Sunday, January 29, 2012

Report from the Zinfandel Festival

One of the perks of working at a winery is occasionally scoring free tickets to wine events, such as this week's Zinfandel Festival hosted by ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers.  And so on Saturday morning, a friend and I headed over to San Francisco for the Grand Tasting event.  So awesome! I'd never been to an event like it, so I'm still a bit overwhelmed.

The first thing that happens when you walk in is that you get an 80-page booklet detailing all of the wineries at the event: first by appellation (where the grapes are grown); then by whether they are old vines or single vineyard wines; then by number of cases of wine produced; then by price; and then alphabetically by winery, including what vintages are on hand.

Then you hand over a ticket and pick up your glass, inscribed with the ZAP logo, that you will use to taste all the wines you care to taste and that you get to bring home as a souvenir.
Goody! A souvenir!

Then you walk a little further and a man wearing white gloves hands you a mini-baguette wrapped in a napkin.
Goody! Bread!

Then you think to yourself, "I wish I'd brought a tote bag," since you don't have the four arms required to hold wine glass, baguette, and program while taking notes on the wines you are tasting.  Nevertheless, you press on and enter...

the Grand Tasting itself...

where every Zinfandel producer from Acorn Winery to Zynthesis Cellars is set up...

with open bottles of wine, ready to tempt you.  It was daunting, and there's no way to do them all so you have to be selective.  We stopped by the Hendry table to say hello...

My co-workers, Luis and Angela (my boss!)
...and to get some suggestions on whose wine to try.  Even then, it was still too much to do; my sense of taste got burnt out pretty quickly. But with bites of bread and sips of water in between each sample, I think I was able to get a good sense of what I was tasting.

We ended up sampling wines from about 10 different winemakers, and it's astonishing how different they can be--even from one winery, going from year to year or location to location.  

Rosenblum (Alameda, represent!) was especially noteworthy for using grapes from different sources and having completely different wine profiles. All so good! D-Cubed, whose winemaker is the current president of ZAP, served both 2008 and 2007 vintages, which were notable for how different the years were.

Two of my favorites were the 2010 R.W. Moore Vineyard Zin from Robert Biale Vineyards--poured for us by Bob Biale himself--and the Mayacamas Range Zin from Storybook Mountain Vineyards.

I'm not going to say which one was jammy or peppery or had a lot of red fruit flavor, mostly because I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, but I can tell you that tasting all of these Zins at once--well, first of all, I can understand why they gave out a baguette; but secondly, it was amazing to get the sense for what wine people are talking about when they talk about the differences among wines.  They were all so distinct.  I'm sorry I didn't get a better chance to write notes while I was tasting as opposed to scribbled memories on the BART train back home. But I tell you one thing, when people talk about how wines and wineries and vintages have individual characters, I have a better idea of what they mean. It's so fun to get the opportunity to learn something about it. What a treat.

Sunday Funnies, January 29

We're in the mood for a little poetry here at the Infusion, starting with this from Nate Silver's blog tracking the numbers in the presidential primaries:

You can find pretty much every species of poll in Florida right now.

There are polls where voters checked a box. There are polls that were reported on Fox.

There are polls that called the voter’s house. There are polls where voters clicked a mouse.

Though the numbers were here and there, the outcome was the same everywhere.

Unless there is a major glitch, Mitt Romney will beat Newt Gingrich.
Well, we'll see on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the blogosphere, Tim Schenck, Lent Madness Uberlord, has written The Annual Meeting Haiku:
Budget blah, blah, blah
Something about Jesus Christ
Please up your pledges.
Think he's been to one or two? Naaaah.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Various & Sundry, January 27

I think my favorite obituary of the week was for ChiChi, "Perhaps World's Oldest Dog," who died at the age of  26? 25? No one really knows.  Poignant, though. “'We just feel completely empty; the whole apartment’s empty,' Mr. Pavich, 38, said in an interview. 'That little 10-pound guy fills up not just your apartment, but your life.'" Aww.

