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.