You know it was...a holy night

A year ago, a friend of mine sent this to me at a time when I needed a little inspiration. When the whole world was rushing and pushing and acting all secular Christmas-y, this helped me to slow down and really remember what the holidays are really about. A nice reminder away from all the commercialism and greed that seems to swirl all around and back to the basics. I found it spoke to me such that I had to share it with my husband and then, well, pretty much everyone else I knew who hadn't already heard it. Any way, I hope it gives you as much joy as it gave to all of us last year, and each time we hear it, because it really keeps giving and giving... sometimes for hours... even days later, it continues to ring in my ear and give a smile to my face. Even now as I type, I can't help but smile, as I think about you all receiving this gift for the first time. Merry Christmas from me to everyone, please enjoy!


Pre-Christmas MANIA

I really should be locked up until Christmas is over and done with. But since being committed would mean no more truffles or holiday moonshine, I am instead going to post a little song from the Futurama series' Xmas episode. This little depiction of Santa's workshop helped me get out of the nasty spirit this season. Enjoy, before I get a cease and desist order from Fox. I've tacked on the lyrics for your convenience. I strongly suggest you click on the link for some oddball listening pleasure.


We are free and fairly sober with so many toys to build.
The machines are kind of tricky. Probably someone will be killed.
But we'll gladly work for nothing.
Which is good because we don't intend to pay.
The elves are back to work today. Hooray!
We have just a couple hours to make several billion gifts.
And the labor isn't easy.
And you'll all work triple shifts!
You can make the job go quicker if you turn up the controls to super speed.
It's back to work on Xmas Eve! Hooray!
And though you're cold and sore and ugly,
Your pride will mask the pain.
Let my happy smile warm your heart.
There's a toy lodged in my brain!
We are getting very tired and we can't work any faster
And we're very, very sorry.
Why, you selfish little bastards!
Do you want the kids to think that Santa's just a crummy empty-handed jerk? Then shut your yaps and back to work!
Now it's very nearly Xmas and we've done the best we could.
These toy soldiers are poorly painted.
And they're made from inferior wood!
I should give you all a beating but I've really gotta fly.
Robot Santa:
If I weren't stuck here frozen, I'd harpoon you in the eye.
Now it's back into our tenements to drown ourselves in rye.
You did the best you could, I guess, it's not that these gorillas are okay.
They're adequate! Hooray!
The elves have rescued Xmas Day! Hooray!

Courtesy of the fansite Can't Get Enough Futurama.

So, Merry Freakin' Xmas, everyone! I think I see three ghosts approaching!



I wonder what Christmas was like or is like in your house.

A lot of people have stories of waking up at early hours, way before their parents ever stirred. They lie there in their beds, waiting, watching, listening for the first sign that it’s OK to get out of bed…some of you have those kids, some of you were those kids.

I was one of those kids who would never wake up on-time for school, but come Christmas morning, when I *knew* that gifts were waiting for me under the tree, I would shoot out of bed, creep down the stairs and peer over the banister as far as possible so that I could see into the living room, and, perhaps, catch a glimpse of whatever might be under the tree.

I didn’t want to get caught. My parents insisted on getting down stairs first… but not for presents – they were headed toward coffee. The antici-pation grew stronger.

Ever so quietly I would creep further down the stairs… testing the boundaries further and further until they had their coffee, and then the maelstrom began.

But that was just the end of the long, long period of anticipation.

For the weeks leading up to Christmas, my parents and I engaged in a near- spy vs. spy level game.

Even now, I can’t stand to know that there is a surprise coming. So knowing that there were presents in the house was the worst, most excruciating torture for my child mind.

I was bad.

I used every trick in the book – seriously: from pressing the paper against the box to see through and read the label on the box, to prying and steaming the tape in hopes that I could peel it without it tearing the paper. My parents resorted to hiding the packages – mislabeling them – putting my sister’s name on some, the dog’s name on others – they’d leave them in the trunk of the car – take them to work and leave them in their office – and they even resorted to the ultimate thwarting, waiting until the last minute (at least that’s what they said).

For every one of my anxious and impatient attempts to find out what was under the tree, they had a counter move.

And this continued for years and years until I finally learned my lesson.

In my attempts to find out what was there for me, I ran across an unlabelled, wrapped box under the tree.

As I pressed the paper against the box, my favorite letters peered through – L – E – G – O.

I was so excited.

My favorite gift of all – those cool plastic lego building blocks. My mind wheeled with excitement – and I already had begun plans for what I would use them for, what I might build, how they might add to the giant Lego city already standing in my room.

But in my excitement I never expected that that box of Legos would actually be a gift that I had to give to someone at a Boy Scout Christmas Party only a few days later. I hadn’t even opened the gift, and yet I thought I knew who it belonged to, what it meant – in reality, I hadn’t understood that gift, I had not yet learned the whole point of giving and receiving gifts *or love* – and I certainly had not learned, yet, what it meant to wait patiently for anything.

The season of Advent is about that kind of waiting.

The kind of waiting where we pant with anticipation, where we long for, and where our very bones ache from being full of potential energy, where our minds race and reel with the possibilities, and where we hover somewhere between the unbearable anxiety of the unknown and the tantalizing near-quenched thirst of touching the fullness of God’s love.

Indeed, the people of Israel had waited for ages with this kind of longing. They had been promised the presence of God.