Also this week, I was very sad to see that organist Gerre Hancock died.  He was a master of improvisation, as you will hear if you listen to the improv at the end of this post. "When asked about the difference between sacred and popular music, Hancock replied: 'It's all sacred as far as I'm concerned. Some works better in nightclubs than in churches, but anything beautiful is sacred.' A fitting epitaph, and by that measure, he gave the world a vast treasure of sacred music." Amen.

 Liturgy geeks, take note! Jonathan Hagger, aka MadPriest, has started a new venture, offering New Words for Holy Communion, a monthly, downloadable resource providing prayers, intercessions, acclamations, biddings and blessings for use in the eucharistic services of the church. He does very good work, and I can imagine this being an excellent resource.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has done an amazing series of posts this week confronting some "comfortable history" about the Civil War.  They are long, but well worth reading. Part I addresses the situation facing Lincoln when he took office; Part II speaks of the economics of slavery; Part III compares the American Civil War with the end of slavery in other nations.

Part I ends very powerfully this way:
I have come to a fairly recent regard for Lincoln. He rose from utter frontier poverty, through self-education and hard work, to the presidency and the upper reaches of American letters. His path was harsh. His wife was mentally ill. His son died in office. He was derided in newspapers as ugly, stupid, a gorilla and white trash. For his patience, endurance, temperance and industry in the face of so many troubles, Lincoln was awarded a shot to the head.

Now in some sectors of the country for which Lincoln died, patriotism means waving the flag of his murderer. The party he founded supports this odious flag-waving and now gives us a candidate who would stand before that same flag and peddle comfortable fictions. What hope is there when those who talk of patriotism brandish the talisman of bloody treason?

The matter falls to you. Don't conned. Don't be a mark. Live uncomfortable.

Psst...need a Lenten program?

While I'm on this self-promotion kick, I wanted to make sure you know about the Lenten program I wrote for Every Voice Network.  Called Eat, Pray, Grow (which was not my choice, I admit) it's a five week program (natch) on food: how it's viewed in the Bible, how we use it in the church, its history, and its current place in our culture.  And I think it's pretty good.  If you're still casting about for what to do at your church for Lent, this program will give you everything you need. You can find out more about it here.

I just finished completely redoing the last session to talk about how we waste food.  This session was first inspired by The Big Waste, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago and was a total eye-opener.  From there, I found the book American Wasteland and the blog, both from Jonathan Bloom who has made reducing food waste his #1 priority.  After reading his book and blog, I can see why.  He estimates that in the United States, we throw away (are you ready?) about 40 percent of the food that is produced here.  FORTY PERCENT!

Between food left unharvested in the fields, food that is damaged in transport that grocery stores won't even put on the shelves, food thrown out by stores when they reach their sell-by date, and food left to languish in refrigerators, enough food is thrown away in this country to "provide three meals per day for 43 million people." Wow!

I highly recommend this book.  It will change the way you look at food wherever you may be.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guess who's going to be a celebrity blogger?

Oh, go on, guess! No, not Queen Elizabeth...  No, not Miss Piggy.  Oh, all right, it's me! I've been asked to be one of the bloggers for Lent Madness, now entering its third year of high impact, head-to-head, saintly smackdowns as the blessed throughout the ages battle for the coveted Golden Halo.

Who knew that all those years of church calendar geekery would lead to such a prestigious position?  I'd like to thank Scott Gunn and Tim Schenck for including me in the tremendous line-up of celebrity bloggers.  It is an honor and a privilege.  And now I need to write some kick-ass profiles of saints.

So head on over to Lent Madness, check out this year's bracket, sign up for email updates, and generally get ready for some holy mayhem starting one month from now.  I'll be there!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Morning Preacher: Me and my best bud, Phillips Brooks

Today is the feast day of Phillips Brooks, most well-known (rather condescendingly I feel) as, "The priest who wrote, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'." But as I was looking into him a little more, I stumbled across his series of Lectures on Preaching, delivered before the Divinity School of Yale College in January and February, 1877, and I thought, "Brother! Dude! Where have you been all my life? Speak to me!"

