Saturday, June 29, 2013

Various & Sundry: The arc of the moral universe and its fashion requirements

Yesterday, I watched Kris Perry and Sandra Stier get married at San Francisco City Hall, courtesy of a live feed online. Who'd'a'thunk it would have happened that fast after the Supreme Court decision on...Tuesday? Wednesday? I forget. So much has happened.

It's been a crazy week in many ways, made even more remarkable by the events that could be seen from a distance.

Not only did I get to watch two women get married 30 miles away, I also got to watch the most amazing political moment in Austin, Texas on Tuesday night. Did you hear about this? A Texas state legislator named Wendy Davis attempted a 13-hour-long filibuster to stop the passage of SB5, a bill that "would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers."
Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles — a tall order in rural communities. If signed into law, the measures would have closed almost every abortion clinic in Texas, a state 773 miles wide and 790 miles long with 26 million people. A woman living along the Mexico border or in West Texas would have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion if the law passed. The law's provision that abortions be performed at surgical centers means only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics are currently designated to remain in operation.
Tuesday evening as I watched events unfold on Twitter through the hashtag #standwithWendy, I found myself on the edge of my seat. Would she be able to continue the filibuster, without water, food, or a break for the restroom, until the session ended at midnight? Would legislators stop her filibuster on technicalities? And then, when they did, would other legislators be able to stall the action long enough to get to midnight. And then, when that wasn't enough, would the crowd in the rotunda be loud enough to drown out the call for a vote. And then, when the vote was taken, did it happen after midnight? And did they change the time stamp on the vote? It was amazing to watch. A-ma-zing.

And then the follow-up: the type of shoes she wore to stand for all that time has become a sensation. Check out the reviews on Amazon. Here's one:
If you are looking for a shoe that will never yield to the floor, pressure or good ol' fashioned boy's club bullying this is the shoe for you. It has been tested for hours, opportunities to yield to oppression were presented yet this shoe stayed firmly in place holding up half the sky for 13 hours. Highly recommended.
 In other fashion news, let us admire Ewan McGregor in his fabulous kilt as he receives the OBE.

That's quite lovely.

But back to the news. The satirical law website Lowering the Bar offers these Top Ten Notable Facts about the Gay Marriage Decisions. Did you know this was the "First use of phrase "legalistic argle-bargle" since 1824's Gibbons v. Ogden"? That's a primo completely made-up fact, right there.

You might also want to celebrate the end of the Supreme Court session with this fabulous T-shirt:

As I said, a crazy week. I didn't know the arc of the moral universe was going to be quite such a roller coaster. But carry on, people, a step at a time. Get comfy shoes if that's what it takes. And I am very thankful for the people who spend their life fighting the good fight. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Audiobook -- The End of the Affair

Remember how I told you I was going to be listening to Colin Firth reading The End of the Affair by Graham Greene on my drive up and back from Fort Bragg? Well, I did that very thing and am here to tell the tale. Or at least give my opinion. Which is mixed.

First of all, Firth's performance is phenomenal. Truly, it impressed me throughout: the emotional depth he gave to the retelling, and the voice characterization -- especially of Parkis, the private detective, who I kept thinking was a completely different person speaking.

Part of the reason the reading is so powerful is that the writing is potent stuff. And it sounds good being read. The description of London, of gloomy pubs, of the atheist's parlor, of boarding houses, of the narrator Bendrix's own state of mind, are all beautifully rendered.

So it's just a shame that I found I didn't like the book at all. I didn't like Bendrix, or Sarah, the woman with whom he had the titular affair. I actually liked Sarah's husband Henry much better than either of them. Sarah's journal entries simply annoyed me, which is unfair as they were journal entries and sounded realistically journal-like. And the melodrama -- I kept thinking, "Oh please. Get a grip, people."

And I can't help but think that God, for whom all the angst of the affair was spilled, was rolling his eyes and saying "Get a grip" too. Greene made the affair about as tangled and tormented as possible. But really, poor God. I just picture God saying, "Hey, leave Me out of this. I didn't ask to be dragged into this little triangle."

