who cried when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I'll show you a real asshole.
    Love. Her. And whether "her" is Rachel Samstat or Nora Ephron, I really don't care. I'll be very curious to see the movie now.

    I'd been meaning to read a book by John Scalzi for a while, and was reminded to do so when I saw a review for his latest novel, Redshirts. The name will mean something to Star Trek fans: Redshirts is the term for the ensigns who get assigned to away teams and are promptly killed. Scalzi writes from their perspective, as people scuttle around the great spaceship The Intrepid, trying to avoid the captain, and ultimately trying to figure out what is going on and how to stop it.

    I don't know if this is one that will only appeal to Trekkies, but I'm not hard-core and I thought it was hilarious as well as thought-provoking. I'd say give it a shot. I'll be curious what you think.

    Monday, November 19, 2012


    I found this in the Interpreter's Bible when I was prepping for the sermon on Mark 13. It's from the Book of Common Prayer, I assume the 1928 book, since I didn't know it at all. I thought it was lovely and wanted to share it.
    Eternal God, who committest to us the swift and solemn trust of life; since we do not know what a day may bring forth, but only that the hour for serving thee is always present, may we wake to the instant claims of thy holy will, not waiting for tomorrow, but yielding today.
    As I tried to find the exact source of that prayer, I found the Pastor's Prayer Book from 1960, which includes this fabulous prayer For a Committee:
    Bless, we beseech thee, O God, the work of this committee; grant to its members clarity of thought, evenness of temper, and willingness to persevere in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    That's a keeper.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, November 18

    This is a video my sister made. In case you're wondering what's going on, "An elf and a mouse battle over a flower in a field of Xmas tinsel." Because that's what happens when you own a gift shop in Portland, Maine.

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Various & Sundry: Clearing out the pantry, both virtual and actual

    Isn't that beautiful?
    As of yesterday, I finished (I think) all the edits for CnC for Adults and I've gone crazy with freedom! I cleaned out the pantry and put out a bunch of canned goods for the Boy Scout collection this morning, sorted the spices, and then, because as I say, I'd gone crazy, I tidied up the tupperware. Yes, that's the kind of life I'm leading.

    And now it's time to clean out the virtual pantry. Are you ready?

    Are election reactions past their sell-by date? Well, I'm willing to chance it. Here's one I think is worth reading: Letter to a future Republican strategist regarding white people from an official midwestern white person who explains why he did not vote for the Republican candidate, "purely for your education, such that you might be interested in winning an election on the national level at some point in the future." Hint: it's not because he wants free stuff.

    You may have heard about people signing petitions about seceding from the union. A) Didn't we try that before? Didn't work out so good. And B), this post explains exactly what that would mean. Hint: no Social Security benefits.

    One could almost call that passive-aggressive behavior. I thought this post offered an excellent primer in how to be passive-aggressive.

    In other news, remember how I followed the Ivory Coast election about a while ago? Almost two years ago now--wow! Well, the new president dissolved his cabinet this week. Why, you ask?
    "the decision came after a dispute Tuesday during a parliamentary committee debate over a possible amendment to the country’s marriage law. The change would make the husband and wife equal heads of a household. Under the current law, the husband is the head and makes decisions in the name of the family. Ouattara’s party supported the change, but other parties within the coalition opposed it."
    I have to appreciate that the conflict came to a head over women's rights. Good luck, President Ouattara.

    In the obituaries this week, David Durk gets his due. Remember Serpico? Well, it was really Durk and Serpico, testifying about police corruption in NYC in 1971. “It would be fair to say that without Durk, there would have been no police corruption exposé in The New York Times, no Knapp Commission investigations into the matter,” according to one source. Impressive and brave work, and boy were the rewards in heaven. He retired with a police pension of $17K a year in 1985.

    I loved this story about a homeless boy taken in by a high school football coach. Very touching.