The prophet Isaiah said, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing” because “They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”

Generation after generation they had been taught to look for the signs. The presence of God meant strength for weak hands, firmness to feeble knees.

Even more, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; … the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”

Imagine being a young person in Israel; imagine hearing these words over and over again. Imagine the hope of every person around you being focused on this one thing: “everlasting joy” and “gladness”, and a world where “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Into this world John the Baptist had come. We have already heard, in the first week of Advent about being watchful – staying alert and watching for the coming of God – and last week, the second week of Advent, we heard the voice of one crying out in the wilderness – and now, that voice, John the Baptist, has found himself in prison, contemplating this very thing.

There would be very little else to do while in prison waiting to die, besides sitting and wondering: Have I wasted my time? Have I worked for the right thing?

For John, that meant wondering whether or not the man, Jesus, was really the messiah – is he really the presence and gift of God in the world?

John the Baptist sent word to Jesus and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It should be no surprise, then, that Jesus answers John’s question by directly quoting that same prophecy from Isaiah – “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear” – and even more than you were taught to expect, but “the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

No doubt John was caught between that unbearable anxiety of the unknown and the tantalizing near-quenched thirst of touching the fullness of God’s love – he had heralded the presence of the Son of God – he had exhorted the people to create a high way for the Lord – all things offered in the midst of the same verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes, and in his longing and anxiety to know the answer, Jesus reminds him of the holiness of patiently waiting for all things to come to fruition.

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” – this is not the answer to John’s anxiety, it is not meant to relieve him of that on-the-edge-of-your-seat feeling of anticipation, or to somehow reveal the outcome of the events before their time. It was meant to do exactly the opposite.

A simple “yes, John, my cousin, my friend – I am the one who is to come” would have done all of those things – it would have revealed the answers, but it would have obscured the meaning of things. A clear and concise answer would have allowed John and others to go on with the answer to their questions – but it also would have allowed them to go on with their assumptions.

No – instead, Jesus gives John an answer that tells him to look around – to see and hear what has been going on, and to understand­ the meaning of the Gift of God’s presence. That the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them is happening all around John, and around others, should not only give proof to the presence of God, to the presence of his Son, but should also serve to provide understanding to what that Presence means.

It was a promise of restoration - “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing”, and yet, in all of their anticipatory waiting, the people of Israel were more like me waiting for my Christmas gifts than they were like the farmer that Paul talks about, who waits for his precious crop from the earth with patience until it receives the early and the late rains.

No, they, like me, were imperfect at awaiting the precious gift. They were horribly imperfect and did everything that they could to bring about the presence of God before the right time – they pressed and steamed and ripped and tore at the edges of that gift until they ceased to understand what was inside.

When I went to my Boy Scout Christmas party and saw my friend opening up my present I was mortified – I threw a tantrum, red in the face, full of rage and yet full of so much misunderstanding.

My parents took me home. They sat me down and we finally had a talk about Christmas – about the giving and receiving of gifts, and even if the lesson didn’t stick in the front of my mind then, I understand it now: The gift was not the toy inside of the box, but in the effect that the gift has on the one giving and on the one receiving. The gift is not about the buying and wrapping, but in the thoughtfulness and love and relationship between the giver and the receiver.

Jesus told John to look around: The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. The fact that he is the Son of God is not the point. The point is the effect of his presence on these people.

Jesus’ answer to John the Baptist pointed John away from Jesus – it isn’t about whether or not Jesus is or isn’t the Son of God – like I said, the gift had already been given, the presence of God was and is near – the point is not in finding out what or who the gift is – the point is in the thoughtfulness and love and relationship between the giver and the receiver.

As we contemplate the giving and receiving of gift in honor and celebration of the Incarnation, the birth of the Son of God – what is it that we are doing? In our preparations, how are we developing and cultivating thoughtfulness, love, and relationship – how are we enticing those around us to long for and pant after the presence of God?

Because of our love, “they shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.”

May it ever be so.


$5 Bargain Bin DVD Review: Westender

OK, I promised more B-movie reviews.

A guy goes on a quest for a ring, and he walks across most of Oregon to do it.

It’s a simple enough premise, which is marketed well for an indie film. Pictures and quotes from the movie's website here. Here’s what the producers, MOB productions, have to say about their movie:

"Westender is the story of one man's long journey toward redemption. Not quite a mainstream genre film, and not quite an art film, Westender strives to be a unique type of movie; a category unto itself. It looks like a mainstream film, was shot with mainstream sensibilities, and has genre appeal. Yet the core story of Westender is ultimately far more of an internal odyssey than the plot-driven narrative it appears and feels."

Ultimately, in trying to be too many things at once, Westender fails at all of them. However, the movie does have some powerful moments. Westender touches an archetypal struggle, and it manages to do so despite its shortcomings.

Now, I might seem like I’m nitpicking here, but a major strike against Westender is that it doesn’t play. The DVD actually did not play in my DVD player—it wasn’t even recognized. So I watched this on my laptop. Even then, the transfer was not so great. In fact, the poor transfer hamstrung Westender’s greatest strength—the natural beauty of Oregon.

Without giving anything away, I’ll summarize the plot. A knight (Asbrey of Westender) has fallen from grace—exactly how, we are not told. It is strongly hinted that Asbrey’s fall was due to a forbidden love (a woman who was burned at the stake by the same authorities Asbrey served). Asbrey clings to the only token of his glorious past—a ring recovered from the ashes of his lover. Unfortunately, Asbrey gets drunk and gambles the ring away. He spends the rest of the movie trying to find it, and ultimately has to make a choice. Does he sacrifice his ideals to regain the symbol of his knighthood? Or does he forsake the ring in order to act the part of a true knight?

