Friday, December 20, 2013

World In Prayer prayers

It was my week to write the prayers for the World In Prayer ministry, and of course Advent was on my mind. In particular, I took some of the O Antiphons as my inspiration this week, since they are prayers traditionally used in the week before Christmas.

The prayers are a bit bleak, I think, perhaps in keeping with the longest night of the year, but I tried to turn it at the end to the hope of new light.

At any rate, here you go.

World News This Week In Prayer - Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
We are still waiting for you.
We are waiting for the Prince of Peace.
We are waiting for the Wisdom from on high.
We are waiting for the King of all nations.
O come and set the captives free.

Free those who are captive to violence.
--The people of Syria, of South Sudan, of Ukraine.
--The victims of domestic violence or abuse.
--Those who see violence as a solution to their problems or those of the world.

Free those who are captive to poverty.
--Those unable to find work, and those whose work cannot supply their needs.
--The long-term unemployed in the United States who may be affected by the expiration of their unemployment benefits.
--Those who work in sweatshops and mines.
--The children of New Zealand, over 1/4 of whom live in poverty, and children throughout the world who live in poverty.

Free those who are captive to fear and hatred.
--Those nations divided by histories of rivalry and conflict:
       Iran and Israel
       India and Pakistan
--The Roma of Europe.
--Those who fear others based on race or ethnicity.

Free those who are captive to sorrow.
--Those who grieve the loss of a loved one.
--Those who are alone.
--Those who suffer from depression.
--Those for whom this time of celebration is a time of sadness.

May you, O Lord, turn all our sorrow into joy. May our souls rejoice at your appearing. May we magnify you as we sing. And may all the world be glad at the light of your presence.

Come, Lord Jesus. Be our light in the darkness. And may we come before your presence with a song. For you are our light and our salvation, and to you we lift our voices in prayer and thanksgiving, now and always. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday SMART goals

I was leading a meeting the other day where we were practicing developing SMART goals. You've heard of those, probably. SMART goals are
S: Specific
M: Measurable
A: Achievable
R: Relevant
T: Time-bound
And so as an exercise, we created SMART goals related to the holiday season, and I thought, "Why haven't I done this before?"

Here are a couple of examples I came up with:

Not-so-smart goal: I will make everyone happy

SMART goal: I will select and wrap gifts for the 8 members of my immediate family and ensure they arrive by Christmas day.

Not-so-smart goal: I won't get mad when Uncle Ernie talks about politics

SMART goal: I will develop, write down, and rehearse 5 strategies for responding in a healthy way when Uncle Ernie talks about politics at least 1 day before we have our family dinner gathering.

So, for what it's worth, I offer this exercise to you. How can you approach the holidays in a way that doesn't set yourself up for failure with unrealistic goals?

Monday, December 9, 2013

An old Advent 2 sermon, complete and unabridged

For some reason, I have this sermon from Advent 2, 2001, in my first year out of seminary and still writing out the whole sermon each time I preached. I found it recently and it still speaks to me, despite the 2001 references, so I thought I'd pass it along.

As part of my own spiritual discipline as I try to discern what I think and feel about the current world situation after September 11, but even more after October 7, the day we first began bombing Afghanistan, I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian in Germany when Hitler came to power. For a time he taught in an underground seminary that supported the work of the “Confessing Church,” a network of churches not under the control of the Nazi regime. In 1939, he came to the United States for a lecture tour and was urged to stay rather than return to the rapidly worsening situation in Germany. But he refused and took one of the last ships back to Germany. Originally a pacifist, Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested in April of 1943 and spent the first year and a half of his imprisonment in the military section of a Berlin prison. He was executed in April of 1945, but not before writing an extraordinarily thoughtful collection of letters that are still pertinent today.

I found myself recently reading his letters from Advent 1943. He writes, “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.” I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit.

I’ve also been thinking about some of his comments in a letter from December 18, 1943. He says, “In my experience, nothing tortures us more than longing…Substitutes repel us; we simply have to wait and wait; we have to suffer unspeakably from the separation and feel the longing till it almost makes us ill…[T]here is nothing worse in such times than to try to find a substitute for the irreplaceable.”

We’re in the middle of Advent and we’re waiting. In our day to day lives, things seem to be hurrying toward the harrowing end of a semester, for some of us, or rushing us towards Christmas with all of the things we still have to do. All the extra things that our celebrations require of us. It keeps us busy. It keeps us distracted and occupied. But there’s something else going on underneath that. There’s a longing. There’s a longing for something we’re not even sure what it is and no real conclusion in sight. And if we stopped to think about it, it might be too difficult to bear.

And in the larger world, after that initial fraught time in September, things seems at least for me to have settled down into a steady normalcy of war. I read the headlines about Afghanistan, but I barely read the articles any more. I hear about military successes in various places I’ve never heard of and safe here in my corner of Ohio I don’t spend too much time thinking about what real peace might look like. And here we are, reading Isaiah.

There’s a future tense in the readings this morning. And with that future tense comes a longing. A longing for justice. A longing for peace. A longing for the one who will come. And images that are so dissonant with reality as we know it that all we can put it down to is hyperbole.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb? The leopard shall lie down with the kid? A little child shall lead them?” It’s the image of the peaceable kingdom that we may have seen hundreds of times in paintings, but can we imagine such a thing in reality? It’s an image of peace that is so extreme as to be completely unbelievable. Or, as I once heard one person say, if this scene were to take place, wouldn’t you rather be the lion?

We are so used to a simulacrum of peace that the image of peace that Isaiah gives us looks ludicrous. How could it possibly work? And I think it might scare us. It scares me. In this image of peace, there is little protection for the one who has always previously been the victim. What if things go wrong? Who will guarantee that the peace will last?

