Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tabernacle! and other curse words

Over the weekend, I read Still Life, a mystery by Louise Penny set in Quebec. I kept wondering why they said "Tabernac!" (or, in Quebecois, 'Tabernacle!') but didn't think much of it until I read
'Oh. My. God.' was heard a lot, as was 'Holy shit' and 'Tabarouette'. 'Tabarnouche' and 'Tabernacle' bounced off the walls. Jane's living room had become a shrine to multilingual swearing.
Hold the phone, here! Swearing? Tabernacle is a curse word? Why, yes!
“Tabernacle” is one of Quebec's most popular French swear words, one usually employed, as with cursing in general, to express irritation, pain, discouragement, outrage, anger, joy and/or excitement.
Other Quebec swear words include slightly modified forms of the French for baptism, chalice, Calvary, and other religious terms; the umbrella term for Quebecois profanity is sacre. Which gives you an indicator of how well the Catholic Church did in Quebec.

The Washington Post had a great article about this from a few years back, explaining the whole sacre phenomenon. It was news to me.

Oh, the book...I wish I enjoyed it more than I did. 'Salright. But I'm not sure I'll go to any lengths to find the next one. Though I liked Chief Inspector Gamache, I never really believed he was anything other than a fictional character, a Dalgliesh-esh sensitive inspector type.

The thing, strangely enough, that got under my skin was that too many characters knew too much poetry. Really, no one I know quotes poetry in daily conversation. In a murder investigation, in a small town, to have several people quoting great swaths of Auden seemed a bit much. So that was my sticking point.

But at least I learned something. Tabernac!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Various & Sundry: Macho Obituaries and other entertainments

I'm puttering this morning. And this video captures Saturday morning puttering better than anything I could say.

Yes, it is a cat dressed as a shark riding a Roomba chasing a duckling. Thanks to anibundel for finding and posting this.

I mean, seriously, do I need to go on? Oh, all right. There's more.

It was a week of Macho Obituaries. If it came to a face-off, who do you think would win: Fred "Nosher" Powell, a bouncer, bodyguard, and Bond stuntman? Anna Merz, who founded a rhino preserve after her retirement? Or Jake McNeice, a member of the "Filthy Thirteen," better known in Hollywood as the "Dirty Dozen," which was actually up to 18 men involved in demolition behind enemy lines in WWII? To be honest, I suspect they are all drinking together and sharing stories. Goodness knows they have a lot of them.

As a lover of your basic paperback mystery, I thought this list of 30 things to tell a book snob was good. Although I think #19 sums up my snobbery about snobbery ("Snobs are suckers, because they have superficial prejudices"), #12 does the best job of capturing why snobbery is bad for snobs and for all of us:
12. You are one of 7,000,000,000 people in the world. You can never be above all of them. But you can be happy to belong.
I see some potential for a mystery series in Internet Sleuthing. This article argues that the Internet is actually good at fighting crime (by which it means internet users, of course), and directed me to a site called WebSleuths, which encourages its members to take on real cases of missing persons and the like. Nero Wolfe would have loved this.

I'm salivating at the thought of Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart on stage together at Berkeley Rep. I don't care WHAT they're in, as long as they're together, though it happens to be Harold Pinter's No Man's Land. Which I fully admit means nothing to me. It's Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart! I mean, c'mon!

In other entertainment news, KCTV News in Kansas City reports that "A central Kansas woman likely won't remember her first circus for the clowns or performances — it'll be the tiger in the bathroom."
The big cat had escaped briefly after its turn in the ring Saturday at the Isis Shrine Circus in Salina. Staff members blocked off the concourses at the Bicentennial Center as the tiger wandered into the bathroom, where one of the doors was blockaded. 
About that time, Salina resident Jenna Krehbiel decided she needed to use the restroom. When she walked in the door that hadn't been blocked off, she found a tiger standing about 2 feet away, The Salina Journal reported. 
"You don't expect to go in a bathroom door, have it shut behind you and see a tiger walking toward you," Krehbiel said.
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time that had happened to me...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A poem whose title I can't remember by a poet I'm only learning about now

Somewhere in history
Somewhere in untold ages
Somewhere in the sands of time
Somewhere in the vast seas of eternity
There is one person
Only one
Who could understand me and love me
And you're it
So get with it

                       -Bill Knott

It's a Wednesday in April, which is National Poetry Month, and I'm posting another poem that has been important to me, this one pulled from the recesses of my memory, somewhere in the sands of time.