This choice represents a larger struggle that Christians must face. (Yes, I’m plumbing the depths of a B-movie for theology). More on that later.

I’ve hinted at the movie’s weaknesses. Aside from the poor transfer, the dialogue is (in many places) simply awful. There are few speaking parts in the film, and the jester/minstrel guy (Glim) is just embarrassing to watch. Glim’s lines seem taken straight from a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, and they are delivered with skill reminiscient of Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite (although actor Rob Simonsen does deliver charisma that even outperforms the pimp-cane-totin’ Moore). A second major speaking part is given equally dismal lines, but they are delivered with considerably more skill. The gypsy woman who appears at the beginning of the film is very well portrayed (I believe it’s Sarin, played by Darlene Dadras … but she is not credited on the movie’s website. A pity. Strangely, Dadras’ only other film performance is in the Waiters, in which she plays “Erin.”) Dadras is gorgeous and sincere, and plays her small part so well that when Asbrey walks away from her offer of employment (and companionship), we want to smack him on the back of the head and say, “Dude! What were you thinking?”

Then there’s Asbrey himself. Actor Blake Stadel stands out as the true talent in the film, and he is even able to take his part and run with it. Stadel underplays his part very well. The fallen knight—who deftly avoids the redemption he desperately needs—takes on an archetypal quality. Long after the movie is over and you regret spending $5 and 90 minutes on it, Asbrey’s struggle stays with you.

Partial credit must be given to Rob Simonsen—the same guy who cast a pall over the first part of the film with his depressing delivery of the film’s superfluous comic relief. Thankfully, Glim is written out of the script early. Too bad he wasn’t written out entirely, because then we could remember Rob Simonsen for his best contribution to the film—the score. Simonsen’s music is subtle, and it combines flutes, strings, horns, and vocals (take that, James Horner!). The music blends well with the deserts, forests, rivers, and mountains of Oregon. Simonsen never overuses a theme, nor does he repeat one unnecessarily (hear that, Hans Zimmer?) Every track has a new variation. Honestly, Simonsen’s excellent music deserved a much better movie. (I personally use it for jogging in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains).

MOB Productions should also be given credit for telling a story. A good story leaves the audience asking questions at the end. Why was Asbrey’s lover burned at the stake? What happened to the jester? What becomes of the slave family Asbrey rescues? Does he ever eventually find the ring? Mainstream Hollywood should take note; there are too many “action” epics that painfully pursue every side story and backstory until the audience feels as if it has been subjected to a thorough reading of the tax code.

In short, Westender could have been very good if it had been an art film, instead of an art film that tried to also be a fantasy film. Oregon is the best actor in the film. Its lush forests and cascading rivers give way to parched deserts and skeletal trees—just as Asbrey’s illusion of himself as a knight is stripped from him. Asbrey is confronted by a wolf at two moments in the film when he begins to rebuild himself; at a critical moment, the wolf shows Asbrey the way through the desert (before it vanishes into the landscape).

Unfortunately, Westender’s fantasy elements make watching it again an unpleasant experience. The writers seem to have taken dialogue lessons from such fantasy debacles as Krull, and that thing Tom Cruise was in before he was famous, and that thing Peter MacNicol was in before he was famous. A perfect example: Asbrey’s homeland seems nothing more than the most generic picture of late medieval Europe (which would work as an archetype if it weren’t made so corny by dialogue and acting). Near the end of the film, Asbrey encounters another culture—a race of blondes whose acting lessons consisted of watching Billy Idol sneer.

Why is an Episcopal priest taking the time to review this film? I was intrigued by the beginning titles: “In the beginning, no man was higher in birth than any other, for all were descended from a single father and mother. But when envy and covetousness came into the world, and might triumphed over right, certain men were appointed as guarantors and defenders of the weak and humble.” This is from the French classic, Lancelot of the Lake. The ideals of knighthood espoused therein were likely never attained by the corrupt feudal lords of the day, but it never hurts to dream, eh? Apparently, by the time Asbrey becomes a knight, the ideals have changed somewhat. Asbrey’s knightly commission seems more concerned with the failings of others, and less concerned with acting as a beacon of hope: “Go henceforth with unstained blade and wash sin and heresy from this land.” (I’m hearing echoes of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and more current Anglican Inquisitors). Asbrey’s downfall comes when his true love is deemed to be a representative of sin and heresy, and is burned at the stake (at least, this is what the film hints). The film also hints that Asbrey’s return to knightly service is for the purposes of reforming the corrupt system from the inside (but maybe I’m reading too much into the script).

Asbrey’s choice at the end of the film is spelled out clearly. Does he pursue the villain who has stolen his ring, and in so doing, abandon helpless captives to a life of slavery? Or does he risk his life to save the captives (and let the ring escape)? In other words, does he abandon his vows to chase after lost glory, or does he sacrifice his ego to become a true servant?

