Friday, December 21, 2007

where are we going? and why are we in this handbasket?

I read author Neil Gaiman's blog pretty regularly. He posts about his life, his travels, and frequently interesting and challenging links. Today he posted a link to this festering thing.

I honestly don't know where to start. With the entire heretical and unbiblical concept that God hates Creation? With the obvious joy the singers have for the music? With the upsidedown Canadian flag they're waving? I'm so shocked, I'm not even angry.

It's just...bizarre.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden Compass thoughts

I enjoyed it. It was good, though not great. I suspect that many who've read and loved the books will be disappointed with the movie. The Magisterium (which many believe to be a thinly-veiled and sadistic Catholic Church but which reads more like an all-powerful Presbyterian/Calvinist Church) is entirely secular--no theocracy, no commentary on Original Sin, nothing. This alone is frustrating; the movie no longer has teeth.

As I'm sure you've heard, there's been much-publicized protest over the movie and the books. Some Christians believe it's too athiest (author Pullman has said some very negative things about the Church) and some athiests believe it doesn't go far enough in its criticism. I think the teens and pre-teens at whom this movie is aimed get it. It's about doubt and struggle and the world not being as clean and hopeful as we want it to be. Teens are often in the midst of figuring out who they are, what they believe, and who this God is; a movie or book that challenges them to think through these things is a win.

I've just started reading Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. He's a big name in emergent church circles and this book is a classic of the genre. In his introduction to the book he writes,

A friend of mine tells me it is a mistake to challenge readers to think because most readers simply want to hear what they already know and agree with, expressed with minimum personality and maximum blandness. I would probably do this if I could because those books seem to sell best, and I have kids in colleges with high tuitions. But another friend told me that learning is not the consequence of teaching or writing, but rather of thinking. So a playful, provocative, unclear, but stimulating book could actually be more worth your money than a serious, clear book that tells you what to think but doesn't make you think. (27)

We become better, more thoughtful people when challenged to think on our own rather than told what is truth. The Magisterium characters in the movie and the book talk quite a bit about how people can't be expected to know for themselves what's right and must be told. They say that the entire system (or Church) will fall apart if people thought for themselves and came to their own conclusions. Interestingly, this is precisely the argument put forth by people who were opposed to The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Compass.

Let's be clear--certainly there are dangerous ideas out in the world and certainly a large number of folks are willing to just accept them without thinking--we don't have to accept things at face value. Our own discomfort can tell us something about the world and our relationships. When we try to protect our brothers and sisters from challenging and upsetting fiction, we do them a disservice in not allowing them to think through the question themselves. One reviewer of the movie quoted the Catholic News Service: "rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens." And I suggest starting with the books.

EDIT: A parishioner sent me this link to a beliefnet article on the positive aspects of The Golden Compass.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

what's style got to do with it?

I have loved menswear from an early age. In high school, most of my dressy clothes were suits, shirts, vests and sweater-vests. I bought a pair of brown wing-tips when I was in 10th grade. And it's not about looking like a boy--look at Marlene Dietrich and then tell me menswear has to look boyish. No, it's about style. There's an authority present in a suit, no matter how boxy or tailored. More to the point, there's a crisp grace in the look. If you've seen a well-made (and expensive) suit, you know what I mean. It looks right. And it looks beautiful.

If you know me at all, you know I'm all about what's beautiful. I've been quoted saying that the theological concept of the Trinity never made sense to me until a professor suggested that 3 persons was elegant. What something looks like is, for me, at least half of its meaning. Thus, though Across the Universe is not the most brilliant plot, it is beautiful and therefore I loved it. Guernica or The Sparrow are powerful and transformative precisely because of their beauty.

Sometime in high school, I saw Annie Lennox on MTV wearing a brown and cream pinstriped suit with burgundy velvet collar and red Chucks. I immediately went to Salvation Army and bought myself a brown and cream pinstriped suit. One of the guys I had a crush on my senior year wore orange Chucks with his tux to prom. I've noticed Ellen DeGeneres wearing sneakers with her tailored jackets and slacks. The current Doctor Who does the same and is based on Jamie Oliver's ensemble on the BBC. Knowing all this, is it any surprise that I wore red Chucks to preach in for several years?

I've been struggling with my look as a priest for some time now. I don't like neutrals, I don't like pastels, I don't even like jewel tones. I love bright colors and contrasting patterns and textures. I'm an artist and I see my daily wardrobe as a kind of canvas. As a priest, however, my look says something completely different. If I go into a meeting or hospital room in purple gingham palazzo pants, a fitted brown turtleneck, and a green bucket hat, people don't see "priest," they see "funky clothes" or similar. More to the point, the clothes become a barrier and the encounter becomes about me. There's a reason the black shirt and white collar is a classic.

I have accepted that I need to look more professional, more polished. I have pushed against this concept, called it boring. As I look back at my sartorial history, however, it seems that I've always had that crisp grace, always wanted it. I like to tweak it a bit, but the suit, the vests, the cufflinks--they're awesome.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


"Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy."
--Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel

We talk a lot about slowing down, seeing the signs that God and the kingdom are breaking through to this life of ours. Because I’ve constantly got songs running through my head, all I can think about is this song. You've already heard me talking ad nauseum about Sabbath and time apart, and this is kind of the theme song. This world we live in is beautiful in so many ways and yet, with the internet, telephones, cars, businesses which just don't stop, we go through it in a blur. When was the last time you or I really appreciated what we work for?
I realized this summer (as I have almost every summer) that, though I love working in my garden and it gives me a sense of peace and accomplishment, all I did was work in it. I never sat down in a chair and enjoyed what I'd done. So I began doing just that—I made myself a drink, picked up a trashy novel, and sat in the sun and was just in the garden. That was some of the most meaningful and spiritual time I've ever spent. See, it's all about the moment we're in—what do you do with it? Do you make the choice to see that God made that moment? Do you see that God gave us the ability to choose to see God?
Slow down, we move too fast—we've got to make the morning last…

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I got the coolest email today. Ok, maybe not the coolest, but in the top 25 probably.

I go to the Hunger Site every day to click on their “give free food” button. You can also click to help out with literacy, breast cancer research, and all kinds of stuff. It’s really quick and easy and awesome. So today, I got an email from Sharon, our fantastic new communications director, with a link to FreeRice. The way it works is, you get little word quizzes like “maze means: copy, argumentation, detergent, labyrinth”. You guess correctly, you give one grain of rice, then it gives you a harder word.

Now, before you give up in disgust at how nerdy your priest is, I’ll have you know I donated 240 grains of rice in about two minutes. That’s at least a couple cups (though I’ve not sat down and counted it out in my spare time). Think about how simple it is to make a difference in this world. Think about how easy it can be to begin to feed the hungry around the globe. We (and by “we” I mean everyone everywhere) have enough food to feed everyone well—it’s just not in the right places. Our grocery stores are overloaded with choices while many areas have nothing at all. Something like ¾ of the world’s population subsist on rice and beans. If that.

At FreeRice, you’re feeding other people while feeding your mind. It’s a lot like the church community at its best: we come because we are fed and because our presence feeds others. Participating in the community can be one of the most powerful relationships you’ll ever have. But only if you commit to it, only if you find creative ways to participate. We can’t sit around waiting for hunger to go away. We can’t sit around waiting for someone to invite us to participate at Redeemer, in CORe, in the faith. How are you being fed in your life? How are you feeding others?

Maybe you’re already doing this stuff. Maybe you already knew about those cool websites. Keep it up—we can’t stop until everyone is fed.

apocryphal history lesson

At Bible study last night, someone asked me, "So what is the Apocrypha anyway?" Wedged into the middle of the Bible, between the Hebrew Testament and the Christian one--is a whole other book. It's got more prophets, apocalypse, history and historical fiction, wisdom, letters, and a dragon. That's right, there's a dragon in the Bible. These writings aren't canonical; that is, they're not officially part of the Bible and not authoritative the way we consider the Hebrew and Christian Testaments to be. However, they were once.