Advent is like being in a prison cell. And in your cell there’s a window above you where you can see the sky, but it is so different from the world you inhabit that it hardly seems to be a possibility.

There’s a longing in us for something meaningful and significant. There were crowds of people who went out to be baptized by John and he says there’s something more. There’s someone who is coming after him who will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And we find ourselves in the land of hyperbole again.

Baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire? What on earth does that mean? Will it hurt? What would it do to us? The baptism that John offers is at least clear. And yet this is the same person who says that’s not all. Could that be true? Could there be something bigger and better than this?

What if it’s true, something in us says. What if there really is something better than this? And another part works hard to squash that down, keep it quiet, to protect ourselves from disappointment. And then Advent comes along and exposes our hopes and expectations.

In Advent, we learn to live in the awareness of our own longing.

Living with longing is not easy. Bonhoeffer says to do so is to live with an almost unbearable tension. And the pressure upon us is to fill that void. The pressure upon us is internal because the longing can be so difficult and so painful that we would simply like it to stop. And the pressure can also come from outside because our longing can make us protest that we are not willing to settle, that this is not good enough. The longing can make us want to change our world and can unsettle those around us. It would be so much easier to find an acceptable substitute.

To uncover the longing is a bit like opening a Pandora’s box. It’s a dangerous activity. And inside the box we find not only the longing we first suspected was there, but all the longing that we have ruthlessly suppressed over the years. And having unleashed our longings, we can’t put them back in the box.

But we don’t need to put them back in the box. Advent invites us to look at them. Advent is a season of longing.

We demonstrate this by our own activity. We hurry around trying to find the perfect gifts for the people we love. But this is indicative of something larger. What would be the perfect gift for us, for our world? Would it be peace? Would it be a powerful, transforming baptism? Where can we go to get them? The answer is we have to wait. But they are coming.

What is it you long for? Let that be your work this Advent. To open up that stifled box of longing and show God what’s inside. Expose our hopes and expectations. Lying down with them like a lamb with a wolf. God loves us. God, too, is trying to find the perfect gift for us. We’re waiting for something, we’re not even sure what it is, and it’s hard work. Wait for it. Accept no substitutes. It’s coming.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

We went to watch whales, but instead met an otter

I don't know if you heard that there has been an unusually large number of whales sticking around Monterey Bay long past their usual season there, due to a huge run of anchovies. So we thought we'd trek down there for a day in hopes of getting in on the action.

Then something unexpected and wonderful happened.

We got a phone call from someone who had no idea we were headed toward Monterey who had, as it happened, just been in the area the week before and had, as it happened, been told by a local that a wild sea otter, but one habituated to humans, was just hanging out at a local dock where people could stop by. As it happened, this dock was 20 minutes away from where we were. We practically swerved off the road, in hopes the otter was still hanging around the dock, and in hopes we could reach the dock before dark.

It was, and we did. And it was amazing.

The otter was perfectly happy and healthy (well, at least as far as we could tell), and as you could see, didn't seem at all perturbed to have people standing around looking at it.

Or taking its picture. Or even...

...stroking its fur, and I know, I know, don't touch a wild animal, but I can't say I regret it. It was amazing. It kind of rolled over and did the "scratch right there" thing that the dogs do. My hand was rather gray afterwards, but boy was it incredible to touch that fur.

Did you know that sea otters have the densest fur of any animal? On some parts of their body, it has 1 million hairs per square inch. 

I can also tell you now from first-hand experience that they have the cutest ears and strangely small front paws that look a little like catchers' mitts, and that when they flex their toes, their back webbed feet are disproportionately large. 

The next day, as it happened, the whale watch was cancelled due to rough weather, so we went back to visit the sea otter who was enjoying a healthy breakfast. I can also tell you now from first-hand experience that sea otters are noisy eaters. Well, see for yourself.

Santa Meltdown!

A friend of mine always posts the best family updates on Facebook. She gave me permission to reveal the following touching family vignette.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Isn't it?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For your next family Thanksgiving...

Re-enact the Last Supper by da Vinci!

I just thought this was hilarious. But that may just be the turkey talking.

Kudos to my friend Lori and her family for taking this on. Next year, maybe Thomas will be pointing his finger the other way.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgivukkah Blessing

Having been advised that I would be giving the blessing at the annual Thanksgiving dinner, I actually stole something from the internet prepared in advance. This blessing, slightly edited, comes from the Clergy and Comedians Torah Roundtable, and doesn't that sound like a terrific group? I do like how as the prayer progresses, I'm lured into something deeper and less shticky. But any prayer that gives thanks for Mel Brooks is OK by me.


O Great Spirit, Who in Infinite Wisdom has brought together Chanuka and Thanksgiving. Thank You for giving Christmas a break from the Jews.

As we dine in the light of a menorah on kosher turkey and on latkes with a shmear of cranberry sauce, we recall two great movements for religious freedom, American and Jewish, the combination of which yielded Groucho Marx, Joan Rivers, Mel Brooks, Gilda Radner, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman.

May we be blessed with more religious freedom and less religious certainty. May we be less inclined to laugh at others, and more prone to laughing at ourselves. May our leaders learn from our modern prophets – speaking in clubs and old films, on HBO specials and Comedy Central shows – who unite us in our humanity, humility and vulnerability.

May our tears of laughter allow us to be open and unsure, and may God bless all of us, who are just muddling through, making meaning as we can. And may our descendants celebrate the next Thanksgivukkah, in 77,000 years, in a world of laughter and joy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday (abridged)

On Friday, we marked the 50th anniversary of the death of a man who has had a lasting impact on our world. That man, of course, was C.S. Lewis. Although he wrote a great many works about Christian faith and life, he is probably best well-known for the Chronicles of Narnia, seven children's books that center on the magical world of Narnia, guarded and guided by Aslan, the Great Lion, son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea.