Take, for example, his snarky critique of those preachers who love, as he calls it, the "bric-a-brac of theology": "I suppose that all preachers pass through some fantastic period when a strange text fascinates them; when they like to find what can be said for an hour on some little topic on which most men could only talk two minutes." Isn't that fabulous?

Or his take on personality, which he thinks is one of two elements of preaching (the other being Truth with a capital T): "Be yourself by all means, but let that good result come not by cultivating merely superficial peculiarities or oddities. Let it be by winning a true self full of your own faith and your own love."

The longer I preach the more I think one of the most important tasks of the preacher is to deal with your own stuff. Only I generally don't think "stuff." (In the presence of Phillips Brooks I feel I must show some propriety.) And by that I mean, the issues that are raised in your own life by the texts that week in the context of your situation. What does this bring up? What do you really believe? What is your genuine reaction and response? How does this affect you?

You deal with your stuff not on the congregation or through the congregation, but through the hard work of "winning a true self" before you even step in the pulpit. And in so doing, you can bring yourself to the sermon in a way that is not needy, or vain, or self-promoting, or self-avoiding.

So often when I go to hear others preach, I get the sense that they were not willing to go there, to deal with whatever their stuff is, and so they end up preaching, as Brooks calls it, through "criticism."
By the tendency of criticism I mean the disposition that prevails everywhere to deal with things from outside, discussing their relations, examining their nature, and not putting ourselves into their power...There are many preachers who seem to do nothing else, always discussing Christianity as a problem instead of announcing Christianity as a message.
I can understand the tendency, as "going there" can be very hard work.  Much easier to find something interesting in the commentaries and link it to the news than enter into our own issues and frailties, subjecting them to the light of the gospel.

I certainly felt that way this week.  It was a difficult week for me, preaching-wise, as I clearly found myself in the gospel's power.  The gospel text--the call to the first disciples to "follow me"--was the very first gospel I ever preached on, 12 years ago when I was in seminary and thought I knew what my career in the church was going to look like.  It hasn't turned out the way I expected.  At the same time, I believe that in all the zig-zags and reversals, I have been following Jesus as best I know how.  I feel I am doing what I am called to do.

 And so it was a very odd experience, seeing myself 12 years ago and thinking, "You have no idea," and seeing these disciples leaving their nets and thinking, "You have no idea." It was unnerving, in fact, and as close to an out-of-body experience as I've had. But the thing for me was that I both had to deal with my stuff and also bring my self to the preaching. And can I tell you, that was not easy. Not my best sermon either, but still one I feel good about, largely thanks to Phillips Brooks' encouragement and the sense I get from him that I was at least on the right track.

As he says,
The gospel you are preaching now is the same gospel that you preached when you were first ordained, in that first sermon which it was at once such a terror and such a joy to preach; but if you have been a live man all the time, you are not preaching it now as you did then. If the truth had changed, your life would have lost its unity. The truth has not changed, but you have grown to fuller understanding of it, to larger capacity of receiving and transmitting it. There is no pleasure in the minister's life stronger than this.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Funnies, January 22

In honor of Miss Piggy's recent guest judging on Project Runway, a little divatude:

Where's my mineral water?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Toxic Charity

In my ongoing quest to be a better philanthropist, I recently read Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton.  The full title is Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) which was a big title to live up to, and it didn't completely do it for me.

I appreciate his thesis: that in our compassion we may end up doing things that hurt and undermine the very people we intend to help.  In our good intentions, we give people things that they might be better off working for themselves.  His assessment of mission trips is particularly brutal, as he shows us unemployed people standing outside the gates of a church being poorly painted by volunteers who are paying thousands of dollars for the privilege.  When I think of the time and energy I spent rousting groups of people to do labor that might have gone to someone who needed the work and the money, I just cringe.  For this information alone, I am glad I read the book.

I also appreciate his experience.  Lupton is writing from his own background of 40 years in urban ministry, and is open about his mistakes and what he has learned from them.  His anecdotes showing what is said and done behind the scenes of the projects that make us feel so good are sobering.

But for me the weakness is that his argument seems to rest almost entirely on anecdotes.  Some things are presented as statements of fact without any corroborating evidence whatsoever.  For example, he writes that "Decades of free aid from well-meaning benefactors has produced an entitlement mentality and eroded a spirit of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency."  That may be true, but he presents no evidence to support it.  It's a tremendously sweeping statement and one I would have liked to see some data to illustrate.