In the 3rd to 1st century BCE, a group of seventy scholars got together in Alexandria, Egypt to translate the Hebrew Testament into Greek, that text eventually called the Septuagint. The story goes that the seventy each translated the entire thing individually and every one of their translations was identical to the next. Whether or not that happened, the list of books they translated was different than the list we currently consider the Hebrew Testament. A similar thing happened when a similar (but not identical) list of books were translated into Latin to form the Vulgate in the early 400s CE. The books that didn't make it into either one were still canonical to some Christians, regardless of whether the church considered them so. Eventually they were collected into the Apocrypha and smooshed into many versions of the Christian Bible.

The word "apocryphal" means many things, from the negatively charged "of doubtful authorship or authenticity" to the more mysterious and positive "hidden things" (from the introduction of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 2001). Scholars are still in disagreement about what it means and just why these books got the name. The key is to remember that though they are not canonical, they are still of great worth.
In the current struggles in the Episcopal Church over human sexuality and authority, it might do us good to remember that, though we disagree violently, our brothers and sisters are still of great worth.

Monday, November 26, 2007

book thoughts--abbreviated version

Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker

Sarcasm? Check
Cynicism? Check
Wit? Check
Awesomeness? Check

[oddly, she references Oberammergau twice]

in praise of homemade soup

I don't often make soup, but when I do, it is glorious. It's not that difficult--cut up a bunch of stuff, put it in liquid, add spices, cook until tender--but the result exceeds the effort. The root vegetable soup I made this afternoon [while waiting for more information on the flat tire that became a $1000 repair--long story] has parsnips, rutabegas, carrots, leeks, potatoes, onions, turnips, fennel, celery, brussel sprouts, garlic, and butternut squash in a base of chicken stock and chardonnay. But it tastes deeper than that. It tastes of comfort, of breathing out, of earth. Mostly, it tastes of hibernation and of curling up in the warmth of a loved one.

It's interesting how such ordinary things can have such resonances. A certain pillow or the way someone styles their hair, or even a mangled autumn leaf can create a whirlwind of emotions. What is that? Is it the primeval chaos hiding just under the surface of things, poised to pounce? Is it our own willingness to cling to what we know? Is it the presence of the holy in the universe, revealed in glimpses?

When Philip Newell talks about the "glory of God" I believe he means this resonance. All things were not just created by God but contain the residue of the Creator. The simple stuff of our lives, both natural and human-made, is filled brim-full with our memories, with challenge, with beauty and pain, with connection to everything else. Even the blasted, broken car reminds me of laughing with band members, road trips with Loving Husband, and the smell of rain in a sculpture garden. Soup, made of plants taken from the dirt, is glorious because of its connection with God.

Monday, November 19, 2007

pastoral demographics

We're revamping our narthex (fancy church word for lobby) at Redeemer and I had to put in a plug for the youth. Yeah, I know, everyone and their sister is wanting space in the re-design for their ministry and their stuff, so how am I any different? I'll tell you why. I don't see the youth as an isolated ministry like the Freestore or the Bread Ministry. The youth are a demographic.

Having come from a meeting about this very thing, I'm suddenly aware of demographics in the church. Who are we pastoring to? How are we pastoring to them? What do couples who are experiencing infertillity issues need, spiritually and practically? How do we take seriously the needs and concerns of veterans? And this is one that kicked me in the stomach this afternoon: how are we pastoring to fat people?

Please forgive the bluntness, but I just read a mention in my daily blog reading that thousands if not millions of people experience weight discrimination in their doctors' offices. Some of the stories at First, Do No Harm are truly heartbreaking. Women told for years that nothing can be done for their chronic pain, amennhorea, or infertility until they lose 20-50 pounds. Now, let's be honest here, people. It is certainly true that our culture is enamored of sweets and fats and lazing about watching reality television. We are an unhealthy populace to be sure. And I am sure that losing weight can be necessary for some treatments. HOWEVER, the inhumanity with which these brothers and sisters are treated is unacceptable. The jokes, the disdain, the disregard for information patients repeatedly give their doctors--this is a sad state of affairs.

There is a theory that Jesus was fat. In the gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus "was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature." (NRSV) Who was short in stature? Zacchaeus? Or Jesus? And, lest you think I'm being flip, it's ambiguous in the Greek, too. What if Jesus was short and overweight? If he was God created human, would he really be tall, dark, handsome, and buff? Would he not be more likely to be average, slightly asymmetrical, a little overweight, with a raucus laugh? Or maybe gawkily skinny with big ears and weird mannerisms with this hands?

My point is, we are all created in the image of God--this is one of the first things we know about ourselves. We are in the image of God and we are beloved.

there ain't no party like a youth room party cause a youth room party don't stop

Would you believe we had 15 Junior High youth last night to watch Batman Begins? Fifteen! And several I'd never even seen before. Good times.

This was our inaugural occasion for movie-watching on the new giant-screen TV in the youth room. It's like 3 feet by 4 feet of pixellated glory. The boys were all about Bruce Wayne learning the ways of the ninja and wailing on bad guys BUT at the end when he and the love interest looked like a kiss was immanent, they all predictably lost interest and started murmuring among themselves. The girls, of course, all squealed.

So, what was it that got 15 kids there last night? No homework? It is a holiday week, but would teachers not assign anything? Was it my phone calls to all of them after church? That hasn't worked so well in the past. Was it just good timing? This is the normal Monday-morning question for me--why did they come?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

come away with me

The young adults of Redeemer (CORe, if you'd like to check us out a little) just returned from a lovely night out at Molly Malone's. We dined on fish and chips and shepherd's pie and cheese sandwiches and bread pudding. We acquitted ourselves well in the pub quiz, living up to our name: Team Moderately Awesome. We talked a bit about God and church politics but mostly just hung out and had a good time.

Thursday, Loving Husband and I host the Hyde Park youth ministers at stately Connor Manor. Several of them have mentioned, after committing to the evening, that they have meetings to attend that evening. I get that--don't we all have important things to do? Time doesn't stop on your day off. But don't we also have a responsibility to let go every now and again?

After the first seven days of creation, God went walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. Isn't that lovely? I can just imagine God strolling barefoot in the twilight, the sun's gone down but it's still light, stars are appearing, and the light breeze lifts God's hair and caresses God's cheek. Simply put, God enjoyed creation. One of the first things we know about God is that God enjoys this world. Shouldn't we?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

you know what i wish?

I wish cookies had the cold-fighting capabilities of orange juice and zinc.

I love cookies. I mean, really love them. Loving Husband calls me "Cookies for Dinner." I just ate 6. They were small, but still. And I had some for lunch, too. Cookies are just delicious--it's a fact, people.

And speaking as a person who has had two entirely separate and distinctive colds in one week, I feel justified in demanding preventatives in my sweets. I eat carrots and oranges like they're the healthful, semi-tasty items they are and I eat cookies like, well, cookies, so why not help a sister out?

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Today is Thursday and thus my day off. Thus far, I have eaten breakfast, read some Dorothy Parker, updated my blog, and sat around in my PJs. I plan to pray some, sit around some more, maybe make something with fabric, and relax. Good times.

memory unlimited

Had a drink and deep conversation with the nooma people yesterday. Nooma's a spirituality series for young adults--and before you run screaming into the other room, it's pretty good. This one was about how we're all wounded somehow and how we deal with those wounds. Like, do we try to exact revenge and does that work? Or do we just lay down and take it? Or do we forgive? And what does "forgive" mean, anyway? It was interesting to hear the guy say that sometimes forgive doesn't mean forget, it means remember. An abusive relationship can be forgiven but only if you get out and remember the situation. An alcoholic can be forgiven if she and you remember the effects of excess. Forgetting isn't always the way.