But dragged God was. I guess this was supposed to make the book deeper and profound. It just bothered me, getting God involved when God really has no say in the matter. So God and Henry are the two people I like best in the book. Too bad the book isn't actually about them.

Still. I'm glad I heard it. And what a lovely voice to hear it in.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

I do not often go to first run movies, but I did hie me to the theater to see the latest film version of Much Ado About Nothing, and I'm mighty glad I did.

I've always loved the play. Well, I love the Beatrice and Benedick part of the play. That whole Claudio-Hero part? Just once I want to see the friar, or Hero's father, or Beatrice say "Dump him at the altar, babe. Find someone better."

But I have to say, in Joss Whedon's version, the shaming of Hero is less awful than it most often is. And it is to Whedon's credit that he made the villain Borachio's decision to recant his slander make much more sense.

Forgive me for leaping ahead with the assumption that you know what I'm talking about. In case you don't, Much Ado is a double love story: in the first, young Claudio returns from the war to find himself irresistibly drawn to the innocent Hero, the daughter and heir to Leonato. In the second, Beatrice and Benedick, who have known each other "of old", continue to protest how much they detest one another.   No one believes them and the group conspires to have them overcome their self-imposed obstacles.

It is the delight in watching Beatrice and Benedick overcome their defenses that makes the play the charmer it is. And in this version, and especially Amy Acker's performance, the painful and poignant mix of vulnerability and longing and wariness that plays on their faces is wonderful to behold.

Also wonderful to behold: Nathan Fillion's Dogberry, the Detective Malaprop of the play. He has the gestures of the TV detective down as he insists, "do not forget to specify, when time and place shall assert, that I am an ass." And then whips out his sunglasses and coolly places them on his face. Followed instantly by his assistant Verges. Dogberry is a difficult role to get right -- at least I have often found the role funny, but not memorable. This Dogberry is the best I've seen and one I will remember.

The film is all in a contemporary setting, which did jar with the first words of Shakespearean dialogue, and shot in black and white, which made it seem slightly harsh and edgy. But again the word that comes to me is delightful. It was delightful. And I would be delighted to see it again.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

I'm going thither

My sister sent me an unbirthday present this week.

Isn't it awesome?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Various & Sundry: The Video

I love movie trailers. So what could be better than a movie trailer for a movie about movie trailers?

Except maybe a few seconds of Gromit:

Or two guys who walk into a bar...which isn't quite what they expect.

Or this beautiful eulogy by Stephen Colbert for his mother.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A somewhat incomplete sermon on sin

A very abbreviated and slightly altered version of the sermon I preached on Sunday.

I've been noticing a theme running through my recent sermons and blog posts: you can't tell by looking. You can't tell who's hungry by looking; you can't tell who's poor by looking; you can't tell who's suffering by looking. And now, a new variation on the theme: you can't tell who's sinned by looking.

So let's talk a little bit about sin today. Won't that be fun?

First of all, the readings today are fun because of the way that they talk to each other. When you hear the gospel and it talks about the "woman in the city, who was a sinner," I don't know about you, but my mind immediately goes there, and I think you know what I mean. But then when you look at the Old Testament reading about David, who has just been caught out after his affair with Bathsheba and having Bathsheba's husband killed, he doesn't say, "I am a sinner." He says "I have sinned." And the reading from Galatians really drives the point home that this isn't about sex when Paul writes, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners." So a sinner in this context is someone who does not live according to Jewish law.

But how very different it is to hear that someone is a sinner as opposed to someone has sinned. The first says sin is a person's identity, and the second that sin is an activity. And those sound very different.

So Simon the Pharisee has in his mind that sin is not his identity. But in this gospel story, Jesus turns identification upside down by pointing out to Simon what the woman did -- and what Simon neglected to do. Things done and left undone, as we say in the confession. Simon didn't do anything wrong; he didn't break any laws. But there is a lot he left undone, and Jesus points that out to him. Simon didn't offer water for Jesus' feet; he didn't greet him with a kiss; he didn't anoint Jesus' head. And the woman did all of those things. Simon thinks he's gotten it all right, and what Jesus points out to him is that he's missed the essential point of loving God and loving neighbor.