The other problem with an anecdotal argument is that it is just as easy to argue the other side with other anecdotes.  He's not very enamored of food pantries, for example, but I'm sure you could find plenty of anecdotes from people who used a food pantry for a while to get back on their feet--and who do not feel it eroded their spirit of entrepreneurship. Who's to say whose anecdote is right? I found myself aching for more research and more data on each approach and its results and effects.

I wish this were a stronger book because I think it has some important things to say, such as its astute insights into the short-term service industry, its approach to community leadership and intervention, and its examination of how one-way giving poisons relationships.  I still recommend it as a starting place for discussion and understanding, but only as a starting place. 

Even so, it changed and challenged my thinking.  I'll need to continue in my quest, but Toxic Charity at least gave me food for thought.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

All-star obituaries

I meant to write this yesterday but got caught up in the drama of building a mini-greenhouse that I got for Christmas.  There has been much cursing, my friends, and I am sad to report that after two days I still have more to go (hampered by a key piece being somewhat chewed, Harper). I shall report when it is complete.

At any rate, some obits from this week that rate your attention:

Let's start with espionage, shall we?  Loved the obituary for Russian agent Gevork Vartanyan who helped foil a plot to assassinate President Roosevelt during WWII. The story is a bit long to include here, but if you want to know more about the skulduggery behind the Tehran Conference of 1943, I suggest you give this obit a read.

Can you imagine doing work that would save at least 800,000 lives--and counting?  Mary Ellen Avery discovered that premature babies' lungs lack a foamy coating that enables people to breathe.  From that one insight, the survival rate of premies changed. "When Dr. Avery started her work, as many as 15,000 babies a year died from [respiratory distress] syndrome. By 2002, fewer than 1,000 did." Amazing! (Along with being "the first woman to be appointed physician in chief at Children’s Hospital; the first woman to head a clinical department at Harvard Medical School; the first woman to be chosen president of the Society for Pediatric Research; and the first pediatrician to lead the American Association for the Advancement of Science.")

Major Kipper-Ridge saved about 200 lives, which may seem minimal by comparison, but then he was not quite 15.  And a dog.  Which certainly rates an obit in the Telegraph. He held the record for number of mines detected in Somalia, but he also worked in Lebanon and Kenya.  Pretty impressive for a black lab from Wigan.

Finally, I loved the obituary for Lady Rosalind Runcie, widow of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and a wonderful character in her own right, it sounds like.
Her sense of humour was always irreverent. In the 1970s, when Runcie was Bishop of St Albans and the homosexual Labour MP Tom Driberg was employed by Private Eye as a compiler of obscene crosswords, it was noted that on one occasion the prize was won by a Mrs Rosalind Runcie of St Albans.
I wish I could have known her.

Sunday Funnies, January 15

So many options this week! The Shit Choristers Say video? The Which Denomination are You flowchart?  But no, I think I'm going with the article from the new Church Satire magazine The Lark entitled

Pastor's Wife Sends Body Double to Sit Pleasantly on the Front Pew

GRAND FORKS, Mich. — Unbeknownst to her husband or congregation, Trudy Smith has been avoiding church for two years, sending a look-alike in her place.

“I’m saddened to announce that the woman you’ve seen here is not my wife,” pastor Nevin Smith said to a hushed congregation at Belfrey Presbyterian church.

His wife Trudy began staying home after running into a woman at Kohl’s who looked very much like her.

“I asked what she did on Sunday mornings, and would she like to make a hundred bucks a week?” Trudy says. “She said yes and suddenly I was free.”

The impostor played the role successfully, greeting people, hugging her husband, listening to the sermon, taking copious notes. But she was found out when Nevin invited her up one Sunday for a spontaneous reprisal of an old hymn they sang early in their ministry.

“I knew the kids’ names, anniversaries and birthdays, but I didn’t know that song,” said the fake Trudy, who asked not to be identified. She made roughly $10,000 over two years.