Loving Husband and I saw The Darjeeling Limited last night which is as awkward and broken as you'd expect a Wes "Life Aquatic" Anderson film to be. The brothers are on a spiritual journey, forced though it may be, and their clinging to their dead father's ridiculous orange Vuitton luggage is so evocative. Mom tells them that the past is over and done with, that they need to forget it. Francis says, "We can't." And, in their isolated lives, they shouldn't. There's an undercurrent of camaraderie among them--you believe they are estranged brothers--and in order to have any real relationship, they can't forget their pasts.

The prophet Isaiah says "I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." There is joy in forgetfulness and in letting go. And sometimes there is an aching need to remember.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

how do you know?

Leading preschool chapel is akin to weeding. There's a lot of frustration and plodding work and then a sudden moment of enlightenment. In my back yard, it's pulling up a milkweed plant by the roots, satisfyingly whole. In preschool chapel, it's when a three-year-old asks, "How do you know when it's God talking to you?"

Saturday, November 03, 2007

moment of zen

Having just come from an edgy art gallery in the West End and driving down the interstate, my dangling and broken side-view mirror tucked safely inside the gaping window, the frigid cold breeze in my hair, and "Every little thing she does is magic" on the radio, I couldn't help thinking, "What a beautiful world."

levity makes the world go round

This is too funny. And, O, how I wish it were true!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Book Thoughts

Oberammergau: the Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play by James Shapiro

The story goes that in 1633 the German village of Oberammergau was (mostly) spared from a plague. To celebrate the miracle, the villagers did what any red-blooded German of the seventeenth-century would do: they vowed to reenact the last week of Jesus' life every decade for ever. Fascinating as these "passion plays" are on their own, Shapiro is much more interested in the attitudes towards the Jews that both the play and the performers had. It is problematic, to say the least. Adolf Hitler was one of the play's greatest fans, applauding its take on the "mire and muck of Jewry." The Jews in the play wear horns or horn-like hats and are one-dimensional villains, set only on evil. One of the most interesting aspects is how a story of a Jew martyred by the Roman government becomes in performance the story of a Christian killed by Jews. For centuries, after almost any passion play or even during and after Holy Week (traditionally for Christians, the week leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection), Jews went into hiding, fearing for their lives as Christians sought them out to beat and kill them. Did the plays themselves help foster anti-Jewish sentiment or did people produce and attend them because of that sentiment?

And, yes, the Oberammergau play is still being performed. The current version of the play has been revised significantly. Jews no longer bear the guilt for Jesus' death in perpetuity and their characterization has improved somewhat. Still, the play suffers from more structural anti-Semitism. Can it be saved?


This past summer, we embarked on our first ever Junior High Mission Trip. It was a great success!

Just a week or so ago, we returned to the Dayton Street house for our first volunteer date. At the end of our YouthWorks mission, when I asked them what they were going to "take home" from the trip, the teens unanimously agreed that the Community Land Co-Op was amazing and that they wanted to go back and help more (one of the conveniences of doing mission in your own town). After a little more conversation, one teen T.K. volunteered to write up the paperwork for a mission grant from Redeemer if the group thought they could get the people-power to make a difference. She and I have begun that paperwork, making this the first youth-led mission initiative we've ever had.

And now we need your help. From the beginning, the seven teenagers on the mission trip wanted this to be an all-ages opportunity. Yard clean-up, wall demolishing, sheetrock hanging—these are not just for the youth but for our entire community to pitch in. If you can hold a trash bag or if you can hang cabinets, we need you! Parents, grandparents, singles young and old, and all the teenagers—be on the look-out for announcements and a sign-up sheet in the narthex. Our next volunteer date is tentatively scheduled for December 1 from 9am to 1pm. Throughout the winter, we will offer monthly opportunities for you to make a difference in exotic Cincinnati. Come join the fun and make a difference!

Friday, October 26, 2007

celebrating in the rain

I am surprisingly calm and well-adjusted today.

The internets were broken for about 24 hours and I had to foray into IT-Land. Calm.
The house needs a new furnace and the patio removed. Well-adjusted.
The world is crazy and hurtful. Calm.
I don't really know what I want to do with my life. Well-adujsted.

This summer has fed me in ways I didn't notice at the time.
-At Outdoor Adventure Camp we were deluged by rain two nights running. At 8pm, we were debating whether to have Eucharist in the cramped and cold dining tent or continue to play cards until bedtime. We opted for Eucharist. So, wearing jeans soaked to the skin and someone else's poncho, I celebrated with 35 damp teenagers by flashlight. It was a transforming experience for everyone involved.
-I went on retreat with Mayumi Oda and resisted it up until I actually got there. I was not prepared for sitting meditations half-an-hour long. I was not prepared for so much silence. Yet it was in the silence that I began to breathe.
-Our bishop spoke at Redeemer this week and referred to the Anglican Communion as "an ambitious experiment." How freeing and affirming to see this huge connection as a work-in-progress, as something other than an idol, as creative.

So I'm calm. I'm content in this moment.

Book Thoughts

Soul Graffiti by Mark Scandrette

Evocative look at how to be a person of Spirit. Mr. Scandrette is a young, thoughtful, and welcoming Christian (or, in his words, a Follower of the Way). He writes about "experiments in truth," taking action based on a wholistic and loving understanding of scripture. Basically, stop talking about it and live it. And, lest you think he's another zealous and conservative evangelical who means "condemn" or "act self-righteous" when he says "live it," what he actually means is talk to your neighbors and hear their stories and their pain. Help clean their houses or mow their lawns. Offer dinner to the people you wouldn't be caught dead with out in the world. Meet people where they are. And be met in return. It's fantastic. Perhaps my favorite part is when he talks about a ministry his house church has developed called the Jesus Dojo. How cool is that?

Even if you don't read the whole book, check out the chapter that's linked from the title. (yes, I already linked it but it's worth the click-through) Made me weep with fear and joy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Adventures of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot

In my late-night, not-yet-ready-to-go-to-sleep, need-a-book haze last week, I pulled this off the shelf. I read it once way back in the day and remembered it fondly. It's every bit as good as I remember, if perhaps more obscure. Luther Arkwright is a pretty obvious Christ-figure whose first death and resurrection is beautiful and moving and sexy. His second reads as a bit of an afterthought. I've maintained for several years now that bringing people/characters back to life negates the sacrifice of their deaths. And yes, I am aware of the irony.

That said, it's a cool take on parallel universes in peril and the fight between good and evil. There's a sequel that I also remember as being good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

from Exotic Florida

Greetings, readers! (I realize, there may be fewer than the hundreds or thousands of readers that I once hoped. Are there, perhaps, dozens?)

I'm writing from sunny Oveido, Florida, home of man-eating alligators and mosquitoes that could take your arm off. Really, it's happened already this week.

