Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Funnies, May 27

I tried to find something related to Memorial Day, or Pentecost, or the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. But finally, I just had to share this because I think it's brilliant!

I bet they sold a lot of meatball sandwiches.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Various & Sundry, May 26 Mostly images and literary snark

Whew! It's been a busy week. I'm glad to take a moment to dump post lovingly about some of the interesting things I saw in passing this week.

I missed the solar eclipse last weekend, but someone took advantage of it rather romantically.

Please note that this is a composite photo; they weren't actually able to get this in one shot. Still cool, though.

Are you part of a book group? I'm not. But if I were, these are some of the questions I'd be asking.  For example,
3. Several people have noted key differences in structure between the modern bestselling novel and commercially successful classic literature. Who do you think these people are trying to impress? Can we all acknowledge that these people went to Brown so we can move on?
Questions like these are the reason I'm not part of a book group.

On the other hand, I have nothing but the highest admiration for Philosophy Bro who reads and summarizes philosophy texts in frat speak. Behold, one of the less profane sections of Plato's Apology. (Actually, it's not one of the less profane sections, because I couldn't find one. So, yeah, bad language, you are forewarned.)
I'm not going to disobey the gods just to avoid death; why the fuck would I take the risk into account when trying to decide whether or not to do the right thing? Were the soldiers of Troy inferior because they said, 'Death? I don't give a shit, as long as justice happens on the way.' Spoiler Alert: No. Besides, I don't know shit about what happens after death, so how can I be afraid of it? You want me to not do a thing that I know is awesome, just so some mysterious thing I know nothing about won't happen? Yeah, fuck that noise.
That is exactly how I imagine Socrates talked.

I want to know what Socrates would have to say to the frat boys who might have accidentally burned down their frat house when they engaged in the year-end frivolity of burning their textbooks. Oops.

You know who else was a smart-ass? Mark Twain, who had this to say when he learned the library allowed children to read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn:
I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.
Although I enjoyed the obituary about the competitive croquet player, obit of the week goes to Evelyn Johnson, aka MamaBird, who logged more hours flying than any other woman and died at the age of 102.
The record for hours flown is held by Ed Long, who flew more than 64,000 hours surveying power lines and whose last words, before his death in 1999, were supposed to have been: “Don’t let that woman beat me.” 
She made a valiant effort to do so, despite the onset of glaucoma and a car crash in 2006 which forced doctors to amputate her leg — she complained that it was not the flying that was the problem, but “getting the prosthesis into the small planes”. Though eventually forced to give up before beating Long’s record, she continued to manage the airport until the age of 101.
That's someone to admire.

Phillip Oliver, who blogs at Dirt Therapy, has been posting lots of wonderful pictures of gardens in Asheville this week. I particularly loved the ones from Christopher Mello's garden with its "dazzling array of bottle trees and found objects including old rusty shovels and Tonka trucks (yes Tonka trucks!)."

I found another great photographer this week: a high school classmate of mine who now does wonderful digital photography, mostly close-ups of flowers, such as the one below. I encourage you to check them out and enjoy them all.
Peas, baby by Glo Photography (glodigitalphoto) on
Peas, baby by Glo Photography

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sermon: Eenie, meenie, meinie, moe (abridged)

Preached at St. Luke's Rossmoor, 7 Easter 2012

This story from Acts is about the first major decisions the disciples need to make without Jesus there: whom should they choose to take the place of Judas. They have two candidates, both of whom have been with the group since Jesus' baptism up through the Ascension. Which one should they pick--Justus, or Matthias? And they go with what I think is the cheapest form of decision making they could use: they flip a coin.

It strikes me as very odd that this story is in here at all because you never hear about Matthias again. Was he any good? What did he do? Maybe the early church knew of him, but nothing more is said. And so the thing that stands out about this story is the fact that the disciples chose gambling as their discernment tool of choice.

But as I thought about that, I thought there’s something lovely and humble about the fact that they left this to chance. I mean, it’s a big decision: they are choosing one of the leaders. This could have devolved into factions from the start: the Justus faction and the Matthias faction. They could have argued the merits of each and pointed out signs that indicated that one or the other of them was the one God really wanted. But they didn’t. They said, in essence, here are two guys, we like them both, we’re not going to pretend to know everything about them. Since we’re not wise enough to choose, let’s hand over the authority we have to choose to God, with the faith that God works through forces beyond our control.