    I am also often very moved by this blog from a contractor working in Afghanistan. A recent post answers the question, "So Ryan, what are most soldiers like?" Another explains The Best Phrase They Have in Afghanistan.

    Here's a practical suggestion: Let's stop calling people leaders until they actually lead.
    At the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, we use the simplest definition of leader that I have come across: people follow you. This definition intentionally omits any reference to rank or role. We see leadership as behavior-based. "Leader" is not a title you are handed just because you sit in a certain spot in a hierarchy; you have to earn it from those you aspire to have follow you.
    Amen to that.

    And finally, Ken Levine offers a reflection on his role model: Shari Lewis, in a wonderful story of generous professionalism. May we all be so good.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Review: Skyfall ***THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!***

    For my dad's birthday, my parents and I went to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall, and I have things I want to say about it that involve HUGE spoilers! I'm warning you now! If you don't want to know, then don't keep reading.

    Have you averted your eyes, you who do not wish to know?

    All right then.

    Sunday, November 11, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, November 11

    Happy 75th birthday, Dad! You look a heck of a lot better than Sean Connery.

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Various & Sundry: Can't Touch This

    It's been a while since I've had a chance to do the random round-up. Let's see what I've got here...

    In tea news, you'll be glad to hear that the London-based loose-leaf brew bar, "Bringing better cups of tea to the streets of London: loose leaf, custom-brewed and served from a 1974 Citroen H van," has already been oversubscribed on Kickstarter. I definitely plan to get a cuppa if and when I get to London.

    I saw the movie Argo a couple of weeks ago, and really appreciated Lance Mannion's take on it. It's less a review and more a meditation on the lessons it may have to teach us in this day and age.
    There are times when there really isn’t anything we can do. There are problems that can’t be solved. There are situations where even someone as powerful as the President of the United States has no control. Under those circumstances, when success isn’t an option, despair and surrender are temptations that must still be resisted. The best thing we can do is do our jobs, to exercise what little control we have in the little sphere in which we still have it, and instead of holing up by ourselves, reach out to those nearest whom we can help. We have to take care of each other.
    One person who exercised what control he had in his sphere was James R. Dumpson, who died this week at the age of 103. The headline for his obituary was "defender of the poor," and what a wonderful accolade! He was the NYC Commissioner of Welfare in the early '60's, and had a message that still needs to be heard today: that "the only test for public assistance was a citizen’s need, not morals."

    I almost always find something to love in David Lose's daily blog posts, but this one, entitled Theology as Conversation, I found particularly compelling. Probably because it's exactly what we're trying to do with Confirm not Conform. "True belief," he says, "grows only in the space created by the freedom to question." Amen to that.

    Meanwhile, in a less...reverent part of the blogosphere, Lent Madness mastermind Tim Schenck prepared a wonderful Litany for Diocesan Conventions.
    From those compelled to speak from any available microphone even with nothing to say,
    Good Lord, deliver us.
    From liturgies that include the clapping of hands and hymns no one knows,
    Good Lord, deliver us.
    Amen again.

    Oh, there was an election this week, wasn't there? In President Obama's acceptance speech I appreciated his comment that "We are not as divided as our politics suggest." One scientific study, at least, tends to back him up on this sentiment.

    It was a wonderful speech. I appreciated what he had to say about democracy, about debate, about patriotism.

    Then there's this. I admit I like this too.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    Not By Bread Alone, continued

    Earlier this year, I posted about a program proposed by the mother of a friend of mine. Called Not By Bread Alone, this program provided toiletries, beauty products, nylons, and other items for women at the local food pantry.

    Today I heard a follow-up story about the program. A woman came to the food pantry and was beside herself - simply ecstatic - to be able to get...a hairbrush. Because she didn't have one, not in any real sense. It had completely fallen apart. And, she told my friend's mother, if she'd had the money to buy a hairbrush, she would have bought something else.

    It was also a good thing because, she said to my friend's mother, she was running out of elastics to hold her hair back. And now she didn't need to worry about that.