This is a great conference--we're doing a lot of in-depth conversation about physical health (including stress and priorities), spiritual health (including Sabbath), and financial health (how do you spend your money, what the heck are all those retirement options?). Are you asleep yet? It's actually really cool. What makes it cool, I think, is that I am surrounded by 30 other priests under 40. That doesn't mean we're all the same--far from it. But we have a similar perspective on things. We're going bowling tonight, which is not hugely popular among our set as we all want to go dancing or to Gatorland, but we'll take it. It's good to get away from the scripts I feel like I have to follow at home. Thank you for letting me go.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

On the road again

Leaving for CREDO tomorrow morning. Don't know my flight information. I know I had it here somewhere...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Scenic Lexington

Loving Husband and I are on vacation in scenic Lexington. Our hotel is lovely. It doesn't smell of smoke. It has wifi and a pool. Is in walking distance of a Waffle House. The bed has six pillows. We have a stunning view of the parking lot. It has cable so I can stay up late watching documentaries about BBQ.
We've a bottle of Cabernet to drink, friends to visit, and enough books to last us several weeks. In short, everything we could have hoped for.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Anatomy of a Sermon

It's that time in my week, gentle reader, when I should be committing my wisdom to paper and writing my sermon for tomorrow's service. What do you think I'm doing instead? If you guessed wasting time on the Internets, then you'd be right. See, the sermon-writing process is not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. I have, for your convenience, created a bullet-pointed list to clarify:

-Monday: read the lessons for the next Sunday, contemplate their import, begin reading commentaries, write complex journal entries exploring their subjects...or work all day and forget that you're preaching the next week.
-Tuesday: re-read the lessons, discern which one God is calling you to expand upon, continue reading and contemplating, journaling, exploring...or get caught up in email and administrative meetings and forget that you're preaching next week.
-Wednesday: panic because you've just realized you have to preach tonight at the mid-week service in addition to two coffee dates, preschool chapel, and mission trip deposit deadline. Notice a niggling doubt that perhaps there's something you've forgotten.
-Thursday: Day Off. Do laundry, watch movies, eat cookies.
-Friday: suddenly remember that you're preaching on Sunday, read the lessons, develop an ulcer, make serious plans to write in the afternoon, then get distracted by something shiny.
-Saturday, 9am: sleep in.
-Saturday, noon: over breakfast/lunch consider how best to attack the lessons, come up with a possible idea, go do something fun secure in the knowledge that it won't be so bad now that you've got an idea.
-Saturday, 3-5pm: begin writing, by which I mean format the Word document, make a vague outline, doodle, and remember how difficult this really is.
-Saturday, 6pm: finish first draft, ball up and throw away as it is complete crap.
-Saturday, 9pm: wonder where it all went wrong.
-Saturday, midnight: finish writing final draft of what will be either (1) the worst sermon in the history of religion or (2) the Word direct from God.

Straight from the horse's mouth.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

All New! All Better!

Ok, so it's not actually all new, but I have just spent an hour adding in new links to old posts, fixing links that no longer work, and generally making this blog the Best Blog on the Internet. Or something. Please do check out older posts--on books, on salvation, on toast--it might just be worth your while.

Monday, October 01, 2007

the Dreaded "E" Word

That's right, boys and girls, it's time to talk about Evangelism. This post brought to you by the number 3 and the Evangelism Marketing Board: try some yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

Some new statistics came out today about church attendance which have the clergy in a tizzy. That's right, I said "tizzy." Google it. "We've got to work on evangelism," we're saying over email. "Why are the numbers so bad?" we lament. This should come as no surprise as the 90s were supposed to be the Decade of Evangelism, according to the national church. Some of us have put forth the radical notion that sharing our passion for the faith and the relationships we form at church is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations." [Notice I did not suggest getting them to come to church or fill out a pledge card...]

Regardless, my father had the following to say about the whole thing and I think it worth reprinting:

"The hard thing to do of course is to know, well, what to do. You
know there are some who attribute or have attributed our decline to advocacy of women rights, civil rights, approval of gay clergy and marriage and 'abandoning Biblical ethics.' Others think we have declined because we have too much 'happy clappy' music or not enough. Or projections screens or whatever.

"For what it is worth, I lay the blame [that is the American game is it not] on the people of our generation who decided church was no longer important for them or their children. Thus we have a generation of people, now in their 30s who have never been to church or never seen it as important. The culture too works against all of us - bigger, better, faster, more and easier is the mantra of America and Western Europe.

"What I am saying is that the decline of the church all over western culture is not entirely the fault of those of us who work in the church. Still there is much we can do. I think this fits in with Bishop Breidenthal's desire to emphasize 'formation.' Let's work at teaching church members first that talking about religion and faith outside the walls of our building is acceptable and mandatory. Then let's teach them how to do it.One on one evangelism is the way to go."

What I've asked the youth of Redeemer is, "What do you love about this place?" What event do you love? Who can't you wait to see when you come here? What are you excited about doing? Now invite someone to do it with you.

The Parable of the Decent, Suburban Neighbor

In junior high formation yesterday, we talked about Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. We've all heard sermons asking us to contemplate, "Who is your neighbor?" with the inevitable answer being one of the following: (1) someone you can't stand, (2) someone you never think about or notice, or (3) everyone in the whole world. All perfectly good answers. I was in a soul-searching mood, however, and I came up with a very specific list. (Of course the world is neighbor to itself, we should strive for universal goodwill, etc. I'm talking about specific people who I have not been neighborly towards.)

These are people I don't understand, don't like, or don't appreciate, in that order. So how do I act like they are my neighbors? Pick up the darn phone and call them. Be in relationship, physically and emotionally. Listen. Do not ignore them. Do not judge them. That last one's a big one. It is so easy to sit in my mentally-stable, middle-class, extrovert chair and say, "get over it." It just doesn't work that way. And there is no room for compassion in that chair, that's for sure.

What stops me from acting like they're my neighbors? Clearly disdain and annoyance for some, my own self-interest for others. Most telling of my marker-scribbled notes is the last line, written semi-unconsciously: "fear of intimacy."

I talk a lot about how relationship is key to the Kingdom. Intimacy (not sex, mind you) is necessary for any real decision or connection or understanding or progress, no matter how you want to define them. And that intimacy is what I fear. If I connect with one of these folks, make myself vulnerable, what demands will he make on me? What uncomfortable but necessary situation will I find myself in? I just read a book excerpt about this guy's attempts at relationship with a homeless and mentally unwell man. It brought tears to my eyes. I long to be in such a relationship--not because I want to condescend and "work amongst" the poor but because intimacy is what we all need. Yet it scares me to think what could be asked of me.

The thing is, the realization of this fear came at the same time as the desire and strength to overcome it. This isn't poor me time but a fresh challenge.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Book Thoughts

How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

Sent to me by my friend Bob Carlton and a huge hit in the emergent community. The point is basically this: we cannot truly speak about God and we must speak about God. God is huger, more complex, more loving and encompassing than we can imagine. The ancient Hebrews put their collective finger on it in handing down God's name (YHWH) which is an amalgamation of letters which are unpronouncable because (1) it has no vowels and (2) it is just too holy. When you come across the Name, you read Adonai instead of what it says. But we experience God in our lives, here and now, intimately. We who worship God do not do so because it makes sense intellectually--it doesn't--but because we have felt the presence of the holy in our daily lives. Thus, God is indescribable and completely describable. How to navigate these waters?

Rollins repeats himself quite a bit, reading like he was given a book contract based on a short paper. That said, it's very readable and well-thought out. Plus it has a second section documenting ten emergent services focused on this ambiguity and creating space for complex interpretations of both God and our experience of her. These services took place (continue to take place) in a bar in Ireland in an inclusive and blurry-boundaried community called Ikon. They are a/theists. They are, in a lot of ways, the future of the church.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Before Retreat

I went on retreat this past week-end to the Nature Center. Before I left, I wrote this:

On retreat. Have resisted it a lot. Long, busy, hard week. AC broke and is expensive. Still unsure about future. Not wanting time away but more time to work on work, get things finished, expanded, perfect. You'd think I'd want a retreat, but I feel guilty for leaving Loving Husband and work, still tied to what's going on back there, frustrated that I didn't bring a novel, and resistant to this experience.

Given all this, I think I really need this retreat. That much resistence to a thing means something. How about in art? I really didn't want to remove all those stitches from "el Shaddai" and it's a good thing I did.

What am I resisting professionaly or vocationally?
-listening to the Spirit (because I don't really want to hear what she says)
-giving myself to art (I might fail, I'll need more classes which take time and money)
-growing up (still)

In batik, you use a wax resist to mark out areas to remain the same color while you over-dye. Those bits get crustier and more prevalent as you continue the project, making a mess, ugly and formless. In the end, you melt off the wax leaving a complex and brilliant pattern. The resist is necessary to the meaning.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Book Thoughts

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
[includes The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass]

After I read the first book, I bought and devoured the other two in a few days. Pullman is a wonderful writer, bringing his characters and their difficult decisions to life. What will happen? How will they cope? What are they getting out of all this intrigue? What am I getting out of all this intrigue? Lots of people have told me that this series is very anti-God and looked at me a little doubtfully. Would I be offended? I imagine them thinking. Would I be disgusted? Convinced of an a-theistic argument? Um, no.