Aslan is the Christ-figure for Narnia, as Lewis himself explained in a letter he wrote in 1961:
The whole Narnian story is about Christ...Supposing there really was a world like Narnia...and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world to save it (as he did ours), what might have happened? The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called 'the Lion of Judah' in the Bible.
I thought I would be able to do a lot to draw parallels between today's gospel reading of the crucifixion and the parallel plot point of Aslan's death on the Stone Table in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I encountered an unexpected problem: It's very easy looking at Aslan to assume he is a king. He's majestic and powerful and gorgeous. When the White Witch binds him to the Stone Table, they make a point of mutilating and shearing Aslan to make him look less kingly. But one of the remarkable things about the kingly nature of Jesus is that he always looked ordinary. There was nothing in his appearance (so far as I know) to set him apart from anyone else. The only thing that sets Jesus apart from the two other men being crucified around him, the only thing that makes it easy to pick him out, is that there's a sign over his head, saying "This is the King of the Jews."

I started wondering, what if C.S. Lewis had chosen instead to make Aslan a very ordinary animal. A dog, say -- not pure-bred. Just a mutt. A lab-pitbull mix, is what I was thinking. How would that have changed things?

Aslan is a wonderful character, but you have to admit, he looks kingly and noble from the get-go, all the more so when you're voiced by Liam Neeson. I wonder if one of the reasons -- one of the many reasons -- Jesus stirred up such violent passions against him is that he didn't look the part. He didn't look like a Lion of Judah; he looked like your average, skinny street dog of Nazareth.

But even though he didn't look the part, he still sounded the part. If you look at the two things Jesus says while on the cross, they sound mighty kingly, almost noblesse oblige: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," and "Today you will be with me in paradise." There's even some arrogance in that. Here he is, powerless and nailed down, and he still speaks as though it is in his power to dispense forgiveness and welcome.

Both in Narnia and in our world, people felt the need to cut the Christ down to size. In Narnia, is was because they did see his kingship; in our world, because they didn't see it at all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mavis Batey

I break radio silence to bring you the wonderful story of Mavis Batey, a codebreaker at Bletchley Park who died on November 12 at the age of 92.
She was reading German at University College, London, when war broke out, and decided to break off her studies and become a nurse; but she was told that the country could make more use of her as a German linguist. “So I thought, great,” she recalled. “This is going to be an interesting job, Mata Hari, seducing Prussian officers. But I don’t think either my legs or my German were good enough because they sent me to the Government Code & Cipher School.”

And a good thing they did, too, because she, one other young woman named Margaret Rock, and Dilly Knox were responsible for cracking the code of the Abwehr Enigma machine, which in turn allowed for the success of the D-Day landings. Mavis is the one who "broke a message on the link between Belgrade and Berlin, allowing the reconstruction of one of the rotors." She was 20 at the time.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Various & Sundry: in which quite a few people make very good points

Hello! I'm back. And we have much to discuss. But at the moment, here's a few odds and endy things I wanted to share.

What do you say to a person who asks if suicide is a legitimate option for someone "who genuinely is tired and doesn't want to continue"? I thought this was a terrific answer.

I've never really thought much one way or the other about Libertarianism, but Lance Mannion sure has and has the rant to prove it. "You don’t have to believe in no government," he writes, "but if you aren’t at least trying to take yourself off the grid and off the dole, then I’ve got to conclude that your professed libertarianism is just a high-fallutin’, long-winded, and, usually, very boring way to complain about your taxes." He may have a point.

I've started following the blog Our Valued Customers which reports on snippets of conversation from a comic book store.
He may have a point, too.

Ta-nehisi Coates also has a mighty good rant going with his post on The Selective Amnesia of Post-War Europe, which is not quite the stuck-in-the-past post you might think it is. (Or maybe I'm just particularly close to it, having recently finished the post-war-set Bernie Gunther mystery A Quiet Flame, which I'll get around to reviewing one of these days.) This was the key quote for me: "'The past' is whatever contributes to a society's moral debts. 'Heritage' is everything else." Say it with me now: He may have a point.

Although this article is ostensibly about the dangers of playing it safe, it's also an excellent example of keeping the long view in order to foster change in an organization. The writer, who encourages organizations to take risks, also (I think) learned the important lesson: Change happens in mysterious ways.

In a fit of self-promotion, and because I'm pleased with how it turned out, I'd like to pass on a blog post I wrote on 4 reasons youth hate confirmation classes. You'd hate them too.

Go, Red Sox! Check out this amazing Red Sox Bento Box lunch, with an apple carved into a baseball:

Finally, seeing as it's almost noon, I recommend the essay On Lying In Bed by G.K. Chesterton. Is it immoral to lie about in the morning? "Instead of being regarded, as it ought to be, as a matter of personal convenience and adjustment, it has come to be regarded by many as if it were a part of essential morals to get up early in the morning. It is upon the whole part of practical wisdom; but there is nothing good about it or bad about its opposite." He most certainly has a point.

And did I mention? Go Red Sox!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Upon entering week three

Back in the days when I was a sign language interpreter, one summer I worked with a summer school class of five kids: three boys and two girls. One day, the teacher divvied them up into two teams for a Jeopardy-style lesson: boys on one team, girls on the other. And even though there were more boys than girls, and even though every time the girls answered a question, the teacher said to the boys "Get ready to steal!", and even though the girls team was in the lead the entire time, at the end of the game, when the girls' team had won, the boys yelled, "It's not fair!" And the teacher, for reasons I shall never fathom, said, "OK, let's call it a draw."

What I see with the government shutdown reminds me daily of this incident.