We are in an age when our beloved church (at least, the institution) is continually exposed to the world. It is rife with corruption (not to mention sin and heresy). The Episcopal Church stands at a key moment in history (as it has several times). Several factions within our ranks have already made their choice. Several church leaders, lay and ordained, have abandoned their vows to chase after glory. Others have made the more humble choice (and therefore, their choices are not highly publicized, unless they are also being highly criticized). What would making the right choice look like? What would a true servant look like at this moment in the Episcopal Church’s story? If Asbrey’s struggle is any indication, then true servants (lay and ordained) will need to be stripped of their pride and desires—an experience that will be painful whether we are radically progressive or reasserter-ive. We will need to “cross the barren desert” until we are ready to receive redemption. We must, like Asbrey, cast off our armor (whether that armor is progressive or homophobic) so that we may wear the “breastplate of righteousness.” We, like Asbrey, will need to die to ourselves.

The ideals of knighthood and kings (and queens) are still with us. We recently (about a month ago) celebrated the lesser feast of King Edmund of East Anglia. Confronted by an unbeatable army of marauding Danes, Edmund was offered the chance to live like a king as a figurehead, if only he would abandon his vows and forsake Christ. Instead, Edmund mustered his army and fought a battle he knew he would lose. Edmund and his army were lost, but his kingship lived on. If we (lay ministers, bishops, priests, and deacons) can truly abandon our dreams of pride and glory, then Christ’s kingship will live on in us. If (and considering the egos involved, this is a pretty big IF), we can die to ourselves, then we might be able to teach the world about a certain victory of life and peace. As King Theoden states in that other movie about a ring, “Hail the victorious dead!”



This was passed on to me, and I couldn't believe it. Nothing like a pair of diamond earrings to say, thanks for pushing out eight pounds of wiggling flesh these last 17 hours, honey. I hope you read at least the first few paragraphs, because it really is unbelievable. The idea, I guess, is for a guy to make up for the fact that they are going to be useless for the first year? Or is it just that we have become so materialistic that we have to reward something our bodies are supposed to do, something I would guess many of us have chosen to do. And then to expect something even better the next time you choose to have another baby? To quote someone who, upon reading this, exclaimed, "Who are these people?" Seriously. How did they get so greedy and wasteful and out of touch? (Plus, I love that this is described as some kind of "movement", something a kin to civil rights or feminism.)

I am still not believing the whole idea of a mother getting (much less expecting) a gift directly following birth. As if the baby isn't enough of a gift. After my 20 hours of labor with my son, all I wanted was to get that oxygen mask off. Then all I wanted was FOOD, and lots of it (those ice chips did not do it for me, really). I wouldn't even let my husband give me a diamond for our engagement (because he couldn't afford it and I really don't need something that expensive on my finger, when there are a lot of people out there that don't have food or shelter - yes, I am a hippie control-freak), so there is NO WAY I would let him spend the money we know we are going to need for our son on something so frivolous. So, I guess you know how I feel about all of this. When my husband read that, he said, "That is the worst thing I have ever read - anything I said before is now trumped. That's the worst." Amen, brother.

You know we're in it bad when the beautiful gift (granted, when they come out they are all deformed and covered in a sticky white goo, with blood globules all over them, but they're beautiful all the same) of a child - the combination of your genes and love and partnership - isn't enough, and we need something sparkly. I am reminded of what a priest friend of mine told me once (pre-ordination) when my church was looking for a new rector. "Beware of the shiny ones. They may look good, they may even sparkle and draw you in with their glimmer, but that's usually all they are - shiny." In a thousand years, those rocks on your ear are going to be used to fuel your stupid H3, which is also destroying our earth. So, go ahead and enjoy them, while the rest of us actually give a crap about other people.


These are a few of my favorite things...

I have been thinking a lot lately about some of the worst sermons I have ever heard. Maybe its because the only station that comes in on our alarm clock is the "Victory Radio Network" (where the truth comes in waves). Our son has just figured out how to use the sleep and snooze buttons and loves to stand there, turning it on and off (not bad for 13 months). So, while I am folding the laundry, I find myself listening bits and pieces of what my husband like to refer to as the "false teaching." Most of it is too cheesy for my Episcopalian brain (and fairly unsentimental personality) to tolerate. Most of it is also just junk. And as I listen to it, I am reminded of the worst sermons I have heard over the years (all of which were given in the hallowed pulpits of Episcopal churches).

Worst Children's Sermon: When I was looking around for a place to do my internship (whilst in seminary), I happened upon this little gem in one of the most coveted placements. The preacher (the rector, by the way) began holding up a drawer and pulling stuff out of it - it's his "junk drawer". He went on to talk about how the church is like God's junk drawer, with all sorts of different things he can use to get his job done. (It happened to be "Homecoming Sunday" where they were showing off all their programs - it took up three rooms - thus God's junk drawer.) When it came to the interactive part, he asked the kids "Where do you find God?" And this beautiful little girl, probably about 5 years old, all dressed in a ruffly and lacy dress, raised her hand and said, "In our hearts." The church practically melted. But apparently that wasn't what the preacher was thinking about - "No," he said (she looked crushed). He continued (and I quote, because I will never forget this - it echoes in my head from time to time) "In the church. God opens up the roof of the church, looks inside and says, 'hello, my people - my junk drawer." Nice. Just like Toastmasters taught ya - always wrap it up with your main point, cuz people are too stupid to think for themselves. Especially little 5 year olds who think God is in their hearts. Sheesh...