I fully agree that Pullman has a strong a-theistic bias. Actually, it's more of a Gnostic bias with intense distrust of the Church. Basically, there's this stuff called Dust that the Church thinks is the physical evidence of Original Sin. This one guy thinks, therefore, that it is evil and must be destroyed along with its maker, God. God is not actually God, though, but an angel who thinks he's God (thus, the Gnosticism). Have I lost you yet? Good, 'cause here's the last point: add to this a vast, miscommunicating, and corrupt Church structure of frightened men called the Magisterium. Magisterium, by the way, is what our Church calls the hierarchy, tradition, and pageantry of what we do. And two "children" (actually a 12 and a 13 year old) save the world by turning Original Sin on its head.

What to make of all this? Given the current controversy over Mother Theresa and recent "controversy" over The DaVinci Code, I wonder if we have any idea what we're talking about at all? It seems like everyone thinks the world will fall apart if there's any doubt or criticism, yet we long for controversy. We can't see God or proof of her existence, so we claim that God isn't really God and what we call God is an evil replacement. We can't comprehend how someone could hold such powerful doubt and misery in her heart and yet also devote her life to lepers and orphans--so we make her a saint or we make her a sinner but not both! No, doubt has no quarter in the heart of a saint, nor compassion in a sinner. His Dark Materials can't see the good present in creation alongside the evil and accuses God rather than the Church of corruption. In a book so focused on the goodness of the physical, why call the compass, the knife, and the spyglass "dark"?

See, it's a paradox. Our lives, our faiths, our loves, our deaths--it's all overlapping good and evil, salvation and damnation, beauty and ugliness. You can't separate them out and if you try, you'll destroy both sides. His Dark Material, whether Philip Pullman realizes it or not, is paradox.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

One of the things I love about youth ministry is sharing books and movies. Loving Husband and I have begun loaning out graphic novels like Plain Janes, Shazam, and Scott Pilgrim. This time, Sam T, movie fanatic that he is, convinced me to watch the extended trailer for The Golden Compass. It is beautiful. So beautiful that, when I went out later that day to grab some dinner, I found myself driving to Joseph-Beth booksellers to pick up the book.

The bottom line is this: excellent book, endearing characters, complex plot and moral.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dreaming in Color

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. More and more, I'm interested in the possibilities of things. Does that mean I'm a politician? Shudder to think...

A piece of fabric doesn't just sit on the shelf--it jumps up and down, waving its arms and saying "Pick me! Pick me! I've got a great idea for a project!"
A book like The Golden Compass doesn't just sit there all book-shaped and immobile--it gestures seductively saying, "You won't believe what's in here. What I can make you feel and think. Come on in."
A show like Dr. Who doesn't just entertain for a half-hour or so and is forgotten--it pokes me hard in the ribs like the little sister I never had and says, "Live your life! You're good at stuff. There's more cool things right around the corner. Keep looking!"

The current issue of the "Interchange", our diocese's newspaper, lists the Millenium Development Goals along the top banner in bright colors. The images are fun and iconic, the colors leap out at you. It all says to me, "There is possibility here. Changing the world is possible. Making a difference is not a pipe dream."

Friday, August 24, 2007

take forgiveness any way you can get it

by Terence Winch

Father Cahir kept us holy.
He smoked cigars in the confessional.
He had a distracted air about him,
as though he wasn't sure what
he was supposed to do next.

I don't remember what he taught.
History, probably. It was his
liberal attitude as a confessor
that made him a legend.

No matter what you confessed to,
he always barked out the same penance:
"Three Hail Marys and a Good Act
of Contrition. Next!" So we tested
this leniency, confessing
to rape, murder, burglary.

Cahir paid no attention.
He knew we were a bunch
of high school punks.
Puffing his cigar,
he'd issue his standard
penance and absolve all sins,
real or imagined,
with godlike aloofness,
his vast indifference to
or total acceptance of the darkness
within the human soul
exactly how I hope the deity
regards us. Take forgiveness
any way you can get it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Thoughts

34 On Mexican Time by Tony Cohan

Memoir of an American writer living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with his Japanese-American artist wife. Have read from this genre before and have read better examples (Peter Mayle comes to mind). Still, it made me want to repaint our house in garish colors and grill corn and tamales.

"Mexican time" refers to the cultural attitude of unhurriedness in Mexico. Folk say manana which means tomorrow but can mean sometime soon or eventually or whenever. Siesta is a national past time and "getting things done" requires a relaxed attitude completely foreign to our rat-race culture. It's certainly not all fun and games given the huge rates of poverty and corruption. Nobody's perfect after all. I want to remember "Mexican time" here, though. When I get overwhelmed with plans for the program year or parishioners' worries, plans, or anger, I need to remember that there is space to think and breathe and let it go.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Book Thoughts

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Fourth in the Thursday Next series about time travel, toast, literary detectives, croquet, corrupt and fictional politicians, Neanderthals, slapstick, and social commentary. Hilarious throughout but primarily for Fforde's depiction of modern politics and media--painfully honest and ridiculously pointed. After a heated exchange on the show Evade the Question, the host clarifies the two politicians' standings from the debate:
"At the end of the first round, I will award three points to Mr. Kaine for an excellent nonspecific condemnation, plus one bonus point for blaming the previous government and another for successfully mutating the question to promote the party line. Mr. van de Poste gets a point for a firm rebuttal, but only two points for his condemnation as he tried to inject an impartial and intelligent observation." (p. 50. New York, NY: Penguin, 2004.)

The only issue I'd bring up is Fforde's tendency to give exposition several times for the same character or event. Three-quarters of the way through, I was being given information on a character I not only remembered from previous books but had been brought up to speed on at least once already. Ultimately, only mildly annoying, though.
Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Several short stories re-telling classic fairy tales in a much more gruesome and odd manner. Actually, probably not more gruesome than the Brothers Grimm, but more modern, more weird, more feminist, more wordy. Really more wordy. Loving Husband loves Angela Carter precisely for her wordiness and word choices--she uses words you you never hear and in combinations that make your head feel thick. Honestly, I didn't like it. Reminded me of Dickens who also needed a good editor. But the stories are good and interesting and it's a quick read.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I'm Hungry

Bruce preached this evening on St. Dominic and, in part, on the collect of the day: "Make your church, dear Lord, in this and every age, attentive to the hungers of the world." He called the five of us present to be aware of what the people around us are hungry for, conversation, meaning, justice, food.

What am I hungry for? I mean, really hungry, not late-nite-I'm-bored-so-I'll-eat-this-junk-food. And, lest I forget dramatic tension and the struggle of faith, what hungers do I fill in this world? It's not about me, you know. Just 'cause I have my own blog doesn't mean I'm a megalomaniac. Who is hungry around me who I can satisfy? What emptiness needs to be filled?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell

Trends, social change, crime, marketing, suicide--they're all epidemics. They all begin with something seemingly insignificant and rise (or shrink) exponentially until they "tip." Kind of like water reaching the boiling point. The concept of a social epidemic makes a lot of sense to me. Christianity would not have caught on except for some contagious behavior by a few people. Groups form around ideas because of the contagious behavior of cool, connected people. Look at the Crocs trend if you don't believe me. A few beach bums wore them on the West Coast and now suddenly everyone and their sister has a pair.

Gladwell talks about the people who effect these changes: Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen. He talks about Stickiness--how to get your message to stick in people's minds and behavior. He talks about Context--people do or don't do things based mostly around what their environment looks like, not rationality.