Picture from the rally at the WWII Memorial on Sunday

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Obit du jour: The 6th Earl Grey

It would be wrong of me not to let you know that the 6th Earl Grey, the great-great-grandson of the Earl Grey who gave his name to Earl Grey tea, died in September. It should also be noted that he (the 6th Earl, that is) was the president of the Cremation Society of Great Britain.

Dead people and tea. He's my kind of guy. Or was.

Check out the full obit here.

Something we've all said to ourselves from time to time

Though in my case it's more "chips and salsa" than "peanut butter and raisins." "Chocolate thingies" still holds true though.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why I hate tithing, and what I recommend instead

You may recall that I posted a sermon a few weeks ago in which I get pretty shirty about tithing. Well, the brave folks at the Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa, invited me to contribute to their stewardship materials, thus putting their money where my mouth is. I hope I helped them!

Here's what I wrote.


I hate tithing. I don’t mean that I hate to do it; I mean that I think it’s a terrible way to determine giving. It’s so mechanical! So guilt-laden, too. But all my life, I’d heard people talk about the tithe as the Biblical basis of stewardship. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I thought, “Hey, wait a minute! People keep talking about tithing as Biblical, but I’ve never actually seen any of these texts!”

I was surprised by what I discovered. Did you know that tithing only refers to agricultural products? That’s why you hear Jesus talks about the Pharisees “tithing mint and rue and herbs of all kinds” (Luke 11:42) – they were keeping to the letter of the law down to the herbs in the kitchen garden.

But looking at the New Testament, what I see as the Biblical standard of giving is not tithing, or any sort of definitive rule. Instead, I see two traits that characterize faithful giving: generosity and mission.

Generosity: Unlike tithing, which is simply a math problem, generosity is a spiritual practice. I know many generous people who are tithers, but tithing on its own is simply about a transfer of goods or money from one entity to another. Generosity, on the other hand, is the attitude in which the tithing – or any giving – is undertaken. Tithing answers the question, “Have I done enough?” Generosity answers the question, “How can I contribute as much as possible?”

Mission: One of the things that most annoys me about tithing is that it is so disconnected to what happens to the money. But what I see over and over again in the New Testament is that giving is directed to some purpose: supporting Jesus’ ministry, helping one another in the church, caring for widows and orphans, or reaching out to the church in Jerusalem.

Mission is actually the question of generosity as it is answered by a community or organization: “How can we as a group contribute as much as possible?” When we are clear about our mission, it makes it clear why we are giving and what we are giving towards. Tithing eliminates any dialogue, expecting people to shut up and give because the Bible says so. But a call for giving based on mission opens the question of what it is we hope to do together and how can we get it done.

And so I would encourage the community of the Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa, to reflect on the mission of your congregation: how can we contribute? Talk about it with one another, and really come to grips with what it is you want to do together and how to accomplish that.

Then as individuals, take time to answer that same question: How can I contribute? If Incarnation has a mission that excites you that you want to support, what can you do to make that happen?

Paul, writing to the wealthy church in Corinth, challenged them to give to support the church in Jerusalem as the much poorer church in Macedonia had done. He summarized giving in a way that resonates with me, saying, “If the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has” (2 Corinthians 8:12).

I hope you are eager to see the great things you can do as the Church of the Incarnation, and I pray that you might be able to give generously to see that happen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ruth Benerito, my hero

And probably yours too.
A chemist long affiliated with the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Benerito helped perfect modern wrinkle-free cotton, colloquially known as permanent press, in work that she and her colleagues began in the late 1950s.
That's right. This is the woman who made it possible for us not to iron every piece of cotton we wear.

She died last Saturday at the age of 97. If you're wearing any permanent press clothing today, take a moment to remember Dr. Benerito and all the others who made that possible.

Full obit here.

British take (which notes her home of 56 years was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina) here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

World In Prayer prayers

It was my week for the World In Prayer prayers. As you might have gathered from the silence of the blog (soon to be major motion picture), I have been kind of pressed for time these days, so the prayers are not as in depth as I would have liked. Heartfelt, nonetheless.

World News This Week in Prayer - Thursday, September 26, 2013

God of Heaven and Earth, Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, whom angels worship and adore, be merciful to us and hear us.

Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth to be with us and share in our suffering, be merciful to us and hear us.

Holy Spirit, who dwells within us even now to inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us, be merciful to us and hear us.

Show your mercy to this small planet we call our home, and to all its creatures. 
Show your mercy to those killed or injured in the siege in the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Kenya; show your mercy to their families and friends. 
Show your mercy to the people of Pakistan where a massive earthquake hit the southwest region of Balochistan, and where a suicide bomb attack at a church in Peshawar killed 78 people and injured more than 100 others. 
Show your mercy to Colorado in the United States where people are trying to recover from massive flooding. Show your mercy to Mexico where storms have caused new flooding in Acupulco. 
Show your mercy to Syria where peace seems but a faint dream. 
Show your mercy to all who are refugees, all who are prisoners, all who are orphans. 
Show your mercy to all who are homeless or hungry or sick or in danger. 
Show mercy to those we love, and show mercy to our enemies.

Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. We turn to you for help, O Lover of Souls. We pray that we may share your peace in the world even as we entrust this world into your care. O God, hear our prayer.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

I Had A Baby And All I Got Was An Adult With Independent Decision Making Capabilities

The Bad Advisor repurposes real letters from advice columns and adds her own unique spin, "Telling advice column letter writers what they actually wanted to hear." I thought this one was pretty fabulous. 