I remember where this poem was on the photocopied sheet we got from my creative writing professor. And my friend Ming Ming and I said it over and over; we thought it was so hilarious.

I wanted to find the poem again, but I couldn't remember the title. I couldn't even remember who wrote it, until I started looking for it today, googling the phrase "somewhere in the vast seas of eternity." And there he was: Bill Knott. Of course. I remember now. And there it was: this poem I had fallen in love with 25 years ago. Because the poet dared to play with cliches and was able to get away with it.

The only place I could find the poem online was on Yelp, of all things, where someone had started the discussion "What's the most beautiful quote?" I still don't know the title.

But now I know who the poet is, and I've found more of his work. I don't love it all, but here's the thing: I am so glad it doesn't sound like Poetry with a Capital P. That stuff gets so tiresome. Here are 10 short poems by Bill Knott. Here are two of them that I really like:

We brush the other, invisible moon.
Its caves come out and carry us inside.

Maybe (to H)
a stopsign stranded
in a sea of cacti
won’t grow needles
maybe but then

even I take on some
of human when
I’m with you

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Being with people in the valley

This is a bloggified version of the sermon I gave on Good Shepherd Sunday.

There's a reason Psalm 23 is so popular, but I hadn't really realized it until I read it in the midst of the  rotten week we had last week.

Here's the verse that leapt out at me:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
As I thought about it, one of the things that's hard about helping people who are in the valley is that it feels like you aren't doing anything. We want so much to do something that will make it better. But  in the Psalm, it doesn't say, "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and you take care of everything and make it go away." Accompanying someone through the valley isn't about zapping everything into perfection, but being with a person for the long haul to the other side. The Psalm captures that perfectly.

I thought it might be helpful to share what we can do to be with people when they are walking through the valley of the shadow of death -- and what we can hope for when we're going through it ourselves. And so here are three suggestions of what not to do, and three suggestions of what we can do to help those when they are walking through that valley.

What not to do:

1) Do not compare or rank suffering. When someone is having a hard time, it is not helpful to be told that other people have it much worse than they do. I saw that a lot with the bombings in Boston, with people saying, "Oh yeah? Well, think about Syria." There is no denying that other people are suffering, but if your object is to provide comfort, that will not help. It will, in fact, simply put up walls between you and the other person.

Another way we do this that seems encouraging but is simply another form of the same tactic is when we say to people "Cheer up! It could always be so much worse!" Again, this is not helpful. Comparing one person's suffering to another, or to an imaginary worse situation, denies or minimizes a person's situation. It sends the message that they should not feel the way they do. The fact is, they do feel the way they do. How anyone else feels or what anyone else is going through at that moment is irrelevant.

2) Do not give advice. The desire to give advice may come from the best of motives and the honest impulse to want to fix things. But the effect of giving advice often merely exacerbates the pain a person is going through.

I recently read a reflection from someone who talked about how giving advice to someone with chronic illness is, in fact, an isolating experience. For someone who has already tried everything and still feels stuck in the valley, advice is not only meaningless, it becomes a source of pain. It says to the person, "I'm healthy and you're not and if only you had X, Y, and Z, it wouldn't have happened to you. And if you only do 1, 2, and 3, you would get yourself out of it." Advice implies "I don't want to be here with you; I want you to come here with me." For someone in the valley, this is not helpful. The valley is not traversed by advice.

3) Do not make assumptions. Do not assume you know what's really going on. Do not assume you know what a person is feeling. Do not assume you know how things are going to turn out. Because the truth is, you do not know what people are experiencing. You cannot tell by looking. And even with what they tell you, dollars to donuts you are not getting the whole story.