Fascinating book and well worth the read. I'm still marinating on it but here's the thing: it's true. Like Johnny Cash sings the truth. Like you feel at the end of Life is Beautiful. I completely resonate with Gladwell's points, and I can't help thinking how to leverage them into my ministry.

Monday, August 06, 2007

True Fact

Hershey's Dark Chocolate Syrup--essentially liquid chocolate bar--is quite possibly the most awesome thing ever created.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Another Triumphant Return

Hah! I'm back from our exotic mission trip to far off Cincinnati, Ohio. "But you live in Cincinnati" I hear you saying. That, my friends, is what made it awesome.

I wasn't sure if the junior high youth I had with me would think it was lame or not and I'm pleased to report they thought it was great. The church where we stayed (with 100 youth from across the country) was literally 7 minutes from Redeemer. We loaded up in the rented van, and set off on an epic journey around I275. That's right, we drove 1 1/2 hours on the interstate through three states to get 7 minutes down the road. It was fantastic. We stopped on our way into Distant Cincinnati and took a touristy photo at the University of Cincinnati. We talked about the town as though we were from elsewhere. We remarked on how the air smelled cleaner, the people seemed nicer, and the accommodations more foreign.

Our actual volunteering time was split between the nursing home and the Community Land Co-op. The first was lovely but the second is where the kids really shone. It was hard, dirty, disgusting labor. We went to several abandoned and condemned houses to begin cleanup so they could be rehabbed into fabulous affordable housing. The before and after photos they have at the office are just amazing--from burnt-out disaster to suburban clean. In the first house, the dank basement was lit only by a couple flashlights and an extension light where we stood calf-deep in garbage and debris. Crackheads had stolen the copper pipes a month earlier, flooding the basement. We spent a couple hours hauling out damp and degraded wood, dolls, clotheshangars, bottles, tires, window screens, and a vast amount of Undetermined Crap. It was horrible and hot and exactly what I wanted out of a mission site for these kids. The next house had both live roaches scurrying about and dead roaches crushed in the edges of the refrigerator door. The next one smelled of Something Dreadful covered up by the smell of Pine Sol.

Seriously, these teens have seen what conditions can be like in their own town. They've never even conceived of how bad things can get. And now they want to raise money and volunteers for the co-op. I'm so proud. It could not have gone better.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Exciting Nature of Missions

We're off! My partner-in-crime Bob M and I are loading into a HUGE white van with 7 eighth and ninth graders this afternoon. In moments, actually.

If I'm honest, I'm exhausted. I know I'm not sleeping enough and this week is not going to help that. I desperately need to work on my Sabbath-taking. On the other hand, I'm excited about spending time with these folk--they're awesome and excited about the trip, even though it's to Cincinnati, where we're from.

Exhaustion and excitement. Ambivalence and happiness. Bad and good. Isn't that always the way?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Problematic Nature of Mission

Leaving for final youth trip of the summer on Sunday: a fabulous mission trip to...wait for it...Cincinnati! That's right, we're doing mission in our own backyard. And I say, "why not?" You don't have to go to an exotic, tourist destination to find poor, suffering people. It's even a bit selfish to spend so much money getting somewhere via plane or car, expending the fuel and time, when the world needs help where you live.

More to the point, it's not about us "working amongst" folk, condescending to offer our wisdom and cash to those less fortunate. Obviously, there are millions less fortunate than those of us in the middle class--look around you and see that we don't live in a perfect world. But that phrase, "less fortunate," is a comparative one. They are less fortunate; we are more fortunate. It almost implies that we are somehow favored or more beloved because of what we have. That we are better because we're not hungry, drug-addicted, or brown-skinned. I'm sure most folk don't mean any of that when they use the phrase, but when your intent is to go help a group of people, it is necessary to pay attention to your own motives and how they may be seen by the folk you want to help. Even if the work you're planning is desperately needed in a community, a superior attitude or an unwillingness to understand and participate in the culture will kill it dead.

So what is it about? Mission, it seems to me, is about developing relationship and opening our eyes to the world around us. We all live in a bubble of some kind or another. We can talk about "the plight of the poor" as long as we like, but won't understand it until we talk to someone who's struggling with feeding their children. We have to experience it ourselves before we'll truly get it. Jesus said to Thomas "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe". They may be blessed but few of us can believe like that. We need something to cling to, something to relate to. We need to be in relationship, knowing the other as a person, as one with thoughts and feelings and concerns and not just a statistic. We take teenagers on mission trips partly because they are a good source of labor for projects that need doing but mostly for them to discover just how big and complex this world is. They don't always see it, but when they do, you can see God on their faces as plain as day.

Book Thoughts--Girly Edition

DC comics has debuted a new line of comics aimed at teenaged girls that are actually good. Yeah, they're written and drawn by men, but not in the normal, creepy superhero style of exposed skin and little brains. These girls know who they are and what they want. I've read the first three and, though I am not a teenager, I am a girl and I love them.

Plain Janes by Castellucci and Rugg
Arty types all named Jane react against exclusivism and stupidity with guerilla art. Loving Husband says ending feels unfinished.

Regifters by Carey, Hempell, and Liew
Second of the Minx line and much better. Cute Korean girl faces her demons and kicks ass in martial arts. From the geinuses who brought you My Faith in Frankie.

Clubbing by Watson and Howard
The art's much prettier but the story is less satisfying than previous books. Goth chick goes to the country and solves a paranormal crime.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

A modern Chinese-American woman with problems of her own just doesn't understand her mother. Mom, in turn, didn't understand her own mother. From different eras, they each reveal pieces of their stories which ultimately form a connected whole. Well-written and engaging. Better than "Oprah-lit," I'd say, but only a little better.

I wonder, though, if I'm reflecting the cultural bias against women's stories. With notable exceptions, women's stories are traditionally centered around home, children, "women's work." When they're not about such things, they're more about feelings, emotional stories of coming-to-grips with something. Men's stories, to make a huge generalization, are about things happening, reasons being given, things changing. Moby-Dick, arguably the manliest book of all time, is all about reasoning out the parts of the whale and whaling. It's about hubris and close, manly relationships. It's about Whaling and Death. It's epic. Frequently women's stories are much smaller, less grand. My ambitious self wants stories about people who make it big, people who do great things, people who change minds and hearts and are vindicated. Many women's stories are about small things. Am I undervaluing Bonesetter's Daughter because it's too small and womanly?

A friend recently forwarded me an article on the same subject. The question was, if love and home are so very important to all of us, why do we undervalue stories about them regardless of who wrote them?

Independence Day

I spent Independence Day doing what every red-blooded, patriotic American does: I worked on home improvement. We worked on fixing our deck, digging stones out of the back yard, and removing some truly monstrous roots from the garden. Seriously, one of them looks a bit like a huge horseradish or maybe a small mole.

At dinner with my parents, my mother and I were musing about Independence Day and what it means. So often you hear, "Give thanks for those who died to make this country free." I do give thanks for them, but that's not what we're celebrating. This is the day of the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies' beginning their insurrection against England. My mother put it well: "We said, 'NO.'" That really is the spirit of the holiday--we said no to tyranny and ambivalence and being subject to. And we said, "YES." We said yes to life, liberty, and happiness. We said yes to carving out our own destiny. We said yes to the possibility of failure. And we won.

I am very much an advocate for the separation of church and state. That said, there's a distinct similarity between that NO and YES and the NO and Yes we're asked for as Christians. The prophets and the mothers and fathers of the faith are remembered for standing up to tyranny, for saying "NO" to the powers that be. And they are beloved for saying "YES" to free will and compassion and love.

There is no guarantee that we'll succeed in this world. There is no surety that the garden I worked in today will be mine next year or even next week. There is no reason to believe that the Kingdom of God is ours here and now, and yet we Christians make the choice every day to stand up for what's right and to open our arms and hearts to the stranger. It is our experience of the holy in one another, in the Created world, in the structures and chaos of our lives which points to God.