“Worth every penny,” says the real Trudy, who’s back on the front pew. “You know, mannequins are getting more realistic …” •

Friday, January 13, 2012

Various & Sundry, Friday the 13th edition

And it's your lucky day because I have lots of good stuff to share--so much stuff, that I'm going to do a separate Obituary All Stars post, probably tomorrow.

It was not a lucky day for this poor guy, Patron X, whose cell phone went off during the last movement of the Mahler 9th the other day.  Oh, I feel his pain! Apparently, he had no idea it was his phone because it was a new phone to him and he'd turned it off and there was an alarm set and he didn't know the alarm would go off when the phone was in silent mode--oh, the misery in his apology is just palpable.
“You can imagine how devastating it is to know you had a hand in that,” said the man, who described himself as a business executive between 60 and 70 who runs two companies. “It’s horrible, horrible.” The man said he had not slept in two days.
It must be agony, but I hope he'll be able to laugh about it some day.

I'm not laughing about the post on bullying that Dirty Sexy Ministry posted earlier this week. Boy, do they nail the experience of bullying in the church.
Bullying is, in short, repeated actions that cause harm to others through verbal manipulation, intimidation, gossip, psychological assualt, and even physical assault.  Most bullying behavior is extremely covert and subtle.  Studies of people who engage in bullying behavior show that they use verbal and/or physical intimidation, that they demean others to promote themselves, and use guilt as a way of manipulation and control, and they are obsessed with authority (their own and others).
That is way too familiar to me, and to so many others. And the question of how to address it...well, I wish I had an answer.

I'll be setting up the DVR today to record the rebroadcast of a show on Food Network called The Big Waste.  In it, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell, and Alex Guarnaschelli need to make a 4-course meal for 100 people using food that is designated to be thrown away. A big tip o' the hat to anibundel for bringing this show to my attention.  She writes that "I had to pick my jaw up off the ground at least twice. Every segment."

MadPriest had a post on a topic near to my heart: the strange demand for tithing.  I need to write about this myself one of these days, but in the meantime, I recommend his post on how tithing oppresses the poor as worthy of your attention.

Finally, also from MadPriest, this video is only worthy of your attention if you are a total Anglican Communion geek.  If you are, you'll think it's very funny.  If not, you'll probably just say, "huh?"  So this one is going out to the geeks. Enjoy, compatriots!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

World In Prayer, Jan. 12, 2012

It was my week to write the World In Prayer prayers.  Since it's the season after Epiphany and the collect of the week is about Jesus, the light of the world, I thought I would use that as a jumping off point. Lots of places in the world need light!

O Lord, you are our light and our salvation: shed your light upon us and upon your world.

Shed your light upon
  • Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has served as a detention center for 10 years and where 171 men from more than 20 countries remain held, most of them without charge or trial.
  • Iran where Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a nuclear scientist, was assassinated by a motorcycle hit man. 
  • Nigeria where sectarian violence continues and protests over the end of fuel subsidies have sparked protests. 

Shed your light upon 
  • Afghanistan where 15-year-old Sahar Gul recovers in hospital after being tortured by her husband and in-laws. 
  • Mexico where nearly 13,000 people died in 2011 due to drug-related violence.

Shed your light upon 
  • the United States where the presidential election is heating up and candidates for the Republican nomination jockey for position.
  • Burma where the government and Karen rebels have signed a ceasefire agreement.
  • Haiti as we mark the second anniversary of its devastating earthquake and recovery is slow.

Shed your light upon 
  • those who are seeking diplomatic talks between the United States and the Taliban.
  • those who explore our creation as astronomers find planets in solar systems beyond our own.
  • the United States’ immigration policy as the Obama administration seeks to amend regulations to allow families to stay together.
  • all your world, O Lord, that it may be filled with your love, your justice, and your truth.

And shed your light on us, O Lord, that by the brightness of your light we may either see your kingdom in this world or find the path to create it.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.  Amen.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Giving up shame

Sermon for The Baptism of our Lord

Normally I only do New Year's Resolutions retroactively; I look at what I did in the past year, and whatever I actually accomplished was clearly what I had resolved to do.  But this year, I did in fact make a resolution: I resolved to give up shame.