Again, thinking of the bombing in Boston: You do not know who you know who might have been affected by this personally, so please be kind in your comments. I've never even been to Boston and yet I received an email this week from a friend who had worked with one of the people who was killed. What are the chances of that? Much higher than you might think.

What you can do:

1) Do reach out. You may worry that people won't want to be reminded if they're having a bad time. Believe me, they haven't forgotten. In fact, one thing that's hard for people who are in the middle of the valley is feeling like they are always the ones who have to reach out. Even if you don't have anything to say, just calling someone up and saying, "Hey, I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you" can mean a whole lot. The valley can be a long hard slog and the very people who seem to be handling it best because they "don't want to bug you" are the very ones for whom a simple word will mean the most.

2) Do ask what would help. Simply saying, "What can I do for you?" even if the answer is "nothing" is helpful. You can also ask some more specific questions, like "I'm going to the store/library/downtown; is there anything you need?"

3) Do listen. You don't need to have answers. Simply ask, "What's the latest? How are you? What's going on right now? How has your day been?" and let people tell you. Even when it's not what you want to hear. Even when it's discouraging. Even when you want to jump in with something to cheer them up. Just let them tell you. Just be there.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply be in the valley with people. As I said earlier, it feels like we're not doing anything. But that's not true. We're being with people, where they are, when things are hardest, even when we can't do anything about it. That's not easy. In fact, that's really hard work.

I hope you've been able to find people to be with you in the valley, and I wish you strength and good courage to accompany others.

Here's another article that offered helpful suggestions on how to be with people who are suffering: For a Sick Friend: First Do No Harm

And this one (which I've referenced before) sums it up in the terrifically helpful mantra Comfort IN, Dump OUT. Always good to remember.

Monday, April 22, 2013

On the feast of John Muir

Cross posted at 50 Days of Fabulous 

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” — John Muir

John Muir’s home in Martinez, a National Historic Site, is 15 miles away from where I now live. I’ve never visited. Even though it’s free and open to the public. Even though it’s open 7 days a week. Even though it’s dog-friendly. Even though I’m writing a friggin’ reflection on John Muir.

“Oh, I’ll get to it,” I say. “But first there are so many important busy things I have to do. I have plenty of time to do fun stuff later.”

And strangely, the important busy things keep knocking on my door saying, “I’m important and busy. Do you know how important and busy I am? Meet my needs!” while the John Muir house sits 15 miles away inviting me to stop by, walk around the orchard with a dog or two, enjoy the scenery.

Important and Busy say, “Don’t stop now! Don’t ever stop! Keep your head down! Focus!”

The John Muir house says, stop for a moment, look around and something new, be refreshed, be replenished.

Is it the John Muir house that’s calling me? Or is it something else? Something more fundamental.

We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, Jesus tells us. And weren’t the first words that came from the mouth of God the words of creation?

I promise to visit the John Muir house. Not because I ought to. Because I want to. Because I’ve been invited. Because Important and Busy can only give me bread. And because God created all of us for more than bread alone.

Schedule the time to do something you’ve been wanting to do to feed your spirit that you’ve been putting off. Then do it!

Extra personal response:
I went by the John Muir House on Saturday with every intention of poking around, albeit briefly. As it happens, they were having an Earth Day Celebration, which would have required parking the car a long way off since the regular parking lot was full/reserved for mobility impaired, and taking a shuttle, which with three dogs was not going to happen. So we just took the photo you see up there. I'll have to go back another time. I did, however, go for a great hike on the Franklin Ridge Trail in the Carquinez Regional Shoreline Park. It was wonderful.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ninja Cats

You know the only thing better than Ninja Cats? FRENCH Ninja Cats -- or should I say, Les Chats Ninjas? Yes, yes I think I should.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Various & Sundry: Because I couldn't avoid the news

It's been a hell of a week, hasn't it? And to think, just a week ago I pointed out that reading the news is bad for you and I was going to try to stop reading it so much. Yeah. I think the Onion said it best:
According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, when reached for comment on this week, 93 percent of Americans responded “Okay, enough’s enough here, you have seriously got to be kidding me with this week,” with 84 percent saying “Is it Sunday yet? What? How in the hell are we only at Thursday? What the hell is going on?” and 100 percent of Americans responding “No, no, go ahead, just pile some more horrific shit on this hellish shitshow of a week. Have at it.”
Actually, I'd be just as happy not piling anything more on. But I've got to say, Tony Gwynn Jr.'s excellent response to a heckler is something that I can see being applicable to the nasty voices in the world -- and in one's head as well.