It has been said that humans make their governments into idols. We see the safety and generosity and organization and we say, "Indeed, it is very good." And often that government can take the place of God. Ask yourself which you would choose: what is right in the eyes of God or what is right in the eyes of the government? This is not to suggest a rebellion here and now but to remind myself of where my priorities should be. God is the top of the hierarchy. I am in relationship with God as are billions of others--how do I then see the world? What does Creation look like through God's eyes rather than my own?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Everything Costs

Returned from Navajoland Pilgrimage on Saturday evening. Only now feeling like a real person back home what with the jet lag and the humidity. By the by, Navajo actually means "horse thief" in Spanish and they prefer to be called Dine'.

Monument Valley is stunning. We remarked several times that you simply can't take a bad picture out there, but no photo will do the space and grandeur justice. The redness of the dirt, the blueness of the sky, the SPACE between the monuments...ok, I'll stop drooling.

Tano, our neighbor and guide on several hikes, told us that the monuments in the valley are sacred to the Dine'. This is holy ground. And it was won with a price. We've all read about the history of Native Americans since the white people came. We know about the destruction and exploitation. The Dine' have lived in this valley for a very long time--they were not part of the Trail of Tears--yet they have been taken advantage of for centuries. This beautiful land has cost them dearly.

Our trip to the reservation costs. The plane ticket alone is $500 or so. Plus food, SUV rentals, gasoline, materials for the work--it adds up to many thousands of dollars. Is the beauty and spiritual depth worth the money and damage to the environment from gasoline fumes? How much longer can we go out there?

I spent a lot of money on jewelry this year. We buy Dine' crafts to auction on Shrove Tuesday and send the profits back to the Episcopal Diocese on the reservation. This year, I may have overspent myself. Something like fifteen necklaces and bracelets and a lovely painted pot. Can you say "buyer's remorse"?

I return to a hundred emails and a messy office. I plunge right back in and have soon lost the calm I won on the reservation. Everything costs. Is it worth it?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Junior Birdman

Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder...

The annual pilgrimage to the Navajo reservation in Arizona begins tomorrow at 6am. Or, rather, 5am for those of us who'd like to shower before pilgrim-ing. Very much looking forward to orange mesas and blue, blue sky. Even looking forward to the plane flight and 6 hour drive to the rez. More on that later, perhaps.

In the meantime, please enjoy this photo.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sticky Decision

Converse is owned by Nike.
Nike is a Great Corporate Evil.
Converse is now made in Nike's foreign sweatshops.
Nike has made tentative steps to alleviate some of the biggest problems in manufacturing and human rights.
Converse All-Stars are objectively cool.
[See also the connection between McDonald's and Chipotle: McDonald's is terrible in both taste and record, but Chipotle makes an effort to buy non-hormone-bred meat and organic produce.]

What's a semi-hip, socially-concious girl to do? Completely boycott? Recognize good strides and encourage with my purchasing power? Will anyone in power hear either message? Besides, I really want new chucks...

Roller Coasters and the Divine

Our Youth Council, the teenagers who lead our youth program at Redeemer, spent a day at Kings’ Island recently followed by a lovely barbecue at the home of Karen and Mike Staffiera. The day was meant as a “thank you” for all their hard work this past year and an opportunity for bonding among the group. It was fanTAstic. Our first ride was the new Firehawk and, if you like roller coasters at all, you’ve got to try it: once you’re strapped into your chair, it reclines. And I don’t just mean a little for a better television-watching-angle—I mean your feet are above your head. You ascend the first hill lying down, backwards, and head-first; it is fairly freaky. Then, just as you go over the top of the hill, the track rotates laterally so you are hanging prone, flying-Superman-style. And off you go! The Firehawk is amazingly smooth and worth the current wait.

Now, before you think this is just an advertisement for Kings’ Island, let me share something with you. I have a love/hate relationship with roller coasters. Specifically, I get motion-sick. Really motion-sick. I spent large portions of the day lying down on the grass, holding everyone’s hats and phones as they rode ride after ride. We’ve got several photos of me looking queasy. The first ride doesn’t bother me—it’s exhilarating to feel the wind in your hair, the palpable excitement in the crowd around you, the freedom of raising your arms and letting go. But several in a row and my stomach catches up with me.

It’s terrifying. To be strapped into a small, mechanical car and thrown at terrific speeds over hills and through the air is scary. And, if I’m honest, that’s a huge part of the love. As you climb that first hill, there is a feeling of abject fear: this will never work, we’re really high up, get me out of this thing, O God we’re going to die. But you can’t get out—it would be more dangerous for everyone if you tried to get out at the top of the hill rather than ride it out. And there is a moment at the crest of that hill when you see the face of God. At that split second, when the cars tip the balance and start down the hill, you let go. You let go of the fear, you let go of your expectations, you let go of your breath. You let go of everything and scream. It’s one of the purest moments of emptiness you can experience. And one of the purest moments of joy. To be in that single moment of fear and joy is to see God. Susie B and I joked about that as we were coming into the station after riding the Firehawk—we were both shaking and giddy, not sure how we felt about the ride yet, but certain that it had been a holy experience.

This is what it comes down to: fear and joy in one package. Kevin B did some thinking about that this past weekend at the Young Adult retreat that CORE sponsored at the Cathedral. The decisions we have to make in our lives, the experiences we have, the relationships we form, are all filled to the brim with fear and joy. We never know what will happen and our anxiety can sometimes overwhelm us, but most of us have had the experience of taking a risk and reaping a powerful reward. We sometimes go into a thing, confident in the joy it will bring only to be laid low. Everything is like this—choices, relationships with other people, relationship with God, Creation itself. That moment at the top of a roller coaster is our entire lives. I did get sick riding those coasters, but I also loved it. I loved spending time with some of the youth of our parish who are living a risky and fearful time in their lives. They are becoming who they will be. They don’t know yet who that is, but they are excited. There is joy in the unknown just as much as there is fear.

I have asked many of our youth this question and now I want to ask you: what would you do if you knew you had only six months to live? A year? What fear would you tackle? What joy would you not postpone? How would you serve God? What’s keeping you from it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Book Thoughts

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (last in a series of 5)

Great stuff, this series.
Loving Husband tells me that JRR Tolkein, like many Englishmen, hated the French. He so disliked them that he personally resented the Norman Conquest in 1066. That's powerful. I bring this up because good ol' JRR and Susan Cooper have that much in common. There is implication in all the books of dislike of other countries--all these important, world-changing events happen in jolly old GB, for one thing--but in Silver she specifically calls out each of the successive invasions of the British Isles as waves of the Dark. Interesting, that, particularly since there's a scene early on in which some of the Stanton children stand up for a little boy from India who's being picked on. We are treated to a dialogue between the bully's dad and Mr. Stanton in which the bully's dad is clearly ignorant, mean, conservative, and wrong and Mr. Stanton is patient, kind, expansive, and liberal. Conservative, liberal, we know these words are malleable. I'm just saying the book's conflicted.

Thoughts on How Things Work

Remember when you had to hand-crank your car window down? It wasn't just a small button that quietly lowered the window with no effort on your part. You had to work to get that sucker down.

I'm only thinking about this because, in a dazed moment late on Saturday night while finishing up my sermon for the next morning, I noticed a similar device on Loving Husband's laptop. You'd think that on such a technologically advanced machine, there'd be a password or a cyberspace-related mechanism. There should at least be an electrical catch. But, no, it's just a little lever that catches on another little bit. That's all that holds the thing closed.

Weirdly, I felt smug when I noticed this little catch. There is comfort in knowing that I can operate that catch. That I, technological simian that I am, could understand and possibly even fix it if it broke. There's satisfaction in knowing, what, that I'm in control? That this is understandable?