That's what Paul is trying to drive home in his letter to the Galatians: that it's not in following the Law exactly right that we're going to be free from sin. Instead, it's in what we do, what we offer, what we share, how we love.

And if and when we sin, Paul promises that grace abounds more. It's not in our own goodness and our carefulness not to break the rules that we are free from sin, but in God's forgiveness freely given. God's grace comes to us not because we have been good, but because God is good.

Maybe instead of worrying about what we have done wrong, we should be looking at those around us and asking, "What has been left undone?" How can we offer our love to others today?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Random thoughts from sermon prep

I had a dickens of a time prepping the sermon last week because it was one of those weeks when I had too much I could say. I had to keep telling myself "pick one thing and focus!" So I picked sin. Isn't that fun? Well, sin and grace. Because I've been on a grace kick these past few weeks, probably because of Galatians. But I'm not sure I actually need an excuse.

One thing about last Sunday's readings is that they interpreted each other in a revealing way. In the Gospel, we are introduced to "a woman in the city, who was a sinner," and I confess my mind went there immediately. So it was incredibly helpful that in the reading from 2 Samuel, in which David's affair with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah is brought to light, David's confession is not "I am a sinner," but "I have sinned against the Lord." Even better, in Galatians, Paul writes, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners," thus making it clear that something else is going on here.

The Interpreter's Bible 1952 (praised be its exegeses forever) had this fantastic insight on the Gospel reading: "Who or What Sort?--Jesus knew who the woman was; the Pharisee knew--or thought he did--of what sort she was." Isn't that great?
In general it may be observed that Jesus was interested in concrete things, not in abstractions; and categories and classes are abstractions. Jesus said to Simon, Do you see this woman? That is no casual question, but an exceedingly searching one. And the answer would need to have been "No." The woman was exactly what Simon did not see and was not able to see. He could not see the woman herself because of his preoccupation with her sort...How do we see people and act toward them: as persons or as sorts of persons?

All of this fit into an overarching theme that I have found both in my preaching and in this blog: You can't tell by looking. In this case, that you can't tell who has sinned by looking at them.

Sermon notes in a little bit (as a reward for getting more work done).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Does this make you feel great?

This week, Stephanie Drury, who is a keen observer of Christian Culture (a different animal entirely from Christianity), ran across an article recommending 62 Things to Say to Make Your Husband Feel Great. She decided to text these things to her husband and post screen shots of his responses. A few gems are below. You can read them all here and here.

Update: Bonus! Part 3!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Various & Sundry: Sad Affairs, Fairy Tales, Superheroes, Parents, Happy Endings

I'm on my way shortly to Fort Bragg where I will be covering the service for St. Michael and All Angels. While on my way, I plan to listen to Colin Firth performing The End of the Affair. Doesn't that sound delicious? In a tortured, repressed sort of way, of course. I'm wondering if Colin will need to move books slightly to the left.

My sister brought these Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman to my attention, and I think they're pretty fabulous. My favorite:
Once upon a time a woman grew up in a land-locked state, and continued to live there because she had married her high school sweetheart, and his job was tied to the area, and she wanted to stay close to her parents, but she had always wished she had learned to surf. So when she turned 65 she used some of the money from her savings account, took her first ever solo vacation to the coast, and took a week's worth of surfing lessons, and had a very nice time.

The End.
Also, while we're talking about modern fairy tales, I thought Lance Mannion had a mighty interesting take both on Iron Man 3 (arguing that it is a commentary on The Incredibles) and on Star Trek: Into Darkness (or as he put it, Into Perpetual Adolescence). I haven't seen either of those movies to comment further, but I loved the insights nonetheless.

I'm not a parent either, but I thought this article asking other parents at the park not to help her kids was terrific. "They're not here to be at the top of the ladder; they're here to learn how to climb." True for so many things.

Not that there's anything wrong with winning. Let's just pause to admire the fact that the A's swept the Yankees this week, and especially their win in 18 innings on Thursday.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Garden update, June 2013

I meant to get to the update this weekend but, well, I just didn't. But since I have a couple of free minutes now, I have a little blooming action to share.