Sometimes we don’t know God’s will. Many times (in my experience) we beat ourselves up over that, about how we need to know God’s will so we can make the right decisions and do the right things. But as I said, there’s something humble and beautiful in admitting we don’t know God’s will. Of course we don’t always know God’s will; we’re not God.

Or it may be that we are not expected to know God’s will in the specifics, but only in the general outlines. The disciples knew they needed a replacement for Judas; that they knew. They knew it needed to be somebody who was with them throughout Jesus’ ministry. But the particular…that was not as crucial.

Such a good lesson. So often we get caught up in the specifics. Should I move to this place or that one? Should I volunteer here or spend my time there? Does our church need to do this or that? And we scan everything about them to see if there’s a clue about God’s will, agonizing when we don’t know for sure, sure if we were only more faithful we would know.

But maybe it doesn’t work that way. Maybe we don’t have to know the specifics. Maybe God’s will goes deeper than that so when the time comes to choose, the choice doesn’t matter so much.

I love the Psalm for today, that image of those people who delight in the law of the Lord:
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
Bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
Everything they do shall prosper.
Here’s what I love about that image: when you have a fruit tree, you don’t worry about whether this peach or that one is a good one; you just pick any one that’s ripe and you eat it. It will be just as good for you as the other peach you didn’t eat. But it all depends on whether the whole tree is decent.

So maybe the question for us to ask ourselves is: is the tree decent? Are we based in the love of God overall? Are we generous? Are we a source of comfort? Or are we overall bitter? Are we selfish? Are we a source of hurt? Because if we are, it doesn’t really matter which peach we pick; it’s still going to be small and hard and pithy.

But let me tell you something: from what I know of you, and from what Anne says of you, I’m thinking you’re planted by streams of water. In which case, don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t worry about whether this choice or that one is the one and only perfect Part of God’s Eternal Plan. Pick a peach—any peach—that seems good and ripe and delicious to you. Bite into it. Enjoy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Various & Sundry, May 18

Would it surprise you to find out your mother was a spy? I loved this article about the woman who left the CIA to become a children's book author.  Must have come as a shock to her daughter, though.
“When Hana turned 8, I took her to the International Spy Museum for a fun program they hold, called Operation Secret Slumber. I gave the keynote talk, telling the assembled kids about the real work of spies. Hana was in the back of the room, but I saw her hand shoot up into the air. Wonderment spread across her face, she blurted out ‘So you’re here because you’re the spy?’"

James Lipton offers advice to Mitt Romney on How to Act Human. It's quite specific: how to laugh, how to hold your arms, problems of casting. I thought it was a fascinating insight into how actors observe someone playing the role of a public figure.

If you want some inspiration, read this story about the Columbia University janitor who just graduated with a degree in Classics.  With Honors.  After 12 years. That's after the six years he spent learning English. Truly impressive.

As a classics major, I wonder if he would approve of Dante's Inferno in Lego form.  Or would he think it was a heresy.

Internet Monk offers a lost parable of Jesus: the Sugar of the Earth.
And Jesus spoke to them and said, “You are the powdered sugar of the earth. As sugar is sprinkled on cakes and cookies to make them attractive and exceedingly sweet, so you shall make my church the most delightful confection the world has known. For the children of this world have an insatiable sweet tooth, and you shall satisfy those who hunger and thirst for empty calories."
Yes, it's slightly bitter.  But oh so good.

Also deliciously bitter, this letter W.H. Auden sent to his priest at St. Mark's in the Bowery.  Liturgy geeks, enjoy. Everyone else, you may go about your day in a practical manner.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The singular they

"I'm a big fan of the singular they," I said on a phone call this morning.  As one does. Well, it was reasonable in the context.  I'm deep in the revisions and edits of Confirm not Conform and we're trying to get our style sheet straight.

And as I said, I'm a fan of the singular they: the grammatical construction that uses the pronoun "they" to refer to a singular subject.  This shows up in CnC in sentences like this: "Ask one of the youth if they will..."

Are you one of those people upon whose nerves this grates?  I understand. Truly I do. I was raised in the school of pronoun agreement.  And even though he/she became cumbersome, I tried--I truly did--to keep the faith.

But then, I started hearing rumors that there was nothing actually wrong with the singular they, that it used to be normal, that people have been doing it for years.  And not just lazy slobs, but writers I admire like Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, C.S. LewisShakespeare, and Mr. Elements of Style himself, E.B. White.