And this notecard captures the week perfectly, and in the most ladylike way:

I also drew some strength from this lovely reflection on breaking isolation.

And from this report from someone who was at the scene of the Boston bombing and saw many beautiful gestures of love and kindness.

And 20 Gentle Quotations from Mister Rogers.

And Patton Oswalt's perfect summation:

I hope you are well, wherever you are, and finding strength and courage within and love and support from the people around you. As Ellen DeGeneres says every day, be kind to one another.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop

April is National Poetry Month and each Wednesday I'm posting a poem that is meaningful to me.

I've loved this poem for a long time, for reminding me to look for goodness, care, and beauty in all things, and for the vivid picture of the gas station in an out of the way place. At least that's what I see when I read it. I hope you enjoy it.

Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

                                  -Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Various & Sundry: News before I give up the news

Whew! Three posts in a morning! I'm glad to finally have a little time to catch up on a backlog of blogging; these posts have been in the hopper for days. More Infusion than you can shake a stick at, I say! Here's the news:

Reading the news is bad for you, according to this article in the news. And I have to say I think it makes a very good case for giving up reading it, offering 10 points to support the argument. I'm not going to stop reading the news completely, but I'm also not going to feel guilty about not keeping up on every issue that comes down the wires either. I suspect, as this writer suggests, it will make me feel better.

Elsewhere in the news, a 17-year-old Ugandan chess prodigy is visiting Virginia to play Garry Kasparov. I have mixed feelings about the way the story is written (see "poor but noble African succeeds against the odds" trope), but this young woman's story really is incredible--and chess is an usual twist on the tale.
When a child in an elementary school asked, “What inspired you to play chess?” Phiona replied, “I was hungry. I heard that when people went to this program to play chess they get a cup of porridge at the end. So I am thinking only about getting something to eat.”
Any more questions?

My favorite obituary this week, bar none, was for Patricia McCormick, who was a bullfighter in the 1950's and the first American woman to be invited to join the Mexican matador's union. As much as I despise bullfighting, I have to say her story was incredible.
Ms. McCormick demanded to fight on equal terms with men. Over the years, she was gored six times. The worst was in September 1954 in Ciudad Acuña, Del Rio’s Mexican sister city. According to newspaper accounts, she turned her back while she was performing a quite, or pass, and the bull caught her in the thigh. “The horn went right up my stomach,” she told The Los Angeles Times in an interview in 1989. “The bull carried me around the ring for a minute, impaled on his horns. “They gave me the last rites there. The doctor said, ‘Carry her across the border and let her die in her own country.’ ”
She didn't die, but disappeared from sight. I think it was her rediscovery that is the most amazing thing.

For all the barriers Ms. McCormick broke down, I was more moved by this writer's honest account of the obstacles that are still up. It's a painful but important read.

Men are not without their obstacles as my friend noted when he took his young daughter to the park as a stay-at-home dad.

In the Great Practical Advice department, this article on How Not To Say The Wrong Thing has a very simple solution: Comfort IN, Dump OUT. Comfort goes to the people closer to the trauma than you; dumping to people further away from the trauma than you.
When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you're going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn't, don't say it. Don't, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don't need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, "I'm sorry" or "This must really be hard for you" or "Can I bring you a pot roast?" Don't say, "You should hear what happened to me" or "Here's what I would do if I were you." And don't say, "This is really bringing me down."
Comfort IN, dump OUT. Repeat as necessary.

Now let's get to the really important news: a man paid $150 for toy poodles that turned out to be giant ferrets. My question is, how much would people pay for giant ferrets advertised as giant ferrets?

Last but most certainly not least, I LOVED Alfre Woodard's reading of Sojourner Truth's great Ain't I A Woman speech. Be prepared to be moved.

Meanwhile, in Malawi...