Most Unprepared Sermon: This little gem made both me and my mom laugh uncontrollably in the pews. The preacher stood before the congregation, took a dramatic pause, exhaled, and then said, "There's not enough quiet in the world these days (insert various examples of noise). Let's sit in quiet for the next few moments. Amen"

Worst Easter Sermon:
My first position was an assistant for someone who was a self-proclaimed gnostic (another beaut by him was all about being a gnostic). I don't think he believed in much. I could probably fill twenty pages with the crap he preached, but this one was pretty good. Even a parishioner of mine asked me afterwards, "Do you think he really should have preached that on Easter?" I should probably add that his daughter was someone who literally saw and talked to dead people. For the first five minutes, he talked about resurrection and life after death, not bad. But then he decided to describe life after death. His daughter, you see, has talked to people on the other side and told him what it was like. We were with people we loved, even our favorite pets. We lived in beautiful houses, had well-manicured lawns (I am not kidding) and never lacked for anything. We drove our fantasy cars and had the perfect job for us - the one God wanted us to have in life. And we did it well, too. (I am not kidding). So, don't worry about hating your job or what you drive or where you live or if you are starving because in the next life you will get everything you ever wanted. Because that's Jesus' promise to us on this Easter day, when he rose from the dead to give us eternal life. I should also add that I was sitting in the celebrant's chair, which faces the congregation. Needless to say, I was glad I had worked on my poker face the day before.

Worst Baptismal Sermon: Same guy as above- probably all I need to say. The week before, he had read an article about water crystals. You see, these scienticians, er, I mean, scientists, had done an experiment where they grew water crystals. To some of these, they played classical music - to others they played horrible rock music (like ACDC or something). To others they said "I love you" and to others still they yelled obscenities at them over and over. It seems that the crystals that were indulged with love and classical music grew into the most magnificent formations - perfect and symmetrical. The others grew deformed and some were even stunted from growing. You see, that's what happens when we are baptised. We have water poured over us, and we have the living water of Baptism within us. If we listen to rock music or are the receiver of recurrent obscenities, that living water will become deformed within us. But if we hear that we are loved and listen to classical music, then we're okay. It's science. It has to be right. When I looked over at the soon-to-be-baptized-baby's parents' faces, which were white, and whose mouths were hanging wide open. That's right. It's up to you, folks, whether you screw up this kids living water or not. Good luck!

Worst All Saints Sermon:
The guy stood in the pulpit and read the hymn "I sing a song of the saints of God." Said Amen, then sat down.

I know there are more, but I am tired and you are probably tired of reading these.

What are your favorites? Any good ones out there? I know there are worse ones. There have to be!


Proper 28, Year C - Sunday, November 18, 2007

I preached this sermon this morning. (I write for the ear, so if you can't figure out the long rambling, completely grammatically incorrect sentences, try saying them out loud.) Seemed to speak to the masses. Honestly, I was preaching it to myself, but isn't that usually the case?

There are times, when I am standing in front of a huge stack of dishes or staring at the unbelievable pile of laundry in the basement that I find myself totally unable to move, immobilized by the overwhelming task at hand.

I start to panic, thinking about ALL the THINGS I have to do, how there’s never enough time, and in the split second before I start making my lists or plowing into the work I am motionless, not knowing even where to start.

Paul warns us this morning to steer clear of idleness, or disorder, as the Greek would say. But we don’t have to be warned. We already know that being idle is bad – the message is all around us. That is why we busy ourselves doing things, working hard, cramming in exercise and sleep and maybe time for ourselves when there is nothing else to do or no one else to demand from us.

To be idle is to stop moving and in our fast-paced world those who stop or go too slow in the wrong lane are tailgated and bullied out of the way. And so, while we scurry around keeping from being idle or are pushed out of the way if we’re not fast enough we watch as parts of our lives lay seedless because while we do … do … do, what we are … (apart from that doing) is eroding before our eyes.

The problem is that those things which are demanded of us from the outside are often very important – vital, even and rarely can be put on hold. Those things that are demanded of us from the inside – from our very depths – they are easier, for some reason, to push aside. They are drowned out by all the other noise around us and by all the work we HAVE to do. Our inner needs are easier to overlook and neglect, and the still small voice that is God, the still urging that freezes us just before we rush into doing more STUFF – that spirit that moves with in us to keep from being idle – gets neglected. And that’s why we’re tired and stressed, worn thin and too darn BUSY.

There will always be too much to do. There will always be more need than we can ever satiate. There will always be potential that is not realized. There will always be a great vastness that we can never fully fill. And the temptation will either be to freeze, unsure of what to do or where to begin. Or to push our needs aside and go back to the mindless minutia that soothes us into believing that when we do stuff, we are accomplishing great things.

Either temptation – to freeze or to put aside our needs – is dangerous because they both lead to idleness. Don’t be fooled into believing that business is the opposite of idleness. Business only covers up our spiritual and internal laziness. Doing stuff – getting things done – is rewarding because we have a product; we can see the results. But the work of the soul, the hard work of the spirit, that is much harder to pinpoint concretely. Those results take time, are slow to reveal themselves, and don’t have much value in the world. And so we put it off, in favor of getting something done.

The other problem is that nurturing ourselves, the person God created so long ago, and nurturing our relationship with God is a demanding and overwhelming task, especially if we haven’t done it in a while.

I read a story about a monk who went to his monsignor in despair because he was so far behind in his prayers that he was afraid he would never catch up. The monsignor replied with this story:

A man had a plot of land that had become a wilderness of thistles and thorns. He decided to cultivate it and said to his son: “Go and clear that ground." But when the son went to clear it, he saw that the thistles and thorns had multiplied. He thought, “It is going to take FOREVER to clear and weed all this" so instead of doing anything he lay on the ground and went to sleep. He did this day after day. When his father found him doing nothing, the son explained his discouragement. The father replied, "Son, if you had cleared each day the area on which you slept, your work would have advanced slowly and you would not have lost heart."