"[A]lthough Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style preaches against singular they, when E. B. White got back to his own excellent writing he wrote lines like “But somebody taught you, didn’t they?” (that’s from Charlotte’s Web)."
If E.B. White can use the singular they, then why can't I? Tell me that.

So who is it who called the singular they grammar non grata?  It was, apparently, one Anne Fischer, 18th century grammarian and author of the 1745 blockbuster, A New Grammar.  It was she who suggested he should be paired with anyone.

And so we have been caught in the pronoun bind ever since: either renounce womanhood or accept awkwardness in the name of political grammatical correctness.

But I refuse! I claim the mantle of Austen and Chaucer.  I shall use the singular they with pride.  I shall wonder if someone is losing their mind.  I shall ask if anyone knows why they say things like that.  I shall fume that such a person doesn't know their elbow from their ear.  I shall use the singular they whenever I please. (Except in the case of Confirm not Conform, because we all understand that someone is going to throw a conniption when they see me use it.)

But to you, my friends, I preach the untrammeled grace of the singular they.  Use it with the comfort of knowing that it holds a long and noble pedigree, and with the hope that someday the singular they shall once again be accepted by one and by all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The laborer deserves to be paid

Got an email from a clergy colleague who knew me from my former life as a sign language interpreter.  She forwarded on to me a message from another clergyperson with a Deaf congregant, wondering about resources for finding a cheap interpreter. The priest thought they couldn't afford to pay the professional expense the interpreter was asking.  I wrote back with a suggestion of where to look, but also pointed out that the amount being asked was less than I got paid as a professional interpreter 20 years ago.

Here's what stuck in my craw: the question was not, "Do you know of any resources to find ways to pay a professional interpreter a professional rate?"  It was not, "Do you know of any grants we could apply for?"  It was, "Do you know anyone who will do it for less or for free?"

This "Where can we get it cheap?" attitude devalues work and devalues people.  In this case especially it made me mad; why should the Deaf person get a cheap interpreter?  What kind of quality do you think you're going to get?  Don't you think someone should be paid for providing this service?  This church has the opportunity to provide high-quality interpreting services and employ someone in a down economy.  Instead, they want to half-ass it at minimal cost.

I know churches are strapped.  But it also gets my goat that churches' first reaction often seems to be, "Where can we get a cut-rate version?" rather than "What do we need to do to pay someone a fair amount to do a good job as we provide a ministry to others?"

Here's a thought for you: if you can't pay people for their work, then maybe you are not ready to provide this ministry.  Here's another: quit being so cheap.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Garden update, May 2012

"Defend the perimeter" has become the watchword for the garden this year.

Double-fencing around the (replacement) Coreopsis after the first one tragically vanished.

A temporary cover for the carrots before a more permanent , sturdy defense is devised.

The spinach and lettuces are flanked by potted orange trees.  Predator in background.

A new bed along the side fence is completely enclosed by chicken wire.

As are the raised beds in front. The tomatoes are grateful.

And here is what happens when there is inadequate protection. 

 This plant lasted about two hours.

The canines cannot account for their whereabouts at the time of the incident.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Various & Sundry: Wild Things of various types

Hey, anybody graduating out there?  I forgot to post this last week, but you really ought to read 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You--though you may have seen it already.  It's been making the rounds.  My personal favorite is number 3: Don't Make the World Worse.  Although of course I have a soft spot for #6: "Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives." Well, duh.

Even if you don't read the obituaries, you probably heard that Maurice Sendak died this week.  I loved this anecdote about his response to a fan letter from a little boy--and how the boy responded in turn.  There's a sermon in there, if you're a sermonating type.

Also in obituaries: Vidal Sassoon!  I had no idea what a revolutionary he was, and how he changed hairstyling. Thank you, Vidal Sasson, for saving us from so much teasing.  And talk about an unorderly, unlinear life.

How about a fashion spread to go along with the Vidal Sassoon 5-point cut?  Tom & Lorenzo featured this spread from Ponystep Magazine (I'd never heard of it), featuring the models Ratka Mayor, Vivien Bridson, and Edna Mathieson, who are totally fabulous. How could you not adore them?  Also: I want that coat.  And the handbag.  Shoes...not so much.  But I want to look that good wearing cats-eye glasses like that.