    Just thought you should know.

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    Giving post-Sandy

    My parents asked me yesterday who I suggested giving to in the wake of Sandy's devastation of the eastern seaboard. I'd been thinking about that myself. I haven't yet decided where I'm going to put my money, but here are some of the principles I'm using to decide:

    • No stuff If it requires collection on this end, unloading and sorting on the other end, and transport in between, I don't think it's a good use of resources. As numerous people have pointed out, the time and energy required of volunteers to sort through gifts-in-kind donations - not to mention the need to dispose of unnecessary or unwanted stuff - in general makes this a bad call. Especially since I am on the other side of the country. Why use the fuel to ship stuff thousands of miles when a) resources are much closer to hand and b) one of the things they need is fuel? There's nothing wrong with giving money!
    • No new charities I am very leery of any charity that crops up specifically to respond to Hurricane Sandy. Especially in such a charity-rich environment as NY-NJ, the rest of the northeast, and  Haiti, why establish a new charity when there are so many already there with networks and systems in place?
    • Who do I know? Are there any charities in these areas with which I am already affiliated? Who do I know who lives there? What do they need? Which charities or organizations do they recommend?
    • Emergency response or long-term needs? First responders can always use an influx of cash, if not for this crisis, then to be ready for the next one. If what gets to you is wanting someone to be there at the outset, then it's not too late to give; your donation will be used for the next disaster, because there will be one. If, on the other hand, it's the devastation of this specific disaster that has touched you, then I would recommend considering how to contribute for the long haul, which means more thought on your part.
    • For long-term needs, what do I want to contribute towards? Spend a little time thinking specifically about the issue or issues that mean a lot to you: children's health? Animal welfare? Homelessness? The arts? Then start investigating who does a good job in those areas in the affected area. Charity Navigator can help you with this. Or again, get in touch with people you know in the area. 
    • One-time gift or ongoing? Is this something where I want to give an added influx of cash to a local organization to help them with a sudden increase in need? Or do I want to have an ongoing relationship with this organization? Do I have a plan for how much I want to give over how long a period of time? 
    So there you go! I haven't helped you much, have I? Charity Navigator has a helpful post on responding to Hurricane Sandy that gives some specifics on organizations working in response to the hurricane. 

    Here's the thing: it's so much easier when someone can tell you, "Give to this organization!" And it's easy to be overwhelmed by the need. But remember: it's OK not to fix everything! Because, to be honest with you, you're not going to.

    You know what? There are people in need even in places that haven't been hit by a hurricane. Maybe, as you think about the long-term needs that you think should be addressed, you realize that you can make a far greater difference near your home. And that's OK. Be thoughtful. Be intentional. Be prayerful. And be kind to one another.

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Bye bye, baseball

    "It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

    -Bart Giamatti

    Congratulations, Giants! We'll see everybody next spring.

    Photo by Luanne Dietz, The Chronicle / SF

    Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    Two open letters on the topic of politicians and rape

    As you no doubt know, the issue of rape and of pregnancies resulting from rape have been in the news. I've seen two truly excellent and thoughtful responses to this issue and I didn't want them to get lost in a Various and Sundry post.

    These are both in the form of open letters to politicians, and both begin by warning that these are likely to be triggers for anyone who has experienced sexual violence. With those caveats in mind, I highly encourage you to read both of these:

    The first, from the perspective of a rape survivor and theologian, is a compelling piece illustrating how politicians on both sides of the political spectrum are not helping the conversation and especially are not helping anyone who has experienced rape. I was especially impressed by the tone of the comments following the post. 

    The second is an amazing satirical piece written from the point of view of a rapist. Trust me, it's worth a read.

    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, October 21

    Halloween Dog Parade 2012, Tompkins Square Park: Evita Pugron

     Many more photos from (and I am not making this up) the 22nd annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade can be found here.