Dear Abby, 30 August 2013:

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have two beautiful, hardworking daughters we brought up as loving, respectful parents. Recently, “Kellie,” 25, got tattoos covering her right arm, leg and ankle as well as her shoulders. They are visible unless she wears long sleeves and long pants. This has ruined our relationship because it shows how little she thinks of us as parents, and how disrespectful of our feelings she is to put the tattoos where everyone can see them. She knows we don’t like tattoos because we have mentioned it to her and voiced our disappointment when she got the first one on her ankle. I can’t sleep at night or look at my daughter knowing how little she cares about our feelings. I feel it’s a slap in the face that she doesn’t honor, respect or love us. What do you think? — BESIDE MYSELF IN FORT WORTH

Dear Beside Myself In Fort Worth,

If your daughter can afford to get all these heinous marks of Satan on her body, she can also afford to buy you some sleeping pills to prove that she loves you, which she is obligated to do in her every action and thought by clearing literally everything she does and thinks with you first in order to receive your explicit approval, which is the textbook definition of love and respect.

Who has children just to see them grow up to become autonomous humans who don’t cater to every whim and desire of their boundlessly generous creators, who want only exactly what they want for their offspring and nothing else in basic repayment for existence on planet earth?

But since tattoos are irrefutable proof of a 25-year-old adult’s hate for her parents, I wouldn’t hold out for a decent night’s sleep. Your daughter gets tattoos solely to spite you, because you are the center of the known universe.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Various & Sundry: If there's a common thread, I don't see it.

I'm puttering today, which is wonderful. And the puppy is wrestling with one of the other dogs so I can sit here and blog, which is also wonderful. So let's see what's been piling up, here...

[By the way, if you're wondering where I get all this stuff, these are some of the things I tweet throughout the week.]

Since I started the week preaching about money, I thought this discussion on whether getting rich is worth it was an excellent companion piece. The answers from some very wealthy people are thoughtful, honest, and actually very tender.

Moving from money to peacemaking, the Pastor's Wife writes about how her husband, who had plans for establishing peace in  the Middle East, had a more difficult time of it when it came to pairing mismatched socks. Ironically, the one comment on this article so far is one woman's solution to not losing socks, which was rather missing the point.

I thought this plan to help WWII prisoners escape using doctored Monopoly games was mighty clever. I just wonder if any prisoners actually found all of the maps, compasses, files, and money hidden there.

Although this article is called The Science of Snobbery, what it really says to me is that we use all of our senses to draw conclusions about our experiences, and we are much more dependent upon context than we want to believe. I tell you one thing, I'm sure I'd be among those fooled if I were given a white wine with red food coloring in it. And another conclusion to draw: how and under what circumstances you present yourself makes a difference, whether or not it should.

The headline on this post was "Guy trying to call out 'Fake Geek Girl' gets destroyed."

The comments beneath the post suggest that many comic book geeks of the male persuasion are sensitive flowers who are hurt if you don't respect their geek bona fides when they don't know one obscure comic book character.

How interesting.

Lots of good obituaries this week, as always, because there are lots of interesting people out there. In particular, I liked the one I saw this morning for Spider, New York's Oldest Cabby, who died at the age of 94.
While it was unclear exactly when Mr. Footman first obtained his hack license, David Yassky, the commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, said it was “only a few short years” after the modern taxi industry was born in 1937, when the city’s board of aldermen first began limiting the number of hack licenses granted in the city.
That's a whole lot of city driving.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book review: The Darlings

OK, I got this entirely based on the title, seeing as I have married into the Darling family.

I bought it during a visit to Manhattan about a year ago, and it was featured prominently in the window of a small bookstore on the Upper East Side. Given the title, the cover, and the general quality of the hardback, I figured it would be a Serious Novel of a New York Family with lots of angst and soul searching. It was more like what you would get if John Grisham wrote for the New Yorker.

I found it tremendously satisfying to be able to sit in public with this novel and have everyone think I was engaged in Serious Reading when I was really savoring a financial thriller/keen skewering of the New York elite.

"Skewering" may be a bit harsh. The author, Cristina Alger, does a really good job of bringing you into the lives of these characters with both their struggles and their flaws. And she describes the sense of the financial bottom dropping out from under them in a way that made me feel it viscerally, as they suddenly realize there is no there there.

Then again, she doesn't pull any punches about what their lives are like or how her characters perceive them. One of her protagonists, Merrill Darling, thinks, "Manhattan children were like armadillos: sharp clawed and thick-skinned, deceptively quick moving."

Or maybe Alger thinks this. After all, she grew up in the Upper East Side, went to Harvard, worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, then as a lawyer, first in Mergers & Aquisitions, and quickly moving into Bankruptcy.

In short, she knows whereof she writes. I actually wondered if she could continue to live in New York after this book came out. I think it took guts to put much of this out on the page, even in fictional form.

It seems appropriate to write this review on 9/11. For all that it's not elaborated upon, the memories of 9/11 lurk throughout the book and jump out at unexpected moments. That seems about right, too.

I really enjoyed this book.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sermon in which I get pretty shirty about tithing

This is more or less the sermon I preached yesterday because I actually wrote this sucker out. The poor 8:00'ers got a longer version that caused all of them to politely say, "Good to see you" at the end of the service, which is how I knew it totally bombed. The later services got something much more edited, off-book, and streamlined, and seemed to really like it. This, however, is the manuscript version with just a couple of tweaks. Because I am lazy.

This week, I attended a conference called SOCAP, which is a bit hard to explain. SOCAP stands for Social Capital Markets and the conference is (to quote the website) “dedicated to increasing the flow of capital towards social good.” To put it another way, we spent a lot of time talking about money.

I went as part of a specially invited “faith cohort” and I felt a bit out of place in the midst of a bunch of people talking about social impact investing, and entrepreneurship, and the global economy, and the double bottom line, and ROI (which was the only acronym I understood when the week started of the many, many acronyms bandied about).

But one of the reasons I wanted to go to this conference is because I hate the way we in the church talk about money. We are, if you will forgive my language, really half-assed about it. I get the sense that we’re not comfortable with it so we poke it with a stick at a distance, or try to keep it separate from the “real” things that we do.