And now, for something completely different.  I loved this story about the Kenyan boy named Richard Turere who, at the age of 11, figured out how to keep the lions away from the family cattle. Check this out!
He observed that the lions never struck the homesteads when someone was awake and walking around with a flashlight. Lions are naturally afraid of people. He concluded that lions equate torches with people so he took the led bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade. The bulbs are wired to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family Television set. The lights don’t point towards the cattle, or on any property, but outwards into the darkness. They flash in sequence giving the impression that someone is walking around the stockade.
Voila! No losses by lion.  And the neighbors have come calling for his help.  AfriGadget is looking for a way to scale up his idea.  I hope young Richard, there, is amply rewarded.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Some practical advice for clergy considering a parish job

Last week, I posted some practical advice for pastoral search committees. That advice had been part of a sermon in which I confessed that I lied on the ethics portion of the General Ordination Exam--and got the highest possible score.

What I didn't mention was that the ethics question had to do with whether or not a rector should consider taking a new job.  I don't have the answer I gave any more; what I remember was that I wrote a whole lot of Christian blather about discernment and the leading of the Holy Spirit when the truth was far more practical and (I feel) better serves both the clergy and the church.

I sense that many of us use spiritual blather to mask or justify our more personal or practical reasons for making the decisions we do.  I think that's a shame that we feel we cannot give our real reasons.

Don't believe me?  There was one time when I decided that a parish was not right for me.  I told various friends what I had chosen, and one (also a priest) asked me I had really discerned, wanting to know my spiritual reasons for saying no.  I could certainly gin some up, but to this day I resent the fact that turning down a job needed to be approved by spiritual signs when what it boiled down to was, "Not interested.  Sorry."

There are some jobs I'm very sorry I didn't get, jobs to which I felt called.  But I have also turned down a few positions, and I regret none of them.  But, my goodness, the pressure I have felt to take them from people who had all sorts of oh-so-spiritual reasons why I should--oh-so-spiritual reasons that just happened to coincide with what they wanted.

So with that in mind, here is my very blunt advice on the whole job search process.

  • You need to look out for yourself and your own needs.  First and foremost.  And it sounds selfish and horrible, but I don't care.  This is priority one.  Does the job offer you enough to live on?  Will you be able to take care of yourself and your family?  Will your basic needs for your health and well-being be met? Will you be able to do this job without going into debt?  (You would not believe...well, maybe you would.) Who is going to take care of you? By and large, my friends, you are going to need to take care of yourself, so make sure you have the resources to do so.  And by "resources," I mean money, housing, health insurance, friends, and time off.  Spiritual resources are not enough.
  • "I'm interested!" is a good enough reason.   Forget the spiritual clap-trap.  Does the job sound fun? Interesting?  Is it in a place you'd like to live?  A place that will provide opportunities for you and your family?  Does the job description intrigue you?  Well, then, apply.
  • Pity is not a good enough reason.  Just because a parish neeeeeeds a priest and you have the skills and you could heeeelp them is not a good enough reason to apply.  Do NOT be guilted into applying for a job.  Guilt, pity, and shame are no basis for a good working relationship.
  • Be honest about what you can and cannot do.  I've already told the pastoral search committee that priests lie in interviews, but let me tell you: don't lie in interviews.  If they're looking for an administrator and you're no good at administration, don't say, "I'm great at administration."  Say something like, "I can do x and y, but I will need someone to help me with a and b.  Here is how I have been able to manage those tasks in other places."  If they need someone who is good at something you're not good at, you are not the person for the job.
  • Negotiate at the outset.  See "looking out for your needs," above.  Do you need a day to be with your family?  Do you need to have your office painted before you move into it?  Do you need internet access?  Do you need a cap placed on the hours you work in a week?  Be clear about it--as clear as you can, given that you don't know all the circumstances.  Now is your best time to set expectations.  Stick to them.
  • Get the money.  See "looking out for your needs," above.  One thing I really regret in my church career is not pushing harder on the financial side.  I don't even want to think of how many thousands of dollars I've lost because I did not say, "that is not acceptable."  One thing I'm proud of is turning down a job that paid below the set diocesan minimum (see "pity is not a good enough reason," above).  I probably would have lost one other job, or walked away from it, because they were not following their own diocesan standards for salaries, but I took it anyway.  I still regret that I did not stand my ground and say, "This needs to be different" and let the chips fall where they may.
One more thing about the money side: as long as the Church can get away with underpaying its clergy, it will do so.  And the way for that to change is for clergy not to take jobs where they are underpaid, or to do part-time work for the part-time pay you are being offered.  "Diocesan minimum" is a very nice concept, but in my experience, diocesan minimums are made to be broken.  Hold the Church accountable to its own standards.  This is not being greedy.  It is an act of courage and an act of justice--not just for yourself, but for others.  And be aware that it may cost you jobs.
  •  Get it in writing.  Just do.  When you negotiate new terms, when you agree on hours, when you settle on a salary...get it in writing.
  • Sometimes it's just dumb luck. I was just looking this morning this morning at the readings for May 20th, and the Acts reading is about the call of Matthias, which was basically eenie, meenie, meinie, moe.   I think we downplay the role of luck in the search process in general.   Leading of the Holy Spirit, my ass.  If you get a job you really wanted, don't get all holy-moly on us.  Maybe your resume was at the top of the pile when people were fresh and excited.  If you don't get a job, don't bow your head and ask what you did wrong.  Maybe you had the same name as the search committee chair's horrible first grade teacher.  There are people involved in this search process, and people are people.
  • Remember it's just a job.  Really.  It's a job.  Yes, it's a calling, but no more or less than being a professor or a politician or a police officer.  It's. A. Job.  Treat it with the respect it deserves, but always remember that reverence belongs to God alone.