I thought I would include this story in the Various & Sundry post (coming soon), but then realized it needed a complete post of its own.

I have been completely engrossed this week in the ongoing flap/snarkfest between Madonna and Malawi. It's like junior high only with, you know, an African nation. First Madonna's all, "Hey, girl," (to the President of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda) "'Sup? Wanna Hang?" And the President is all, uh, no, and Madonna is all, "The President won't meet with me because I fired her sister," and her friends are all like, "oooh," and then the President of Malawi is all like, "Whatevs, like I even care," and her spokeperson is all
1. Neither the President nor any official in her government denied Madonna any attention or courtesy during her recent visit to Malawi because as far as the administration is concerned there is no defined attention and courtesy that must be followed in respect of her.
and goes on for, like, 10 more points. Ooh, snap!

And then, like, Madonna has to go through regular security with, like, regular people to get out of the country. Super snap!

Binyavanga Wainaina posted an open letter to Madonna in the Guardian, sarcastically pointing out that Madonna can bestow her largesse on Kenya, which is much better equipped to deal with tourists.
It's been well over a century since we met your people, and since then Africa's relationship with the western world has gone from strength to strength. Today, bad people, like those from China, Brazil and India are coming to Africa to bring colonialism back by buying our minerals and crops at good market prices and giving us cheapish loans for infrastructure.
But some of us Africans are deeply committed to the values Europe and the west brings to us: like democracy, human rights and lots and lots of cold hard cash for human rights workers and civil society and anything, really, that does things like Sustainability, Empowerment and most of all, Capacity Building – which, as you know is very, very important for Africa's future especially as it is tax free and comes with per diems and conference allowances. Imagine what your money would do in Kenya! We have cannier auditors than the Malawians.
Again, ouch. And a bit of a zing for all of us who want to Help The Africans to note that The Africans despise much of the charitable help we offer.

But aside from all the gossipy and snarky bits, How Matters posted an important reflection:
Beyond the celebrity vs. politician whoo-ha, there is another story to take notice of– the behind-the-scenes persistence, vision, and impact of the local leaders and effective, indigenous organizations who are working to solve their own country’s problems, on their own terms. 
I’ve worked for many years with the leaders of Eye of the Child, Malawi’s leading child rights advocacy organization, which led the civil society charge for an injunction against both of Madonna’s adoptions. Though they were not successful in preventing the adoptions, they have been incredibly successful in forging closer ties with government officials to support them to navigate tricky donor relations with such funders and foundations as Madonna’s, as well as to reform Malawi’s contradictory laws governing adoption and child protection. 
That’s the story I’d rather hear–one of citizens holding their governments to account. Not as sexy, but way more important at the end of the day.

How animals spend their tax refunds

A few examples. There are many more.

Bats are very sensible. For the most part.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rose arbor

Today I looked up and said to myself, "When did the rose arbor go all gorgeous on me?"

I am spoiled.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wisteria Outbreak 2013

I don't know what happened, but the wisteria is particularly amazing this year. I even took video so you could hear the bees.

Isn't that incredible? Roses are going like gangbusters too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wednesday Poem: Those Winter Sundays

As I was trying to think of what poem to post today, this poem by Robert Hayden leapt to mind. Who am I to argue? More about the poet and poem here.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: The Girl with the Phony Name

"Read this," a friend of mine said to me, handing me a book. "It's very odd."

Well, I'm all for odd, and so I happily plunged into The Girl with the Phony Name which was not nearly so odd as I thought it might be. I'd say the applicable word is wonderful.

And the people in it are wonderful. They include Lucy McAlpin Trelaine (maybe), an orphan and Harvard dropout who has spent her life looking for her parents, and Tak Wing (pronounced Take Wing), a warm-hearted entrepreneur whose Neat 'n' Tidy Funeral Parlors are overextended but who nonetheless joins Lucy on her quest.

There are so many wonderful details in this book, down to the smallest unexpected word choice. Wing has a metabolism "like popcorn." Lucy's receding hangover remains only as a "dissonance." Extended scenes from the past are related with verve, while only the smallest piece of it furthers the plot.