It kind of reminds me about how I feel about electricity. I’m completely dependent upon it for everything that I do, but I don’t know how to handle it. I know it’s powerful and I’m afraid to get shocked. So I avoid it as best I can, let other people handle it when I can’t, and don’t even want to learn about it because it seems too complicated and too scary.

I think there’s a way in which we in the church – not everyone, but many of us – see money as the electrical system, with the added problem that the system has been given a moral overlay. So this week was like attending a conference of electricians, people who were comfortable with the power of money, and who also respected the danger it might pose. They didn’t see money as moral or immoral in itself, but only in how it was used. As one of the founders who herself is an Episcopal priest said at the opening plenary, “Using our capital to change the world for good is part of who we are.” And, coming from the world of the church where money so often seems to be viewed as a necessary evil, it was amazing to see how these people who felt at home around money operated.

One of those people was a woman from Mercy Housing named Sr. Lillian Murphy. Mercy Housing provides low income housing throughout the United States. As the CEO, Sr. Lillian oversees a budget of approximately 200 million dollars per year, with assets worth more than $1 billion. It was such a pleasure to hear her talk because she sounded like a person who knew very well how to handle electricity. She told us “Very little good can be accomplished or evil avoided without the use of money.” And then went on to recount exactly how many millions of dollars it took for Mercy Housing to accomplish their mission, absolutely at ease with the numbers she threw around.

Sitting next to her on the panel was a banker who had a much more philosophical approach to the topic of money. He told us two things: one, that “money is the store of your values and an agent of change”; and, two, “Do you know where your money spends the night?”

So I’ve been thinking about this idea of money being the store of our values. Because I suspect this is one of the things Jesus is getting at when he tells us to give up all of our possessions. But first, I have a little rant.

One of the ways in which the church has done us a great disservice regarding money is our emphasis on tithing. Because I've got to tell you, I think tithing is antithetical to the gospel.

Tithing is simply transactional. All it requires is a little math, and if you can make the numbers work, you’re done. It requires no thought beyond a little long division. But since when has the Christian life been about “making the numbers work”? Jesus was never interested in ensuring that his followers conformed to a simple external framework. Jesus was interested in seeing people’s lives transformed, and seeing them exhibit love for one another regardless of what the law or custom said. And that is far more challenging than dividing your income by 10 and writing a check.

Here’s another thing about tithing: it assumes that you are not the church. “Give 10 percent of your money to the church,” we’ve blithely announced in stewardship campaigns year after year, not recognizing that you as the church are representing the church in 100 percent of your money, no matter who you give it to. Is that clear? You are the church. The church is not some separate entity.You represent the church through the mission of this parish and your giving towards that. And you represent the church in the money you spend and save and share and invest every day. Because you are the church. You cannot help but represent the church with your money.

And I think that's what Jesus is getting at in the gospel for today. If you are a disciple, then you don't get to set apart some of your friends and family as holy and some as not; you don't get to choose some of your possessions as set apart for God and some not; and you don't get to say that 10 percent of your money goes to good works and the rest is yours to deal with.

Which brings me back to the banker. His words challenge me, and maybe you as well: If money is the store of our values and an agent of change, what values does our money represent? What do we want it to represent? What do we want it to change? Do you know where your money spends the night?

Tithing sounds easy in comparison, doesn’t it? But there is no better time than the present than to sit down and count the cost of true discipleship. May we do so, trusting in God’s everlasting grace and mercy and confident in God's neverfailing love. Amen.

From the SOCAP conference

In the sermon above, I mention being at the SOCAP conference. I'm happy to be able to share this, which was my favorite presentation at the conference.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Various & Sundry: Mostly things you're not sick of hearing about

It has been a long time, my friends, and goodness knows there are lots of things I could share with you today. But I will try to contain myself and keep it to the bare essentials, the most important and up-to-date...ummm...updates.

For example, we're all still talking about Miley Cyrus, right? I know there's been all sorts of stuff flitting about but I think all except this one article have missed the real issue, here: the terrible music.
Why do your children listen to knock-offs of Marvin Gaye? Why don’t they just listen to Marvin Gaye? Don’t you have Marvin Gaye records lying around, for crying out loud? Marvin Gaye sang about sex, but in a sexy way. Not in a rapey way. For example: while Marvin Gaye sings lines such as “You can love me when you want to, babe // This is such a groovy party, baby” in “Got to Give It Up”, a song that Thicke acknowledged being inspired by and preemptively sued the Gaye family re: copyright infringement allegations , Thicke sings “You the hottest bitch in the place". Since this is a blog post about shitty taste in music and not about feminism, I will ignore the fact that this is an incredibly offensive lyric and zero in on the fact that “you the hottest bitch in the place” is just plain ol’ incorrect English. Instead of worrying about your children watching scantily clad women being dry humped by men who could be their father, you should be more concerned about your children dropping verbs from their sentences.
Exactly so. May I have my curmudgeon card now?

It's strange that we're still talking about this almost one week later, given this eerily accurate description of the attention span of Twitter:

Also exactly so.

On to even more important things: your acting lesson from the week by Sir Patrick Stewart, who reviews previous lessons on the single-, double-, and triple-take, and moves into the extremely difficult quadruple-take. It is so difficult, he actually flubs it.

I deeply appreciated Jessica Creech's post Goodbye Church, Hello God. I feel like I'm in a similar place, in which going to church on Sundays is often not worth the cost of making that effort. Which is no sign of burn-out or loss of faith. It's...something else.

I wonder what has finally happened to the Bay Bridge Troll. Yes, troll, not toll. I will feel better knowing it has a good home when the new bridge opens next week.

Oh, update: "The troll will stay where it is for now, because there will be workers tearing down the old bridge and they will need protection. (This kind of quotidian witchcraft is quite head-spinning.) Later, it will be removed and put in a safe place somewhere near the bridge." I am relieved.