Let's start with Wolverine the hydrangeas.

I'd find them terrifying if they weren't so spectacular. They are seemingly impervious to pruning.

Also in the front yard, I finally got the tomatoes planted.

There's a few beans in there, but they're not sprouting like I'd want, possibly due to the shade of the boysenberry vines behind them.

Also in the front yard, the roses are still going strong.

As are the sweet peas...

...which are mixed in with some rather fluffy-headed sunflowers, not your usual giants.

And the dahlias are starting to make their dramatic appearance, both in the front yard:

And especially in the back:

This one is known as "Kapow."
That bed is coming along nicely, with zinnias about ready to pop, and this lovely thing, which is called Minoan Lace.

I wish I could say the same for the side beds, which are just a sad mess this year. I really haven't done anything with them.

Over on the other bed, the gardenias and the marmalade bush seem to be...Harper! Get out of there!

So things are slow this year. But even so, the flowers we have allow for things like this:

Which make me quite happy.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Still looking for that perfect Father's Day Gift?

There's still time...

And yes, there is a companion Say It With Bacon website, complete with gift sets, and ecards.

P.S. If you are going to say it with bacon, may I recommend Nueske's.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Various & Sundry: Real amazing people and an imaginary theologian

I give up. The day has defeated me. It's 5:00 and I'm calling it quits. Workwise, anyway. But for you (and for my own pleasure, I must admit) I blog.

So many fantastic obituaries this week! Let's start with Scottish eccentricity in the form of the Countess of Arran. The headline talked about her powerboat racing, but I was more interested in how she and her husband felt about badgers. Her husband (are you ready?), Sir Arthur (Kattendyke Strange David Archibald) “Boofy” Gore, "A passionate advocate of homosexual rights, he thrice introduced a Sexual Offences Bill, and also campaigned for the protection of badgers." Meanwhile,
Lady Arran always called her current favourite badger Rosie. A succession of these creatures visited, and left a mark on, the smartest houses in England. “Nobody but Fiona would have carried this off,” remarked a friend. 
Drawn as ever to the lochside, she kept a small house on the Isle of Inchconnachan on Loch Lomond. She boated the loch while her badgers lived beneath the veranda, chasing people hurrying to the jetty.
Then there is the lovely story of Bob Fletcher who quit his job to take care of his neighbors' farms during World War II. That would be lovely enough, but even more so when you learn his neighbors were Japanese who had been interned after Pearl Harbor.
Al Tsukamoto, whose parents arrived in the United States in 1905, approached Mr. Fletcher with a business proposal: would he be willing to manage the farms of two family friends of Mr. Tsukamoto’s, one of whom was elderly, and to pay the taxes and mortgages while they were away? In return, he could keep all the profits.

Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Tsukamoto had not been close, and Mr. Fletcher had no experience growing the farmers’ specialty, flame tokay grapes, but he accepted the offer and soon quit his job.

For the next three years he worked a total of 90 acres on three farms — he had also decided to run Mr. Tsukamoto’s farm. He worked 18-hour days and lived in the bunkhouse Mr. Tsukamoto had reserved for migrant workers. He paid the bills of all three families — the Tsukamotos, the Okamotos and the Nittas. He kept only half of the profits.
I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The last obit I wanted to draw your attention to is for Vollis Simpson, "Visionary Artist of the Junkyard," according to the Times. I'm sorry he didn't live to see the opening of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. But if you head to Wilson, NC after November, you can see for yourself. It looks amazing. Like a Steampunk theme park.

I haven't mentioned Ta-Nehisi Coates for a while, but this morning he posted an amazing and very personal reflection on what he would say if he were asked to give advice to the students at his high school, or to young black kids in general.
I rarely talk to kids about what they "shouldn't be doing" or what they "can't do. I prefer to talk about what they can and should do. This is not mere phraseology. If you are a twelve-year old black kid who dreams of being the next Kendrick Lamar or Lebron James, I don't really see a problem. If you are are 12-year old black kid who only dreams of being that, I do see a problem. My argument to you is not that you should stop dreaming of rapping or playing ball, my argument is that you should dream about much more. That is part of the magic of being 12.
It's all beautiful. A lovely read.