    Saturday, October 20, 2012

    Various & Sundry, Education, Happiness, and two F words

    A few quick items for your enjoyment and edification:

    For example, students do a good job of evaluating their teachers. A company has developed a survey that seems to give pretty robust data on which teachers do a good job and which ones are struggling.
    The survey did not ask Do you like your teacher? Is your teacher nice? This wasn’t a popularity contest. The survey mostly asked questions about what students saw, day in and day out. 
    The results also fascinate me:
    Of the 36 items included in the Gates Foundation study, the five that most correlated with student learning were very straightforward:
     1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
     2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.
     3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.
     4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
     5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes. 
     When Ferguson and Kane shared these five statements at conferences, teachers were surprised. They had typically thought it most important to care about kids, but what mattered more, according to the study, was whether teachers had control over the classroom and made it a challenging place to be. As most of us remember from our own school days, those two conditions did not always coexist: some teachers had high levels of control, but low levels of rigor.
    Isn't that interesting?

    Another insight I appreciated: there's nothing wrong with happiness. David Lose writes about how often Christians seem to denigrate happiness as vastly inferior to joy. But as he points out (not in these words), it's not that one is superior to the other; they are simply different things. There is no need to turn up one's nose at happiness.

    Jennifer Weiner wrote an incredibly moving meditation on the F word - fat. Highly recommended.

    And on another F word - fashion -, I have to admit I love this picture of Salma Hayak owning the sidewalk. You know what? It makes me happy. Enjoy.

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012


    There's too much going on for me to blog about this the way it deserves, but I wanted to post a couple of things related to forgiveness. I'm still pondering these, so not much commentary. If you have brilliant things to say to tie these together, please do!

    First, an obituary for Eric Lomax, tortured by the Japanese during WWII. Many years later, Lomax found a picture of the Japanese interpreter, Takashi Nagase, who had been involved in his torture.
    For two years Lomax did nothing. Then he obtained a translation of Nagase’s memoir, which explained how shame had led the interpreter to create a Buddhist shrine beside the death railway. Patti Lomax then wrote to Nagase, enclosing her husband’s photograph and suggesting that perhaps the two men could correspond. She asked: “How can you feel 'forgiven’, Mr Nagase, if this particular Far Eastern prisoner-of-war has not yet forgiven you?”
    You'll need to read the obituary to find out what happens. (Or you can wait til next May when Railway Man is released as a film staring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman.)

    But I was struck by that notion that you cannot feel forgiven if the person you have wronged hasn't forgiven you.

    That same day I saw a video of Brene Brown, talking about going back to church "for the wrong reasons"--to get away from pain. Instead, she found that the church was a midwife, not an epidural. She describes how the dean of her church explained that "In order for forgiveness to really happen, something has to die." She goes on to say that in her research, there are two emotions that people fear the most: shame and grief. "And so, if something has to die in order for forgiveness to happen, and people are deathly afraid to feel grief, then we just won't forgive anybody, because I don't want to feel grief."

    As I said: pondering.

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, for people with a very particular set of skills

    OK, this is probably only funny if you've seen the movie Taken. But I don't label this "Well, I think it's funny" for nothing.

    Maybe this will help. Or not.

    h/t Happy Place which has several other ways to apply the Taken speech to your daily life. They understand me.

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Various & Sundry: Politics, Fabulous Women, and Snark

    I have an ambitious Saturday to-do list, so let's get the important stuff out of the way: this week's compendium of stuff I found interesting, curated for your pleasure and edification.

    I didn't watch the debate on Wednesday. Neither did Lance Mannion, which didn't stop him from posting something that I think captures the essence of the debate. Meanwhile, Brenda Peterson wrote why Romney's performance was a turn-off for women.

    And the take-away image is of Big Bird getting the axe; in response, anibundel has "rounded up Exhibits ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ (that’s pronounced “ab-key-deaf-gher-jeckle-mer-nop-qur-stuv-werx-yvs”, for the uninitiated) as to why Sesame Street is one of the greatest programs on television for children." Starting with Big Bird learning about the death of Mr. Hooper.