This came about because of a video I recently saw with Brene Brown. In it she explains that there's a difference  between guilt and shame.  Guilt is when you hear the message "I did something bad." Shame is when you hear the message "I am bad."  There's a big difference.

And so I resolved to give up shame. It's not going so well.  And what happened the first time I found myself feeling shame is that the voice that popped in my head said, "Man, you're so awful you can't even give up shame! What kind of idiot are you?" I was ashamed of feeling shame! Which was just so laughable that it became bearable because I could see the shame at work and tell it to get lost.

Because this is what I'm working on, I'm seeing this theme of shame everywhere, such as in the gospel this morning.  Here's John the Baptist saying he's not even worthy to untie the sandals of the one who comes after him; that he is, essentially, lower than a slave.  And without saying a word, Jesus comes along and undoes all that by having John baptize him.  Without saying a word, Jesus shows John, "Yes, you are worthy. You are worthy of far more than untying my sandals."(1)

Every time I try to talk to someone it's "sorry this" and
"forgive me that" and "I'm not worthy"... 
It's so difficult for us to believe we are worthy.  We tell ourselves we're not smart enough, we don't have the right credentials, we don't know enough, we don't have the skills, we're not holy enough, we're just plain not good enough.  But from the very beginning, God has called creation good.

In my first job out of college, I worked as a classroom aide.(2) In one of the classes with a kid named Tony who was difficult at the best of times.  One day there was a substitute teacher and Tony could not, would not settle down. Finally, when the substitute asked for the nth time for Tony to take his seat and start his work, Tony blurted out. "I'm doing it! So shut up!" The whole room gasped. The substitute took a deep breath, paused a moment, and then said, "Tony, can I talk to you out in the hall?" Everyone's eyes were wide as the two of them left the room.  Less than a minute went by before Tony came in, walked to his desk, sat down, and started working.  You can bet everyone worked diligently through that hour as we all tried to imagine what terrible threat the substitute had used to get Tony to settle down like that.

After class, I got to ask her what she'd said.  She said that she had gone out to the hall and said, "Tony, I know you're a good kid." And Tony had said, "I am a good kid." And the substitute said, "Then let's just move on from here."

Such a perfect example of guilt instead of shame.  The substitute started from the position that this was a good kid who had done something he shouldn't. But the baseline understanding was that he was good.

What about you? What messages are you hearing about yourself?  For all that the voice from heaven came to Jesus in his baptism, always remember that you too are a beloved child of God.

Jesus has found you worthy.  God has called you good. Do not be ashamed.

(1) I owe this insight to Mary Ann Tolbert who points this out in her commentary Sowing the Gospel, which is terrific, if you're looking for a good commentary for year B.
(2) OK, I was a sign language interpreter, but that would have taken too long to explain. This was close enough.

Sunday Funnies, January 8

Did The Media Treat Bachmann Unfairly Because She's An Insane Woman?

thanks to Scott Gunn of Seven Whole Days fame for the heads up.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Various & Sundry, New Year's edition

It's been a while since I did a V&S post--and I'm not promising to be faithful about it, mind you.  But I'm in a mood to post and I've seen some interesting things float by, so here you go.

Best Obituary Ever award goes to Jennifer Anne Church who died on New Years Day. Really, you must read it all to get the full impact, but if you don't want to, here's the heart of it:
Mrs. Church worked for nearly 30 years in Harrisonburg, Lynchburg and Roanoke as registered nurse specializing in gerontology. Her death was the result of a vicious attack by a renegade pack of Miniature Schnauzers. With her bulldog, Bella, at her side, she fought gallantly. Mrs. Church had a unique sense of humor and seldom followed a path of traditionalism. don't say.  A follow-up article in the Roanoke Times goes into detail. I also like the part about offering a bottle of wine in lieu of flowers.

Bravest Blog Post Ever award goes to The Bloggess for revealing her struggles with depression and self-harm in a forum where she could easily have been attacked by Miniature Schnauzers.  She writes,
I hope to one day I see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle and that they celebrate the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.
I hope so too.