Which itself is compelling, twisty, and fun. This is one of those books where you just sit back and let it take you where it takes you. And if you end up in Nova Scotia, well...why not? It's obvious you were meant to go there.

I'm glad to note that Charles Mathes has a number of other books. I like his style. I hope the rest live up to this one.

Read this. It's very odd. Also wonderful.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Various & Sundry: There is no marijuana anywhere in this post. But there might be some Coke.

OK! Now that's we've gotten Holy Week and Easter (the first Sunday of) all prepped and posted, it's time to gather up the crumbs under my table. Or at least highlight some of the things I thought were interesting enough to pass along in the endless stream o' content that is Twitter.

For example, haven't you always wanted to watch an MRI of broccoli?

I think that's kind of magical.

It will just keep glowing up there as I move along to other things, such as this slightly related story (in that there are vegetables involved) of a pot bust that goes bust. Turns out that the suspects "had bought hydroponic equipment to grow a small number of tomatoes and squash plants in their basement." It also turns out the suspects had been in employ of the CIA, and did not take kindly to it when Kansas and Missouri law enforcement "armed with assault rifles and wearing bullet proof vests pounded on the door of their home around 7:30 a.m. last April 20." Sorry! Sorry everyone! I just get carried away!

Elsewhere in Missouri, my dad's alma mater, Missouri S&T, is competing in the 2013 Climate Leadership Award for Best in Campus Climate Leadership. Of course, my alma mater, Oberlin, is also competing. Where do my loyalties lie? Hmmmm...

I loved this rant by my favorite Social Media blogger, Mark Schaefer, wrote In praise of the Unremarkable, which has forever added to my lexicon the term rainbow bombs.

Looking for a new exercise program? Trying to avoid the zombie apocalypse? You might want to try a new fitness app called Zombies, Run! "The app casts users as survivors of a global zombie apocalypse. Download it onto your mobile phone, insert earbuds and prepare to be surrounded by a soundscape that transforms your favorite running route into a battle-scarred obstacle course dense with flesh-guzzling ghouls." And Margaret Atwood -- yes, that Margaret Atwood -- has a cameo voiceover.

Remember #Kony2012? Quick update: Uganda has suspended their efforts to look for Joseph Kony, due to the coup in the Central African Republic where it is believe Kony is hiding. However, the US is offering a $5M bounty for his capture as part of the War Crimes Reward Program. Did you know we have a War Crimes Reward Program? Well, now you know.

A very quick summary of the situation in CAR:
A coalition of rebels in the Central African Republic, known as Seleka, toppled President Francois Bozize last month. They swept into the capital, Bangui, in a lightning offensive that triggered days of looting and drew international condemnation.
Just to give you the bare bones of the story.

On the other hand, and on the positive side, I'm really intrigued by what the non-profit ColaLife is doing to transport medical supplies to inaccessible regions by leveraging CocaCola's distribution network.
The result of their efforts so far is the AidPod, a wedge-shaped container that fits between the necks of bottles in a Coca-Cola crate. For the pilot program, they are using the AidPods to distribute an anti-diarrhea kit, called “Kit Yamoyo” (“Kit of Life”). 
The AidPod’s are a clever packaging solution, born of a very particular design problem. Because the vision was to physically piggyback on Coke’s distribution system, they needed to work with the crates used to move the popular soda to retailers. Initial designs experimented with pouches on the side and tubes that could be slotted in place of a bottle. Neither option would have worked, as both would have meant less space for Coke. Then, genius struck. 
“My wife said, ‘Why don’t we make use of the unused space?’” says Berry.
Well, that makes sense! Here's a very short video on how that works.

Isn't that clever?

Easter sermon, close to how I remember giving it, abridged and without special effects

A long time ago I heard a sermon about how you can't keep God in a box. I'd heard dozens of "God in a box" sermons in my time and in my mind I was saying, "yeah, yeah, you can't keep God in a box blahblahblah" as the preacher held up a small white box to demonstrate.

Then the preacher came out of the pulpit. This was a little disturbing. It was all very well to talk about how you can't keep God in a box as long as everyone was staying in the right place, but when the preacher left the pulpit, I couldn't help feeling a little nervous.