Honestly, when was the last time you fixed something yourself? And did it work well, the thing you fixed? It seems to me that, more and more, the things we have require specialists to service them. I'll admit I'm something of a luddite, but don't you sometimes long for the days when you could not just understand that something worked but see how it worked? Take the Krispy Kreme doughnut shops: if you go to the right one, you can see the actual process of making a doughnut, from the racks where the dough rises to the conveyor through the glaze. It's amazing--so that's how they do that, I say. And I do say it out loud. Ask Loving Husband sometime.

In my business, you don't see a lot of the workings. You rarely see the results of your labors. I won't get to see how the kids I hang out with now will turn out. The education, the fellowship, the empowering--I see some of it pay off, but most of it will really show up in 5, 10, 20 years. And when what you do and say are not received well, they're not often fixable. There is certainly no sense of being in control. Church work is hugely complicated with millions of interconnected wires and relationships. And it's as simple as a small catch.

How do I do what I do? How do you? What makes you frustrated? What gives you energy? What makes you see the interconnected wires and think, "Wow, so that's how they do that"?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Whedon on Women

One of my favorite television visionaries is Joss Whedon. He’s a brilliant director and a thoughtful guy. Normally, he’s a barrel of wacky laughs, but right now he’s got something powerful and important to say about women, how they're treated and how they allow themselves to be treated. If you have a moment, read this short essay he wrote. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book Thoughts

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Loving Husband's favorite book, it's taken me six years to read. And very much worth the wait. It's about hope in the face of inescapable odds, heroes living everyday lives, love in a time of cholera--no, wait, that's something else...

Seriously, an excellent book connecting the early years of comic books with World War II, magicians, Judaism, and love. (The following is an excerpt which sums it up but doesn't give away any of the plot. Made me a bit weepy because it's so true.)

"[Joe] thought of the boxes of comics that he had accumulated, upstairs, in the two small rooms where, for five years, he had crouched in the false bottom of the life from which Tommy had freed him, and then, in turn, of the thousands upon thousands of little boxes, stacked neatly on sheets of Bristol board or piled in rows across the ragged pages of comic books, that he and Sammy had filled over the past dozen years: boxes brimming with the raw materials, the bits of rubbish from which they had, each in his own way, attempted to fashion their various golems. In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascination of golems--from Rabbi Loew's to Victor von Frankenstein's--lay in their soullessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphorical association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. But it seemed to Joe that none of these--Faustian hubris, least of all--were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something--one poor, dumb, powerful thing--exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws. Harry Houdini had roamed the Palladiums and Hippodromes of the world encumbered by an entire cargo-hold of crates and boxes, stuffed with chains, iron hardware, brightly painted flats and hokum, animated all the while only by this same desire, never fulfilled: truly to escape, if only for one instant; to poke his head through the borders of this world, with its harsh physics, into the mysterious spirit world that lay beyond. The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited 'escapism' among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life."
--Chabon, page 582 (New York: Picador, 2000)

Addicted to Television

It's true. Don't get me wrong--I am not equating my passionate love of TV with real, heavy-duty addictions like alcoholism or what have you. That would be rude as well as inaccurate. Suffice it to say, Loving Husband and I were simultaneously saddened to discover that we have no more discs of Six Feet Under to watch at the moment and we've just finished watching 5 episodes almost back-to-back. This one time, we watched all of Buffy Season 3 in a week-end. It was Easter week-end. And I had to preach. It's that bad.

On the other hand, we only watch when we have the DVDs available which is a neat built-in restriction. We just don't watch actual TV with the commercials and everything. Hate commercials. Really and truly hate them. I don't need to be sold more stuff. I've got plenty of stuff right here in my house.

I waffle between (a) being concerned about how much pixilated trash I'm absorbing and (b) justifying my watching by saying they're powerful stories and it's my time off so get over it. The key is, I think, how much is TV-watching getting in the way of "real life"? Am I late for meetings or socializing because of watching something? Sometimes. Does it get in the way of my other interests? Sometimes. Do I find myself connecting every conversation or situation I'm in with an episode or character? Absolutely. Does it get in the way of my relationship with my husband? Don't think so. Does it get in the way of my relationship with God? Now that's a toughie.

I see the image of God in all things--creation, people I like, people I don't like, grocerying, youth ministry, and, yes, television. I've been moved to tears by the presence of the holy in a television show. When Doyle says, "The good fight, yeah?", or when Fox Mulder finds his sister, or just the look and cohesiveness of Firefly--these are all God-moments for me. And since I've got a minor in art history, I can bs God into anything. God is in all things. But are all things getting in the way of my relationship with God? Because that's idolatry, pure and simple. I don't know, but I'll have to keep my eyes open.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A New Start

I've had this blog for nine months and originally set it up so that I would be allowed to post on my father's blog. Until now, I've only posted once. But that's all about to change, my friends!

The world we live in is a complicated place. The decisions we face every day, the relationships we form, our feelings and reactions to just about everything that happens--all complicated. We have mixed motivations for what we do. We're not rational. We're sinful creatures. Yes, I said sinful. That's kind of a bad word these days. Sin implies judgment and unpleasantness. It suggests that the things we do are not as good as we try to convince ourselves. We intentionally and unintentionally hurt those around us. And yet, in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the plants and animals and the light and the dark and us--when God created the world, God looked at it all and said "Indeed, it is very good." We are, at the most basic part of our natures, good. Yet we sin. We are saved and judged. Saint and sinner. Simul justus et peccator.

My brain works overtime thinking about this kind of stuff. Theology, spiritual journey, liturgy, how we live in the world--it's all going to come out here. Sometimes it'll be draft versions of newsletter articles, sometimes rambles on a theme, sometimes short posts about books I've read. I will probably cross-post some old entries from my livejournal blog, too.

Peace to you and all in your house.


Listen to this:

Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken "Hallelujah."

This is the last verse of Jeff Buckley's song "Hallelujah." He sings with only his guitar for accompaniment into an empty and echoing room. His voice is haunting, thin in places, as though he's about to give up on singing entirely, and powerful with anger in others. You feel rather than hear his despair—it washes over you in waves. His song ends, dejected and hopeless—love is a cold and broken "Hallelujah."

Leonard Cohen actually wrote the song and when he sings it, he ends with this verse:

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but "Hallelujah."

I've got a live recording of Cohen singing it and his voice is deep and rich and...perplexed. It's as though he doesn't really understand what he's singing but he's singing it anyway. He's trying to puzzle it out, trying to make some sense of his life. I can relate—youth ministry can be frustrating and overwhelming. There are times when I know I've done everything I can and a conversation simply doesn't work. I tell myself that it is God who turns folk's hearts and God who is in charge, not me. It doesn't always work.

It is frustrating to me that I can't find the definitive version of this song—it seems that everyone who records it, including Cohen himself, picks and chooses the verses they'd like to sing. The verses in some ways contradict one another: some seem to be more Bible-story-oriented—David, Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah—and some which are introspective and seem to be based on the singer's own history in love. How do they fit?

In the young adult Bible 101 group at my church, we've been talking about the book of Genesis and its two Creation stories. How do they fit together? Can we make them agree with each other so that it makes sense to us? Should we just take the one that makes sense to us this moment and sing its "Hallelujah"? What's the real story? What are they saying to us: are they short histories of what happened back in The Day, are they political machinations to uplift a downtrodden tribe, or are they poetic versions of a people's experience of their relationship with God?

The answer seems to be "yes"—that is, yes, they're political, yes, they're historical, and yes, they're a people's experience. I'm not saying I like that answer or even that I understand it. I do know that God's creation is so much more complicated than we can imagine and we can find God where things are the most frustrating.

Many days I feel like ending the song where Jeff Buckley does. More often I sing with Leonard Cohen who senses his sinfulness and his salvation in every breath, who sings:

…even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but 'Hallelujah.'"