Best Life Ever goes to Rob who blogs at A Gardeners Calendar.  "I work as a gardener on an English country estate and this is a journal of my life here," he says in this profile, and I have been more jealous than I have ever been of anyone this week as he has recounted his daily schedule.  Let's take a look at what he did yesterday morning, shall we?

Calendar For Today.
07:05 - 07:20 Get up and dressed ( Personal record )

07:20 - 07:30 Prepare the dogs dinner ( Personal record )

07:30 - 07:50 Walking the dogs ( Personal record )
 Note: Took Tommy and Tess as far as the horse field.

08:00 - 08:30 Had breakfast ( Personal record )
 Note: Had a bowl of Cornflakes and a mug of tea.

08:30 - 08:50 See to the sheep ( Work Book )
 Note: Took across some hay. Checked and counted the sheep.

08:50 - 09:00 Check the fruit store ( Work Book )
 Note: Check the mouse trap set yesterday, there was nothing in it.

09:00 - 09:15 See to the greenhouses ( Work Book )
 Note: Checked round.

09:15 - 10:30 Potting up ( Work Book )
 Note: Dug up some Chrysanths and put them into pots ready to take some cuttings from.

10:30 - 10:50 Break for tea. ( Personal record )
 Note: Had a mug of tea and a couple of chocolate biscuits.

10:50 - 12:45 Pruning ( Work Book )
 Note: Made a start on pruning the raspberries.

 He'll make up for it in the spring, summer, and fall, though. Won't you, Rob? Or am I going to have to be eaten by jealousy all year round?

I was very touched by the blog The Adventures of Homeless Girl which I found when someone tweeted her most popular post, Should You Give a Homeless Person Money?  I appreciated her insight on this question as well as her follow-up post.

Finally, for you Anglican music lovers out there, today I found a list of the Best Anthems in the Anglican Choral Tradition.  If there's something you think is missing, you can add it on.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A season of receiving

cross-posted on the Confirm not Conform blog

Today I happened to look at the collect for the First Sunday After Christmas--the only post-Christmas-Day collect we heard this year, what with Christmas Day on a Sunday. It reads:
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
It made me think of Christmas as a season of receiving. For all that we are told that Christmas is a season of giving and sharing, I was reminded that one of the best things I can do to celebrate Christmas is to remember and give thanks for what I have been given. But not just to remember: to accept the gift. To take some time to rejoice in the gift of the Word made flesh who entered this world as a gracious presence of light in the darkness. In all of my efforts to give and share and be generous, there's something wonderful about being reminded on this last day of Christmas that I needn't hustle. I don't need to do anything. Instead, I can simply settle in and allow myself to receive.

All of this has made me think of Christian formation as an opportunity to receive. It's not about learning stuff. It's not about having more faith. It's about receiving the light that pours out all around us. It's about allowing that light to reach others. I don't need to control it. I just need to be as clear as possible so that the light can reach me and reach others through me.

But first I need to remember to receive, to bask in the light. It is from this receiving that I can go forth and give--not things or money, but only myself shining forth. And I can shine because of what I have been given, what I have allowed myself to receive.

It's the last day of Christmas and with the consumer frenzy over and the parties done and the decorations down and the presents unwrapped and the resolutions already broken, I feel I am finally in a position to receive. The pressure of Christmas is off. Perhaps the presence of Christ may now enter. I hope and pray that I may receive it.

I hope you receive something too, some light in your life this day. May God's light be poured out upon you and may it shine forth from your life. And a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Constitution can take it

Two very interesting obituaries today, both about people who respected the Constitution enough to challenge the law.

The first is for Robert L. Carter who fought school segregation as part of the team arguing the case of Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court.

“We have one fundamental contention,” Mr. Carter told the court. “No state has any authority under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.”
Thurgood Marshall is the familiar name in the case, but according to this account, Mr. Carter is the radical "always urging his colleagues to push legal and constitutional positions to the limits." He was appointed a federal judge by Nixon.

Very interesting man, Judge Carter.  And I appreciate that he didn't merely argue school desegregation on its own terms ("separate but equal") but argued for a much more expansive understanding of personhood and equality.