End rant.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Expats

Sometimes you just want a good thriller to read over a weekend and The Expats certainly fit the bill.  It took a good 200 pages to get all the pieces laid out on the board so you could see what was going on, and even then there were a few more twists to keep me guessing.

It's well written with lots of great descriptions of the Luxembourg expat community--especially the wives who uproot themselves and their lives to follow a husband's career.  They are, the author says, the double exes: expat exlawyers, exdoctors, exbusinesswomen.  And in the case of our hero, Kate Moore, ex-CIA.  You know that means trouble.

Likeable characters, interesting set-up, and a decent pay-off.  I'm afraid I'm damning with faint praise, here, but writing a good thriller is no easy feat. Very enjoyable.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Morning Preacher: A Quarter of your Time

I didn't preach this weekend, and it's amazing how much I was able to get done.  I'll have more to say later this week (probably) on the clergy side of the job search equation, but one thing that really struck me, writing the advice for pastoral search committees, is that preaching and Sunday services are a quarter-time job.

This is not the "every minute of your sermon takes an hour" dictum; I think that's a bit too pat.  But I have found over the years that despite my best efforts, there's always a day (usually called "Saturday") that has to be fully dedicated to preparing the sermon.  Even if I'm not sitting and writing, or reading commentaries, or pondering deeply, the whole day is colored by the need to get the sermon written.

So there's that, and then there's the services.  For one service, that's at least 2 hours.  For two, at least 4 1/2, which includes the time prepping before the service, cleaning up afterwards, and talking with people at coffee hour.

All of which adds up to, at a minimum, 10 hours, or a quarter of your time.

I would love it if that became the assumption in clergy job descriptions, that sermon prep and Sunday services are a quarter of the job, and that only the remaining 30 hours are up for negotiation.  Having looked at a good many clergy job descriptions, they seem to jam so much stuff in there as if they were worried you wouldn't have enough to do.  Would that change, do you think, if there were a deeper understanding that preaching and presiding took up 1/4 of their allotted work week?

More later.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

Various & Sundry, May 4

It's the 10th anniversary of my ordination and I've been thinking about heresy all day. Not for me personally.  It's because I'm revising the Confirm not Conform curriculum.  To that end, I finally tracked down the source of the Helen Keller quote, "The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next." It's from her essay on Optimism, free on Google Books. She follows that thought up with the great caveat, "The test of all beliefs is their practical effect in life." Love it.

Yesterday, while I was pondering the news for the World In Prayer prayers, I found this tidbit about the lost parakeet in Tokyo who told the police his address. "The bird's owner, a 64-year-old woman, said she taught the address to her pet after she bought him two years ago. She had lost another parakeet previously and wanted to ensure that did not happen again, police said." How very practical.