    Hope you had your Cool Touch (TM) Kleenex handy. And if you have time, check out her wonderful compendium of Sesame Street videos.

    A couple of bloggers review the Letter from 2012 in Obama's America that Focus on the Family wrote before the 2008 election -- a letter that describes the world of October 2012 in a way that, shall we say, is apocalyptically wrong. They were 0.5 for 34, getting half of one prediction right for correctly seeing that Obama would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. A great insight:
    Re-reading the Focus letter four years later, what strikes me most — besides how utterly wrong they are about everything — is how parochial their imagination is when attempting to envision a political dystopia. The horrors they predict are almost all narrowly targeted at and tailored toward them. I’ve read a ton of dystopian stories, good and bad, and this is the most cluelessly self-absorbed vision of its kind that I’ve ever seen.
    For a final note in our political coverage, Patton Oswalt wonders what would happen if everyone voted. Wonderful post about, you know, participating.

    In the Fabulous Women's Obituaries department, two great ones this week: first up, Lavender "Pinkie" Barnes, champion table tennis player, palm reader, and advertising copywriter ("Veet. It's always summer under your arms.")

    Then there's the amazing Vanya Kewley, an utterly fearless documentarian.
    "She worked from Chile to Saudi Arabia, via Vietnam, producing early profiles of controversial international leaders such as Colonel Gaddafi (Soldier for Islam) and General Ojukwu (The Man Who Made Biafra). Though she stood just over 5ft, dictators held no terrors for her.  
    "She was beaten and imprisoned in Uganda when her crew were mistaken for mercenaries; clubbed unconscious when living on famine rations among the Ananaya “freedom fighters” in South Sudan; and threatened with death by North Korean soldiers."
    The next paragraph then describes how she deserted a tour group to trek 4,000 miles through Tibet with a hand-held camera. Formidable would be the word that comes to mind.

    Meanwhile, closer to home, Tim Schenck reminds us that October is Pastor Appreciation Month. He offers a few suggestions of what pastors might appreciate being appreciated with. As he notes,
    Most pastors don’t have nearly enough crosses in their lives. Usually only fifteen or so hung up in their offices plus countless others in their homes. What they really need is one more with “Pastor” written across it to remind them of Christ’s self-giving sacrifice on Cavalry.
    You know what else coincides with Pastor Appreciation Month? #snarktoberfest.

    You know what else was being celebrated on Twitter? The social event of the year: the My Little Pony wedding, aka #mlpwedding. Well, all right, it happened a while back. But Nancy Davis Kho and Wendi Aarons are just getting around to apologizing to Hasbro for their inappropriate tweets.
    For instance, we realize now that tweets like “CARAMEL IS ONLY MARRYING KNIGHT SHADE FOR THE GREEN CARD! #MLPWedding” and “WHEN PLASTIC HORSES CAN MARRY PLASTIC HORSES, MAN MARRYING DOG FOLLOWS RIGHT BEHIND! #FamilyValues #MLPWedding” forced you, a non-partisan toy company, into debates on illegal immigration and same sex marriage that you had probably hoped to avoid when you planned your wholesome My Little Pony Twitter Party. We thought Nancy’s contribution of “THANK YOU #VERMONT! NOW DESERT ROSE AND DAISYJO CAN MAKE IT LEGAL! #MLPWedding” added balance to the discussion, but we see now that it falls into this category as well.
    I'm not sure they sound truly sorry. They still want to know why the couple registered for a whip.

    Having been led from their letter to Wendi's open letter to the brand manager for Always Maxi-pads, and on to the rest of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, it is also all their fault that I am ending with this completely profane article that I am compelled to include for its timeliness and best use of seasonal vegetables. Because it's decorative gourd season, motherfuckers. And I've got things to do.