She came to the center, holding up the box and talking about how you can't keep God in a box when all of a sudden, she threw the box to the floor and it shattered.

And my first, completely unbidden though was, "That was a nice box!"*

It hadn't occurred to me before that even the nicest box is still a box. And God doesn't fit in a box.

Let's think of this in terms of Jesus, who didn't fit into the nice boxes of law or purity or race and gender relations. He healed people on the Sabbath. He touched lepers. He and his disciples didn't practice ritual cleaning. He talked to women -- including a Samaritan woman and a Syro-Phoenician woman. He went to dinner with tax collectors. And he suggested God did all of those things too.

This kind of behavior was so disturbing that they literally nailed him down to keep him in his place. And then, once he was dead, they bound him up in cloths and put him in a tomb with a stone blocking the entrance. Talk about a box.

But the story of Easter is you cannot keep God in a box. God will break open the box no matter what you do.

There are two ways this applies to us today. First of all, we need to examine what kind of boxes we try to keep God in. They may be nice boxes, but they are boxes all the same. Author Anne Lamott quotes a friend who has a great way of summing this up: "You know you've made God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do."

The second is this: What kind of box are you in?

A few weeks ago, I got to hear Brene Brown talk to a group of church leaders and she said something I thought was very interesting. She asked us what we thought was the biggest barrier to belonging. After our guesses, she told us that her research indicates the biggest barrier to belonging is fitting in, that fitting in requires you to assess and adapt. It's all about being in the right box.

In contrast, what really leads to belonging is showing up and being seen, and isn't that what we hear today in the story of the Resurrection? Jesus shows up and is seen, after everyone's best effort to force him to fit in.

You don't need to fit in either. You already belong.

Easter is about the breaking of boxes. God does not fit in a box. Jesus will not stay in a box. And you are free from the boxes that hold you as well.**

*yes, I did in fact do all of these things during the sermon. My "box" was unfortunately very clearly a flower pot, but, you know, it got the point across. I had placed a piece of marble I'd found in the garden of the house where I was staying on the floor in the center aisle of the church and disguised it with Easter lilies. The altar guild member in me was upset when I realized I had placed most of the lilies with the sales tags facing out. After saying "That was a nice box!" I also added that the second thought that may be running through their minds was "Who is going to clean this up?" I told them I would. The Altar Guild still took care of most of the cleanup, but I did do the vacuuming at the end.

**I practiced the closing sentence over and over and over again, and still messed it up! This isn't it exactly either. I can't remember the exact words I'd prepared. But they were pretty good -- better than this version anyway. Too bad I couldn't remember them in the moment!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Triduum redux: more than you really wanted to know

Well, I've gotten the official Easter cold like I do every single year. This year, I can officially point fingers at my parents, who had colds, but unofficially, it's really not their fault. Holy Week simply wears a body out. Don't tell them that though. Let them stew.

This year, Holy Week and Easter moved away from words and texts and into visuals for me. And that translated into preaching as well. This year, perhaps for the first time, I saw the washing of feet as a parable, and in seeing it that way, I started seeing the rest of the events that happened almost as performance art as well (somewhat shocking to think that about the crucifixion, but that's where my mind went).

So here's what happened:

Maundy Thursday

St. Michael's didn't have a foot washing, which was fine by me. I've got to say, I don't understand why we encourage pedicures before ritual footwashing, when I believe part of meaning of the washing is "Come as you are, with dirt on your feet."

I wanted to do something that would disturb the congregation to illuminate what I sensed was the same sort of disturbance in seeing Jesus step out of his "proper" role. So a great deal of the sermon was in silence, as I stepped forward, took off the stole, took off the cincture, took off the alb, then went into the congregation and, one by one, brought each person forward to sit at chairs the lay minister and I had set up in the sanctuary around the altar. As I walked them forward to their seat, I talked to each person individually, thanking them for coming and making some small talk.

It really did make people nervous, which is what I wanted. I was amazingly nervous, too.