It is easy to become disheartened, to be overwhelmed, but we are called to cultivate our weedy and thorny selves, and our thorny and thistle-y world all the same.

Sometimes I leave those dishes in the sink and watch TV and for an hour. I get lost in some show and forget about the dishes. But when I get up again and walk back in the kitchen, there they are waiting to be cleaned. And the same is true of ourselves and our relationship with God. We might avoid it for a while, but the need remains, and God calls us back, begs us to relationship with him, and demands that we grow. And such growth can be scary because while we are digging around in the dirt and pulling up weeds, we might discover things we have hidden or forgotten about for a long time. We might have to admit that we have be negligent, that we have been sleeping, instead of pulling up the weeds and tending the land.

But we need not be afraid.

First of all, God already knows everything – the things we try to hide, the fact that we haven’t prayed as often as we should. God sees everything inside us and he loves us just the same. In fact he loves us because of what we are – those things we have done and those things we have left undone – and he loves who he has created us to be.

Secondly, if we are willing to put our trust in Him he will not let us down. When we trust our busy hands to him and give our idle hearts over to him, He will quiet our hands and strengthen our hearts to do the hard work he calls us to do. The hard work of the soul, of the spirit - loving God, loving our neighbor, and, yes, even loving ourselves. When we trust in him, he helps us to follow the sometimes crooked and rocky path, rather than the one that is straight and easy. He encourages us to get our hands dirty pulling out the weeds that would choke our fertile ground.

He tells us to cast our nets fearlessly into seas that seem to be without fish – those seemingly empty places – the empty pews, the empty purses, the empty hearts and relationships. And when we are willing to cast our nets in places that seem without gain, he gives us the miracle that fills them to the point of bursting. He lets us believe that they will be filled and they are.

If we trust in God, we can take those moments of paralysis and turn them into graceful pauses, where we recognize that still small voice telling us to slow down and focus on what’s important. Not the dishes or the laundry, or that phone call you need to return, or the person whom you can never seem to please, but the One who only wants You, the real you, the one He created and knew even before you were born.

Then we can shift from being ‘mere busybodies’ (as Paul writes) and to live into his will for us; to become that which he created so long ago. Then we can get out of the rut of idleness and live out God’s will for this world – helping those in need, spreading the Gospel without fear, boldly loving as He loves us – one still small moment at a time. Amen.


On the Subject of Dangerous Books and Movies

Or, "My Encounter with the Satanic Bible and A Plot to Kill God"

Years ago, I served as chaplain at a boarding school. One of the staff members called me, having confiscated a copy of The Satanic Bible from one of the students. The staff member, a retired drill sergeant, was very concerned; as a young priest in his first call, I remember a thrill of fear and excitement: my first confrontation with the Evil One! Had we uncovered a coven of practicing Satanists in our midst? I imagined finding myself in a student’s dorm room, chanting, “THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!” while the student projectile-vomited pea soup at me.

I was somewhat disappointed when the drill sergeant handed me a dog-eared paperback. I had pictured something leather-bound (or bound with something worse), covered with ancient sigils, not a mass-market paperback published by Avon. Opening the book was cause for further disappointment. Instead of ancient rituals in an archaic language (Nicol Williamson in Excalibur comes to mind), there are simply instructions on how to be self-centered and self-involved; how to get ahead by stepping on people. It was a frappe of Ayn Rand, Machiavelli, Tyler Durden (minus the wit) and Donald Trump—with, of course, the requisite goatee and upside-down star tattoos. (Also throw in a smattering of Wicca and a lot of pre-Christian symbolism).

Is the Satanic Bible a “Dangerous Book” for boys and girls? Just how dangerous is it to write or read a book that advocates worship of the enemy of all humanity?

There is another book that has been referred my way by concerned parents: The Golden Compass. It is, apparently, a book about killing God—or at least, about challenging an oppressive fictional religious institution. Soon, it will be a movie about killing God—a movie that will be marketed towards children—along with its own line of action figures. Good thing, too, because my brother and I shot up all our Star Wars figures with a BB-gun about 20 years ago.

Did I miss something? Didn’t we already try to kill God a couple thousand years ago? How did that work out for us again? Didn’t God show us that He is willing to take the worst we can throw at him, and still He comes back at us with love and forgiveness?

There will likely be an uproar about The Golden Compass. Christian groups will protest; people will be offended. Somebody will undoubtedly shout, “WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN??” Pat Robertson will organize a Prayer Sunday to reduce ticket sales. The actors involved will be seen as suffering for the cause of secular humanism. Bill O’Reilly will have a field day in between harassment suits. Stand Firm will have a “humorous” article comparing the movie to the Episcopal Church.

All the while, the Christian community will continue to show the rest of the world that it has no confidence in God. We fear that the Satanic Bible will corrupt our youth. We fear that young children, having seen a movie about killing God will go out and actually “try this at home.” We fear that the Gospel message itself is so unappealing that we must actually try to stifle the “competition.” All the while, we are diverted and distracted from preaching the Gospel, because we are so focused on showing everyone else what is wrong with them.