Lots of good obits this week, but how can I resist telling you about professional poker player Amarillo Slim? I've linked here to the obit in the London Telegraph for its very British recounting of a very American man.  It begins, "One of a cabal of rough and ready gamblers, mostly Texans, living on their wits in the days when the game was largely confined to dimly-lit, smoke-filled back rooms, Slim sprang from a Wild West tradition dating from the days of Billy The Kid. Many Americans frowned on poker, some even considering it a sin." Oh, tut tut.

Did you hear the one about the six logicians at a restaurant?

Daniela Papi has a sharp-ish post on Lessons I Learned entitled, So, you’re helping people with “no skills”…?!

I can picture these skill-less people you speak of as you stand there in your suit, I imagine they can grow food we only know how to pick off of a shelf, perhaps build their own home, and fix the limited electronic items they have...Drop me in a developing country, in a community without electricity, with no job, and many kids to feed, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the skills to survive. I bet the “villagers” (yep, I feel sick!) in that community would indeed describe me as having “no skills” at all… and in their world, they’d be right. 

Finally, I  loved Dave Walker's blog post about a bricked up door.  As he says, "There is nothing worse than not knowing when a door was bricked up." The comments are awesome as well.


Gromit is settling in nicely.

I hasten to point out that they are not always asleep.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

World In Prayer, May 3, 2012

It was my week for the World In Prayer prayers and they pretty much wrote themselves this week.  Once I hit that line in the Acts reading for this Sunday, I knew exactly how I wanted to pray. These prayers are from my heart.  Here they are.

Philip asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 
He replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"   -Acts 8:30-31

Dear God,

I do not understand what I am reading.

I read news from throughout the world and I do not understand what I am reading.

I say I read “news,” but the truth is; I read headlines, sometimes a few paragraphs, sometimes a whole article. I get glimpses into conflicts and cultures and circumstances, but I do not understand what I am reading. How can I understand, unless someone guides me?

Help us, God, to listen to those whose experience informs them. Help us to listen to others throughout the world, to those who have lived in the conflict and the culture and the circumstances. Help us to gain perspective. Help us to have insight. Help us to understand.

Help us to understand what is happening in Mali where a recent coup and counter-coup are being discussed by leaders of West African States at a meeting in Senegal.

Help us to understand what is happening in France where voters will decide on Sunday between current President Nicholas Sarkozy and challenger Francois Hollande.

Help us to understand what is happening in Burma where Daw Aung Yan Suu Kyi and other recently elected members of the National League for Democracy took their seats in Parliament.

Help us to understand what is happening in Brazil where more than 8,500 troops have been deployed in the Amazon to tackle drug trafficking, logging, and illegal mining.

Help us to understand what is happening in Nigeria where gunmen armed with explosives set fire to a cattle market, burning it to the ground, killing over 30 people as well as many of the cattle.

Help us to understand what is happening in Serbia where presidential and Parliamentary elections on Sunday may decide whether or not the country joins the European Union.

Help us to understand what is happening in China where the United Statesand China are in conflict over the future of dissident lawyer Chen Guangchen, who is seeking to travel to the United States after escaping house arrest.

Help us to understand what is happening in Syria where security forces have stormed student dormitories in Aleppo in response to anti-government protests.

Help us to understand the world you made, the world you love, the world you redeemed.

Help us to understand. Help us to abide in you. Help us to love. Amen

Review: Operation Mincemeat

I meant to read Operation Mincemeat when it first came out, but was only reminded to do so when I saw the obit for Jean Gerard Leigh.  Who was Jean Gerard Leigh, you ask?  She was a dead man's fiance.  Well, faux fiance.  All part of a plan of MI5 to trick the Germans into believing the Allies would invade Greece instead of Sicily.  How, you ask?  By placing a corpse with suggestive papers in the water off the coast of Spain and doing their darndest to convince them the were the genuine article.

This book is hilarious.  Of all the cockamamie schemes ever cooked up in wartime, this one certainly has to be in the top 5.  Not that I can name any of the other four, because they're probably all still classified.  But what with this crazy plan and this colorful cast of characters, I read this laughing at practically every page.

I mean, listen: You've got your hero, Ewan Montagu, who masterminded the plan and his Russian spy/table tennis enthusiast brother, Ivor.  You've got the coroner, Bentley Purchase, who procures a suitable corpse.  You've got a dashing submarine captain, Bill Jewell.  You've got Miss Leigh, aka "Pam."  You've got the near-sighted racecar driver who has to deliver the body to Scotland.  You've got your Spanish embassy absolutely riddled with double-crossers.  You've got your 1/8 Jewish head of the Abwehr in Spain who had better deliver the goods or be shipped off to a concentration camp.