Oh for My sake, Peter!
I spoke for a couple of minutes after everyone was seated (as Jesus did after washing people's feet), explaining why I'd done what I'd done. I also said that this time, I thought that whole side story of Peter refusing to have his feet washed was hilarious. I imagined Jesus doing a facepalm and saying, "Just...go with it, Peter. OK? Just go with me, here."

The big problem with this service? I'd explained to the lay minister my whole plan, but hadn't spoken to the organist. So that was a bit of a train wreck. Ah well.

Good Friday

There wasn't a group of lectors to read the parts of the Passion Narrative, so I was going to reading the whole thing by myself. Whew! I figured that was a lot for listeners to concentrate on, so I hoped to be able to include visuals to help people see while I was reading. St. Michael's used to display all the bulletin material on a large flatscreen in the upper right of the building. So I put together a PowerPoint with art depicting various scenes from the Passion.

Unfortunately, the flatscreen has been disconnected. Ah well. But I, at least, had some pretty vivid images in my mind of what was happening.

What really struck me was the movement from dark to morning to midday to sunset as you read through the story. Unfortunately, that's about as far as that thinking got.

Sermon-wise, I thought I was going to pull from the Good Friday service I did the previous year, which I thought had worked out very well. It began "It was all perfectly legal," which I still think is a pretty kick-ass opener. But as the day went on, I realized I had something else to say. I just wasn't sure what it was.

As I read the text, I was struck by the reversal of roles, as Peter goes from faithful follower to scared denier, and Nicodemus goes from secret follower to openly burying Jesus. My point became "We are not stuck in one place forever." Unfortunately (again) it didn't really get fully developed.

Still...not a bad service overall. I had to do a whole lot of talking, though. No music at this service.

Easter Vigil

Someone else preached at the Easter Vigil -- yay! And she said something that I had been thinking: about how Holy Week is a river and you just catch little glimpses of things passing by.

I had picked five of the readings, but it turns out we only had three lectors. So, a few minutes before the service started, we settled on the three readings. And we hadn't exactly gone over the canticles or anything, so we didn't have any. We're just going with the flow here.

Luckily, the fire worked well because that afternoon I suddenly thought, "Hmmm...I wonder if anyone has got something for the new fire?" And lo! We went to the local Ace hardware and bought a little grill and some firestarter thingeys and tested them out and they worked great. So, yeah, fire.

And I got to sing the Exsultet. So that was fun. For me, anyway. I feel very clever: I photographed the Exsultet on my iPad so that I could have it backlit as I sang it in the dark. Isn't that clever? OK, I'll stop being smug about that now.

And I remembered to talk to the organist. So that's good.

That's more than enough for now. I'll cover Easter Sunday in another post.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Introduction to National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month and I thought I'd observe it by posting a poem on Wednesdays, and maybe some more thoughts. I don't know yet. But in the meantime, here's a poem I like very much by Billy Collins that seems like an excellent opener.

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Not an April Fools Joke

Start watching at about 1:10.

Huge props to the unflappable singer.

Found on Facebook.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Service Adventures

As readers of the blog know, I spent Holy Week at St. Michael's, Fort Bragg, which as an itinerant clergy person was a real treat. For the most part, services went well with only the usual mishaps and blunders. And then...there was Easter. Which was going along fine until the cops showed up.

I'd vaguely heard sirens in the street but I hadn't thought anything of it. And the congregation certainly wasn't disturbed; every week the beginning of the 10:00 service gets interrupted by the whistle of the Skunk Train as it passes by (often during the sermon).

I was actually right in the middle of the offertory, so everyone was standing and singing a hymn and I was setting the table and didn't really notice when the back door swung open and someone came in. It didn't register for a beat that it was two police officers in complete regalia and even then I thought, "huh. Maybe they're here for the service." And then a moment later I thought, "Maybe they need to tell the mayor something," since the mayor of Fort Bragg is a member of the church.

At any rate, I just kept going with the service since there didn't seem to be any real reason not to. I guess a couple of people in the back of the church had noticed them come in, but everybody else was facing forward when they came in. They gave a once over to the congregation and made their move forward just as I was starting the sursum corda, shouting