But you know what's even better than having a guardian troll under your bridge? Having a brand new puppy under your chair. Sam has arrived. Want to say hello?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

March on Washington 50th anniversary

In a few short minutes, bells will be ringing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of MLK's I Have a Dream speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

As I've looked more deeply at that event, I've been inspired by so much that went on there, far beyond MLK's speech.

For example, this site of artifacts had three things in particular that I found meaningful.

First, a "Statement by the heads of the ten organizations calling for discipline in connection with the Washington March of August 28, 1963," which I encourage you to read in full. What I loved about it was the tone it struck that matches for me Jesus' call to turn the other cheek:
"It will be orderly, but not subservient. It will be proud, but not arrogant. It will be nonviolent, but not timid. It will be unified in purposes and behavior, not splintered into groups and individual competitors. It will be outspoken, but not raucous."

I also was struck by the list of demands, which were clear, discrete, achievable, and addressed to those who could achieve them:

I'd like to see more of that today. And I know there are people who do a good job of being clear in their objectives for justice, but it drives me crazy when we vaguely want things to Be Better Than They Are. I think we can learn a lot from the specificity of this list. Because, really, who doesn't want things to Be Better Than They Are?

Here's how these have or haven't been met as of today. Clearly, we have some things to celebrate and more to work on. 

Finally, Mahalia Jackson. Because the passion. Sing it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thomas Gallaudet

For a couple of hours, anyway, (depending on where you are) it is the feast of Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, and I really wanted to share something about Gallaudet while it's still his official feast day.

I've actually been doing some research on Gallaudet for...Lent Madness. Because apparently it's never too early for Lent Madness. (Actually, Forward Movement will be preparing a companion book for the 2014 bracket, so we have to get our bios in way early.)

I'm so pleased to have Gallaudet. As some of you know, my first jobs out of college were working with the Deaf, first as a notetaker, and then as a sign language interpreter. But even though I knew about the Gallaudet family and blogged about them both in 2008 and 2009, I didn't really know Thomas Gallaudet (the younger) until this past week.

The whole family is impressive, but when I said in the 2008 post that I think they picked the wrong Thomas Gallaudet to commemorate...well, I was wrong. And I feel very sheepish about that, because by all accounts he was not only a wonderful person, he was a faithful and effective advocate for Deaf people.

One thing that impresses me greatly about Gallaudet is that he continually stood by the weird and radical notion that signs were an actual language. This is something that was not accepted by much of anybody until a linguistic treatise was written about ASL in 1960, and even then most people didn't believe it for years. Gallaudet died in 1902, so he was way ahead of the curve when he preached at Syle's ordination, "my youthful impressions in relation to this language of motion have become so intensified and settled that I feel that I am a credible witness, when I give my testimony as to its being a clear and distinct language by itself.”

The other big thing -- huge -- is that he was less interested in helping the Deaf, as he was in letting them be the people they are. He absolutely and completely understood them to be his equal. I honestly don't think he sees them as "disabled," except in the loss of opportunity that Deafness conferred. Which explains why, not just Henry Syle, but at least 8 other Deaf men were accepted for Holy Orders -- again, at a time when the vast majority of people didn't believe Deaf people could even function in society.

As one person pointed out in a Memorial Tribute,
In the Church, nine deaf men have been ordained who have brought thousands of their fellows into pastoral relations. Their work ramifies into nearly every diocese. Others are preparing themselves for the ministry; and in the denominations several are doing well for the moral and spiritual uplifting of the class. In Ohio, the deaf have for some years maintained a Home for their Aged and Infirm; and those in Pennsylvania will soon open a similar one, in a building not easily duplicated among charitable institutions. Other enterprises of a like character are under way elsewhere, in all of which the deaf themselves are taking a leading part.
It's the "in all of which the deaf themselves are taking a leading part" that impresses me the most.

So, Thomas Gallaudet, I am proud to represent you. I hope I do you justice.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Family update part 2

So. We went to Hawaii with all sorts of plans of what we would do, many of which we did not do, preferring instead to lounge about and watch Top Chef.

One of the things we planned to do but did not do was go on a horseback ride into the Waipio Valley. We had made our reservations, gotten ourselves up, driven through the rain to the valley, took a look at the fog filling the valley and decided...maybe another time.

Instead, we went to a Horse Expo in Waimea. Not that we know anything about horses, but heck. It was to support the Humane Society, plus...horses.

It was still raining, so we soon tired of standing outside looking at horses. I suggested we go inside and look at the vendors. So all that follows is all my fault.

At the Hawaii Quarter Horse Association booth was a binder. I opened the binder and saw pictures of Australian Shepherd puppies "available August 25."

It wouldn't do any harm to call the breeder, would it? Of course not.

It wouldn't do any harm to see the puppies, surely? Oh surely not.

After all, we're never going to actually get a puppy from Hawaii? Well, who would?

Apparently, the answer to that is: we would. We're the only people who go on vacation in Hawaii, get two T-shirts...and a puppy.

And there he is: Sam Parker, named for the Parker Ranch where we saw the photos. He comes home next week.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Family update part 1

I wanted to bring regular readers up to speed on some comings and goings around here. Starting with the goings.

On August 1, we took our older fellow, Andy, in for what we thought would be a quick surgical procedure to remove a lipoma from his hindquarters.

Five hours and four vets later, we made the decision to end his life.

That was no lipoma. The cancer that had been a small, innocuous tumor the week before had quadrupled in size. Back and forth we went, getting a chest X-ray to see if there was something in the lungs (no); aspirating the tumor to see if it was a malignant cancer (yes).