We become so distracted by the sins of others that we miss the true “Dangerous Books” in our midst: The Left Behind series (an utterly non-Biblical account of how Kirk Cameron Saves Christmas, with comic book and movie spinoffs). The Purpose-Driven Life—a really good idea rendered completely unreadable by its host of advertisements and plugs for other Purpose-Driven Products. (If I just buy this Purpose-Driven Bible Reference Card and these Purpose-Driven fuzzy dice for my car, I will be SAVED!!!)

(Yes I have read the books).

We miss the most dangerous, most truly Satanic idea of all—an idea that has derailed the church militant for centuries: we can bring about the coming of the kingdom ourselves, on our own terms, and in our own time. And when (not if, but when) we do so, we ourselves will claim a place at Jesus’ right and left hands. In short, the Most Dangerous Idea is that we are more important—and more effective—than Jesus.

Let the world make its movies about killing God. Let the world publish its Satanic Bibles. We can spend our time reading, studying, and preaching a truly dangerous book—a book that challenges the powers of this world: the Bible.

If we Christians actually ever focused on this dangerous book, we might actually understand what Christ wants us to be about.


When is the Yellow Pages not the Yellow Pages?

When it's the OYP Group.

There is a new scam in town. Relatively new, that is. It targets churches and small businesses.

Here is how it works:

A company called "the OYP Group" or "the Real Yellow Pages" gets your church name from a database and enters you (without contacting you or without your consent) into their business directory. It is a "complementary listing" that is good for one year. This is not the phone book and it is not the local yellow pages, although the representatives deliberately attempt to mislead you into thinking that they are. This company is based in Canada and has several dummy addresses in the United States (usually New York). The OYP group currently has hundreds of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau in just about every state.

At the end of that free year, a person (with poor command of the English language) calls and identifies themselves as being with the Yellow Pages. They ask if you would like to renew your listing in the Yellow Pages. At this point you either say yes or no. Regardless of what you say, your church is now in the next step: invoices.

Your church receives a series of invoices for a two-year listing in this company's "yellow pages." Inquiries made by you are met with evasive language and statements such as "You signed an oral contract."

The next step involves calls from the company. They are legitimate-sounding calls that try to get you to pay the bogus invoice. If the invoice is not paid, your church moves to the next step.

Your church will begin to receive calls from an "Independent Collections Agency" or an "Independent Legal Department." In reality, this person is calling as part of the OYP group--it is an internal call, and there are likely no true lawyers involved. The person will be very understanding, and offer to reduce your invoice and promise not to hurt your church's credit if you pay now. But the offer is only good for that day. If the invoice is not paid, your church moves on to the next step.

(At which point the church has probably already contacted an attorney and reported this scam to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB typically advises that these invoices not be paid, and there has not yet been a recorded case of a business' credit rating suffering from not paying a bogus invoice. The attorney will likely direct the company to direct all further correspondence to him/her).

You will be called regarding the invoice again. The caller will claim to be acting "on your behalf." They will refuse to answer any questions regarding what organization they are with. The caller will tell you that you are not being recorded, but will later hint that you are. As the call goes on, the caller becomes more and more aggressive and will constantly interrupt; the caller will ignore any directives to communicate with your attorney. The caller will attempt to do anything and everything to keep you on the phone. The caller makes threats about your business' credit rating and in some cases, will make other kinds of threats as well. The best thing to do is hang up. (Some people say you can really freak them out by telling them the call is being traced).

As you can guess, our church was contacted by these people. We have been on the "Do Not Call" list for several years. We made no agreements with them. They have wasted a great deal of time (mostly theirs, but some of ours as well) trying to collect on a bogus invoice. Why do these people continue? They must earn enough money from other people to justify continuing the scam.

Why churches? I think it's because churches tend to have higher staff turnover and do not tend to have many safeguards in place--especially when offices are staffed by volunteers or secretaries without much training or experience. Church staff are more likely to be friendly and open to conversation when answering the phone as well.

Why am I posting this? This summary is a mishmash of my own experience and those of numerous colleagues in several denominations, as well as a few news reports. Obviously, it makes sense to agree to nothing over the phone as a rule. There must, however, be enough people who have succumbed to this aggressive scam. Otherwise, why would they continue?

Well, here's my message to the OYP group staff:

When ripping people off stops working out for you, come by a church and do something meaningful with your life.


Calling Lloyd Bentsen!

Bob Duncan:

I read Martin Luther. I studied Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a favorite of mine. Bishop, you're no Martin Luther.


Living in Two Worlds

So, I envisioned myself as this super-intelligent blogger speaking out about all the various political and religious ideas of the day (and I tried...once), rather than someone who constantly talks about the achievements of her children or post recipes for some kind of healthy and hearty bread or whines about the various minutia of my day...

But then I realized I should probably just be myself and talk about my life. So, my posts will probably be more self-indulgent than the other two, but oh well...that's very American, right?

And, as you can see, right now, my life is about juggling my vocation as a priest and my vocation as a mom. Two things I never really had aspirations to be, and can drive me crazy just about every hour of the day. Yet, two things I love doing more than anything else.