And even though you know from the first that this completely absurd plan actually does work, it's still mind-boggling--MIND BOGGLING--that they were actually able to pull this thing off.

Ben MacIntyre sounds like he had a great time researching and writing this up.  Perhaps he tells you more about some of these people than you really need to know, but they're so interesting I can't blame him.  And the tale!  Well, it deserved to be told.  Read it and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Some practical advice for pastoral search committees

Like so many things in the church, the Pastoral Search process seems often to be spiritualized beyond any recognition for what it is: a hiring process.  Actually, I think what's worse is that search committees are taught to use the language of call while disguising their true desire to hire with a religious patina.  Oh, I don't know.  I just know I've seen a whole lot of bad search processes that seem to lack any straightforward and forthright thinking in favor of a lot of spiritual blather.

I was preaching last Sunday to a church in the middle of a search process.  So I told them my rather blunt ideas about calling a priest as part of the sermon and thought I'd share them with you.

Be as realistic as you can. Be realistic about the resources you have, about what you want done and the time it will require.  One thing you should know is that for me as supply clergy, it takes about 10 hours a week to prepare a sermon, do the service, and attend coffee hour.  That leaves you 30 hours a week for additional work if you're hiring someone full time.  I have seen so many job descriptions that seem to feel they need to fill up a priest's time.  Forty hours a week is not as much as you think.

• Prioritize. If the person you call were good at only one thing, what thing would you like it to be? What kind of skills will that require?  If you really want to grow as a congregation, make sure the job description allows lots of time for outreach--which means less time for training acolytes, creating bulletins, etc.

• Past titles mean very little. I think this is more true in the church than in many other professions. Don’t be impressed by or dismissive of job titles.  Just because someone was in charge of a parish doesn't mean they were any good at it.  Skip the title and look at their skills, what they have accomplished, and what they say they can do well.

 • Check references! Really, I can’t stress this enough. What do the people who have already worked with the applicants have to say about them? What do they report about their skills, accomplishments, and gifts?  I am amazed at the number of times I've been in a search and gotten fairly far, only to ask my references if they had been called and found out they hadn't.  References are an excellent resource for getting a fuller perspective on the applicant; why people don't use them I do not know.

• Priests lie in interviews. I’m not saying all priests lie all the time. What I’m saying is that if a priest wants a job and you say to that person, “What we really need is someone who’s good at administration. Are you good at administration?”, there’s a temptation to say, “Oh, yes!”, and then try to figure it out later once you’ve got the job. I'm afraid we have been well-trained to give the right answer in order to get ahead.  You need to be (I hate to say it) cunning to allow priests the freedom to tell you the truth about themselves. What questions can you ask that will determine their actual skills, habits, and practices?

 • Priests are also trying to do the best they can. But they are still the same species. Never forget that.
Image courtesy of ASBO Jesus


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A new addition

Meet Gromit.
We weren't planning to get another dog.  No, we most certainly were not.  We were trying to help friends get another dog.  But then we met Gromit and we knew we were doooomed.

Gromit is a Guatemalan Otter Hound.  Or something.  He came from an organization called AWARE, a non-profit that operates a spay/neuter clinic and no-kill shelter for street dogs and cats in Guatemala.

From what I understand, his former owner had 8 dogs.  When the owner had a stroke, Gromit and the other 7 (including Gromit's father) went to the shelter.  Gromit was placed in a home where the person was gone all day, so he would howl.  He was returned to the shelter, then was sent to the U.S. where he lived with a foster family for a month.  (You can see lots of pictures of him there at the TubeDog Facebook page.)

We saw his profile on Friday evening, put in an application on Saturday, met him on Sunday, and on Monday evening he came to live with us.  He and Harper played non-stop for almost two hours last night, so I think there's a bit of an over-play hangover this morning.  It's remarkably quiet around here.  But so far, so good.

Here's the pack.  (Gromit is looking at one of the cats.)
Oh, the cats are fascinated.  And Jack ate out of Gromit's bowl this morning.  So clearly they're terrified.

Undoubtedly more images to more.  Here are articles from The Bark and SPCA International about AWARE.