The other obituary is for Gordon Hirabayashi "who was imprisoned for defying the federal government’s internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II." I admire the heck out of this: he was sure the law was unconstitutional so he disobeyed it, despite the cost to himself. He was convicted, imprisoned, and when he contested the law, the Supreme Court upheld it.

The Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu cases were revisited in the 1980s after Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, found documents indicating that the federal government, in coming before the Supreme Court, had suppressed its own finding that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, threats to national security...

“I want vindication not only for myself,” Mr. Hirabayashi told The New York Times in 1985 as he was fighting to have his conviction vacated. “I also want the cloud removed from over the heads of 120,000 others. My citizenship didn’t protect me one bit. Our Constitution was reduced to a scrap of paper.”

And how quickly it can become simply a scrap of paper when we feel threatened. That's the thing that gets me about our post-9/11 world: the moment the Constitution became hard, it seemed to become negotiable.  What this Hirabayashi story says to me is that we've learned before that this leads us down the wrong path. Why do we need to learn it again? Why do we seem to feel the Constitution is some dainty thing that needs to be coddled when the going gets rough?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Obit du jour: Bob Anderson

Such a plain name.  The obit itself is fun, but it's the picture I love:

Oh yeah. Go Bob.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Monday Morning Preacher: Christmas in Chelsea Square

On Christmas Eve at 11:30 pm, there was a special on CBS featuring a service of lessons and carols from the General Theological Seminary with a sermon by the Presiding Bishop called Christmas in Chelsea Square.  You can see it here.

First of all, kudos to General for getting this on the air nationwide. Secondly, mondo kudos for starting with an image of Bishop Catherine Roskam and featuring the Presiding Bishop, showing the world all these images of women in religious leadership.

That being said, I'm afraid it was a disappointment.  There's nothing quite like yelling at the television on Christmas morning, saying, "Would it hurt you to smile, dammit?!" And a merry Christmas to you, too!

Having had a week to reflect, I would like to offer these comments both for General, whose good faith effort I truly applaud, and for others who are thinking about doing more multi-media services and outreach.

First of all, who is your audience? At the beginning of the program, it seemed it was geared toward non-Episcopalians, explaining what General Seminary is and what the Episcopal church is.  But the service itself seemed to be complete inside baseball--or inside church.  I thought it appealed to a narrow demographic: those who were already steeped in high church tradition.

Which leads to the question, what will engage your audience? If your intended audience is people unfamiliar with the Episcopal church and liturgy, what will catch their attention from the start?  A hint: singing all eight verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is not going to do that.  As a friend of mine said, "That sound in verse 6 was the sound of televisions turning off all over America." Yeah, that's a real barn-burner, that one.

Here's one difference between going to a church service and watching a church service on television: once you're inside a church, there is a significant social cost to leaving, because to do so would draw attention to yourself in a very hushed environment.  Watching on TV, there is no such cost. It is very easy to leave. Therefore, you want to make it easy for people to stay by keeping their attention engaged all the time.

Also important: make sure the delivery of the message matches the message! O Come, O Come, Emmanuel already has a dirgelike quality, very at odds with the message of joy it brings.  To compound the issue, the congregation singing "Rejoice, rejoice!" looked absolutely miserable.  Eddie Izzard had it nailed:

Another difference between going to a church service and watching one on television is that on television, the congregation are also (for lack of a better word) performers.  They didn't seem aware of that--and the show was not edited in such a way to bring out what enthusiasm there was in the assembly. I feel for the guy in the red sweater who yawned. Why was that left in the final edit?  Because there's nothing that says, "Boy do I want to be part of this church!" than watching its most stalwart members exhibiting boredom.

If there's one thing that I think would have made Christmas in Chelsea Square much better, it would have been to tell the congregation, "Remember that the television viewers' eyes will be on you as much as they will be on those up in front. How you comport yourself will say a great deal to the viewers about what is going on here--whether it is joyous or dreary, whether it is a time of celebration or boredom. Be an outward and visible sign of the grace you receive here today. And make sure it's visible!"