Andy was a trooper through it all. He hadn't had any food since we'd thought he would be in surgery. So a few short minutes before he died, we fed him chicken from the rest of our sandwich wraps. Then the lettuce. As we wrapped up the rest to throw it away, he gave us a look as if to say, "Really? You think the tortilla is going to kill me?" So we gave him the tortilla too. Then he dug through the trash to see what else we might have thrown away. Andy to the end.

He died very peacefully, with us wondering if we'd done the right thing. It was really, really tough. We felt like we'd been hit repeatedly by large sticks at the end of the day.

Yesterday, we got a condolence card from the vet's office. The first vet who had seen him that day, who had lifted his tail, taken one look at the tumor, and said, "Oh my God," wrote, "You made the right choice about Andy." It was a wonderful gift.

I still miss him, though.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Alternate postcards

Some of my favorites from the Twitterati's #TECpostcardslogans.

I've added links to the postcards beneath each one in case you actually want to send them.






That one's my favorite.

If you've been following the story, you might also want to check out my Postcard Postmortem below.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Postcard Postmortem Post

Note: This is total Episcopal Church inside baseball. If that's not your thing, I'd advise you to skip this post entirely.

So there was a kerfuffle in the Episcopal Church over the past couple of days -- not the usual kerfuffle, about human sexuality and/or property disputes. This was a much gentler and intimate kerfuffle about how we want to represent our denomination to those outside our immediate circle through outbound marketing materials.

The materials in question took the form of slogans that could be printed off as postcards. As noted by Adam Trambley and others, these materials were problematic. And by "problematic" I mean very bad. I'll talk more about them below.

To our denomination's great credit, the church center responded to the criticism by taking down the postcards and putting up this message:

That said, there isn't actually a way for someone to direct feedback about this campaign to the people or department in charge that I could find. As an initial suggestion, I would love it if the church center would include a link on this page to allow people to give feedback or answer a survey -- or something.

But I am going to take them up on their encouragement to share ideas and criticisms, which I think are still appropriate. This is not in order to beat a horse that's already been put out of its misery, but because I think it will be helpful to analyze what went wrong in order to consider what needs to happen next.

But first a few more general comments:

1) We need to move beyond print media. This campaign was designed for "postcards, ads, and billboards." Why limit ourselves to these forms of media when there are so many easy ways for people to share online? There's no mention of using these on Facebook, even though people did indeed share the visuals that way. There's no mention of embedding the graphics in the church's website, or encouraging people to use it as a badge on their blogs with, say, a link to their local congregation. There are lots of creative ways to make content shareable. Which leads to the next point:

2) We need to move beyond ads coming from the institution itself. The hard truth is people don't trust ads coming from brands or companies saying "buy me!"; they trust their friends. This is not news. And this holds true for The Episcopal Church as a "brand" as well. Sending out a postcard -- even a good one -- that comes from the institutional church saying "Hey, we're great! You should totally check us out!" is not going to be nearly as effective as helping the members of church talk positively about its place in our lives. I mean, look at this chart.

Speaking of the church...

3) We've got to stop talking about the church as "a place people go to on Sundays."  Or at least as if that were its only manifestation. What I hope we mean by "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" is that we who worship God as part of the church in the Episcopal tradition will love you and care for you whether or not you ever darken the doors of one of our buildings. We welcome you by our prayers for the world, by our advocacy efforts, by our service projects, by the Christian formation that we bring to the work that we do day by day. And of course we invite you to share in this way of being the church because we think it has a lot to offer.

Speaking of which...

4) What do we have to offer? One of the real problems and turn-offs of the recent ad campaign is that it sent the message that the only thing desired was to get butts in pews. And it makes me wonder: is there, in fact, any other outcome we actually want? What do we have to offer? Because "you should join us" is not actually telling me anything.

So. Let's take a look at those ads:

Ad #1: Aside from the tinge of the guilt trip about this ("you never call, you never write..."), my other big complaint about the text is that it tells a person absolutely nothing about the Episcopal Church. Is the Episcopal Church 2,000 years old? No? So what are you talking about? What is it? Where is it? What does it stand for? Why on earth should I show up? If you're surprised to see me, are you really welcoming me?

This one also exemplifies complaints 3 and 4, above. Is there any welcome outside of Sunday? What if I work on Sunday? What if my kid has soccer? What do you have for me then? What do you have to offer me?

Ad #2: Oy vey. "Priests play golf too"? First of all, I don't play golf. I'm trying to think of any priest I know who plays golf. Most priests I know have neither the time nor the money to play golf. Most priests I know finish services on Sundays and go take a nap. So there's that. It's just plain weird and has no relationship to the church I know.

And then consider: You send this to a household with a single mom, what does this say to her? You send this to a household where someone lost his job, what does this say to him? It says (for one thing) that I, as a priest, feel most connected to (to use an unfair shorthand) the country club set. Yes, here in the Episcopal Church, we priests like to cut that boring ol' "worship" short to get to the really important stuff: hob-nobbing with the quality. Like us.

Here's my issue with Ad #3: if people in our communities can't see what we have been doing between Easter and Christmas, maybe the problem is with us. Can we instead say "Here's what we've been doing since Easter" with a photo montage of Episcopalians Doing Things.

That's another issue with this ad campaign as a whole: there's not a single image. It makes for a very passive, sterile kind of campaign, and it implies that The Episcopal Church is devoid of people or activity. And that's just plain not true.

We have good stuff to share. The reason this ad campaign bugged me so much is that it sold our denomination woefully short. We can do so much better. I think everyone has realized that.

Again, huge kudos to The Episcopal Church for listening to the criticism and pulling the campaign. Moving forward, I would love to see a campaign that's more generally shareable rather than institutionally driven. And I'd love a campaign that focuses on the fact that the Church reaches far beyond Sunday morning services and shows Episcopalians in all orders of ministry actively engaged in the work of the kingdom of God.