In church geekery news, I loved this legend of the theologian Franz Bibfeldt, the invention of divinity student Robert Clausen, whose work was then propagated by one Martin Marty. Since Marty is now the dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, Franz Bibfeldt lives on in various ways. My personal favorite (to reveal the depth of my geekery) is this: "[Bibfeldt] responded sharply to Kierkegaard’s Either/Or with a treatise titled Both/And, followed by the conciliatory Either/Or and/or Both/And." Yeah, you probably had to be there.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sermon - audio

I was back at Incarnation Santa Rosa last Sunday, and they record the sermons and post it on their website.

I'm really glad that the sermon from the second service is the one that got posted. At the first service, there was someone talking in the back of the church and I got really distracted at the end. This version turned out much better, I think.

Pilgrimate to the shrine of The Martyrs of Uganda

Today is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, and five years ago today, since I was there, I made a pilgrimage to the shrine at Namugongo. Here's the post I wrote in 2008 on the blog I kept during my short time in Uganda.

A friend of mine who is preaching at the midweek service at his church this week noted that today, June 3rd, is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. He asked if this was an important observance here.

The answer to that is that it's a friggin' HUGE observance in these parts. It's a national holiday, for one thing. Banks, post offices, government offices are all closed. MCDT is closed. Walking around the neighborhood, more of the small shops around here are closed today than were closed on Good Friday.

Here's the deal, very briefly: in the late 1800's, various pages and members of the Bugandan court became Christian converts, both RC and Anglican. In 1886, the Bugandan king, or kabaka, Mwanga II, told them to give it up. (N.B. There is also the issue of the kabaka forcing young men to have sex with him, which complicates the issue of homosexuality in Uganda (but also seems to put paid to the argument that the Europeans brought homosexuality with them).) When they refused, these converts were tortured and killed in various nasty ways, leading up to a group of some 30 Christians being wrapped in straw mats and then burned at Namugongo, about 10 miles from the city center.

The observance is bigger than just Uganda, too. This event is credited as the beginning of indigenous Christianity in Africa. I read in the paper last week about a group of pilgrims from Kenya who were walking 600 km to the shrine in Namugongo. People come here from all over the continent.

Various miracles were attributed to the RC martyrs, leading to their canonization in the 1960's. I'm not sure when the Anglican martyrs were canonized; the whole process is different. But the general sense I get is that these martyrs are important, not only for their great faith and sacrifice, but because they're "some of our own." I'm not sure how many other great holy sites and pilgrimages are in sub-Saharan Africa, but this certainly is one of them.

I decided to pay my respects and make a short pilgrimage as well. Below is a picture of the shrine that I lifted from the web.

Only imagine it so thronged with people there were parts where you couldn't move. One man walking near me told me that 3 MILLION people come to the shrine. I don't know about that, but I have no doubt tens of thousands of people were there. (Note: I've added pictures I took when I was there at the bottom of this post.)

I took a boda boda to the base of the hill leading to Namugongo and walked over a couple of hills, following a trickle of people headed that way. Once I reached the area of Namugongo, the people filled the streets, walking on the left side, like traffic, with no cars allowed through. On either side of the street were vendors of all descriptions. Lots of them were selling paper visors with a depiction of the martyrs surrounded by flames on it. There were also some pretty graphic T-shirts with the slogan, "Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us." There was also lots of other stuff: clothing, umbrellas, cooked grasshoppers--you name it.

But as far as the religious part of it went, this seemed to be a Roman Catholic celebration. Even though the martyrs were both RC and Anglican, I didn't see any Anglican presence there at all.

I went to the shrine and walked all around the grounds. The shrine itself wasn't open, apparently, but there was a service going on from an open-sided grass thatched hut by a large rectangular pool. I couldn't quite tell because I could never see it, but my guess is that's where the service was coming from. Again, thousands upon thousands of people sitting on the grass or the muddy ground to listen to it from loudspeakers all over the grounds. I heard some of the prayers of the people, offered in all different languages: Swahili, Luganda, Luo, etc. The grounds of the shrine, too, were packed with vendors. Many were selling religious tracts, rosaries, and things of that nature. But I also saw some Manchester and Arsenal underwear for sale. Behind the toilets, there were people cooking matooke, beans, and other food.

I also saw one child with a badly burned face, sucking his thumb as a vendor tried to sell him and his mother something.

There was something about it all that was incredibly moving. I was of course reminded of Jesus' cleansing of the temple, but I also got at least an inkling of what that might have looked like, of how important it was for people to come to that one location, of what a huge windfall it was for the vendors as well as profitable for the temple.

One boy tried to sell me a certificate, signed by the bishop (I think), that certified that I had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda. I was very tempted, too. But I don't actually need a certificate. I've still been there. And it was mighty powerful, too.

These pictures give you a sense of the going to and from Namugongo, as the crowds got bigger and then dissipated again.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mom's Tattoo

Well, temporary tattoo, anyway. I got her this as a Mother's Day present (thank you, Etsy!), and though it arrived too late, it is never too late to get an accordion tattoo. As they say in the tattoo world, No Regert.

You look fabulous, Mom.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Various & Sundry: Courage from start to finish

I love my little blog. It's just so satisfying, being able to share what's on my mind and have it actually reach other people. It's nerve-wracking, too, of course, and I'm glad I am an obscure little bit player in the blogosphere, but as a writing person, I think blogging is great exercise. If you're wondering about blogging yourself, I'd recommend that you read Mark Shaefer's post 10 Maxims of Successful Blogging. Here are maxims 1 and 2:
1. We live in an increasingly information-dense world. The only way to stand out is to dig down deep and bring your own story to the world. Your point of differentiation is you. You have no competitors. Write a blog post that only you could write.  
 2. The biggest challenge to blogging isn’t having the time, the ideas, or the resources to do it. It’s having the courage to do it. It takes guts to put yourself out there in front of the world. You can’t learn that. You just have to do it.
Actually, I think that's about more than just blogging, don't you?

In other writing news, the editor for the obituary page of the Daily Telegraph (London) explains how to write a good obituary:

You know that James Harrison is going to have a good obituary, when the day comes. Harrison has a rare form of blood plasma that prevents Rhesus disease, a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby's blood cells. He has been donating blood an average of once every three weeks for over 50 years and is estimated to have saved 2.4 million babies. Makes me wonder when I'm next eligible to give blood.

Here's who else is not in the obituary pages this week: Debbie Harry, who is, instead, featured in Vogue Spain, 67 years old and looking absolutely fabulous. As Tom and Lorenzo explain (well, mostly Tom), Debbie Harry taught Tom "that being fabulous is the very best 'fuck you' one can give to a world determined to tear you down, and that drama, beauty and glamour were good for the soul when so many people around you seem to be striving for mediocrity." Given that yesterday, I wasn't sure whether I'd actually brushed my hair that day, I think I could be doing better in learning this lesson.

I did not look like this yesterday. Or any day, for that matter.

Then again, I don't look like Hitler either. Unlike some tea kettles I could name. JC Penney got in trouble this week when someone pointed out that the kettle on a billboard near Culver City had a decidedly Third-Reich-like cast to it. This gave rise to the following lead in Business Insider:
JCPenney has officially denied that a tea kettle being advertised on a billboard on the 405 Interstate near Culver City, Calif., is intended to represent Adolf Hitler, the Nazi dictator during World War II.
What's your favorite part? Is it the "officially denied"? Or (my favorite) that they explain who Adolf Hitler is?

Here, by the way, was JC Penney's official response:

Well, naturally.

I understand JC Penney is having a hard time of it these days, and they may want to read this post, or at least follow its wonderful advice: "There is no silver bullet. There are only lead bullets." Really, that's better advice than you'd think. Sometimes you just have to fight that good fight.

But wouldn't you rather watch bath time for baby sloths? I know I would.