I find myself complaining about this pull - between work and family, priesthood and motherhood - because some days it is just so maddening. Like today, for example. We loaded up the car and went to work. For the first two hours of the day, I chased the baby around (who is walking pretty aptly these days), cut up various food for him to eat for lunch, shoved down a sandwich for me, and played in the nursery with him as I checked my email. I attempted to have a meeting with one of my wardens, but that was interrupted by the baby's gleeful screaming as he proceeded to take all the pamphlets for the Free Clinic out of the cabinet and scatter them all over the floor. So, we left the meeting and retired to "our" office, where baby decided to take the push pins (They were on the cork board that was originally on the outside of my door but the double sided-tape failed and it fell to the ground, where some kind soul decided to slip it under my door for a baby to play with.) and shove them in his mouth. Of course, I was busy writing thank you notes for the volunteers that helped with the fund-raising dinner we had the previous Saturday, so I didn't notice until he screamed in pain. So, I asked him to show me what he had in his mouth, and he removed the now bloody push pins from his mouth and, through teary eyes, held them up for me to examine. I am such a bad mom. After he had started crying for the fifth time (and tried to pull the pen from my hand for the twentieth time), I realized he was probably tired, so I closed the black-out curtains in the office, turned out the light and plopped down in the rocking chair. And we both fell asleep.

As he slept in the pack n play, I tried to proof and edit the bulletin for this week - our first Baptism since we arrived (and since the hiring of our most excellent parish administrator) in the pitch black. Not easy to see the black keyboard on this silly dell laptop in the pitch black. I found myself daydreaming about what a great invention it would be to have glow-in-the-dark keys for those late-night, in-the-dark moments on our various keyboards. Maybe that will be the million dollar idea people keep telling me I should have. I made one phone call (whispering in the hallway, so not as to wake the baby), which ended up being a left message. Sat down to make a list of everything I had to do this week during my quarter-time hours (HA HA), put the pen to the paper, and then baby woke up.

And so it goes. And no matter how tempting it is to complain, I actually love it all. I have always loved being a priest because it is a job that is never boring (sometimes so maddening you want to choke yourself and all your parishioners) - with so many angles. I get to be teacher, public speaker, singer, poet, writer, social activist, fund-raiser, manager, conflict resolver - conflict avoider and creator, too - pastor, friend, enemy, secretary...well, you get the idea. I don't like to be bored, so I know this job is for me.

But, I also have the unfortunate need to also be orderly/organized. I like schedules and lists and calendars. I like things put away in the right place (except for my clothes, which tend to lie on the floor of my closet for weeks at a time). I like to know what I am doing and what I am doing next. And when it was just me, when I was working alone in my office, I could control that all.

But with baby, it is impossible (and not just at work). And there are days when it drives me crazy. When I leave the office and think - what the hell did I do and why did I even come in today? And there are days when I wonder why am I even trying to work and be a mom and take care of our house and..? And if I continue on that path, I will be driven crazy.

Because while I could finish everything I wanted to get done when I was alone - I was still alone. I wasn't watching this amazing child change every day - learn new things, start to say words, laugh and play and look to me for love and approval. I might have been involved in various diocesan committees and task forces. But I didn't have the opportunity to hold my beautiful baby in my arms and think about nothing else in the world. And while I could check off my lists and see all my appointments nicely written in my Episcopal calendar, I was more bored than I knew. I took this job because I wanted to be with my baby (and work with my husband). I didn't want to deal with babies and daycare or working all the time and giving what was left over (if any) to my family. I was tired of suburbia and that constant drive to do more, be more, have more. I wanted to have the best of all worlds. And so, I am working on appreciating my multi-faceted life. And when it gets crazy, I try to remember to grab hold of the horns and just stay on as long as I can.

I am lucky. I can live into the various calls God has handed to me. The call to the priesthood that I knew with every cell in my body was right as all those priests and friends laid their hands on me. The call to motherhood, which has been a slowly refining call, that feels so naturally a part of me. And I am working on loving having it all. Isn't that what we all say we want anyway?


She Blinded Me With ... Science? Or, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate the Gays."

I am a Washington Redskins fan. I have been since I was 8 years old. That right there ought to tell you something about my devotion to a cause. I was there when the heavily-favored Redskins got tromped by the Oakland Raiders in the Superbowl (as a 10-year-old, that was the first true crisis of faith I ever experienced). Through thick and thin, I have backed the ‘Skins—even when the Pats beat them 52-7. Many of my friends feel the same way about their given sports team, be it the Green Bay Packers or the Boston Red Sox--they may be doing well now, but both have had their share of setbacks. (How my wife managed to write her sermon and yell for the Sox at the same time last Saturday night, I’ll never know, but it was a great sermon!)

If only we Americans stood by our moral values as firmly as we do our favorite teams. As a recent report from Christian News Wire tells us, we Yankee sheep are more prone to back the winning horse than the ethical horse.

This opinion piece is a real, well, piece of work: Love Isn’t Enough: 5 Reasons Why Same-Sex Marriage Will Harm Children. Normally I wouldn’t give any credence to such a clearly biased opinion piece, but after checking on the source, and reading her other writings, I have concluded that it is only a matter of time before we see this woman on Fox News, being touted by Rick Sanchez as an “expert.” Another in a long line of people who are to scared or stupid to say what they really think, so they take a position they believe to be held by the majority of society.

The author, Dr. Trayce L. Hansen, makes only one point I agree with—at least halfway: “Men and women bring diversity to parenting; each makes unique contributions that can't be replicated by the other.” I have never tried breastfeeding my son—I just don’t think my man-boobs are up to it. I’m quite happy to leave that one to my wife.

My wife and I do bring diversity to parenting—but that diversity has less to do with the difference in our gender than it has to do with the difference in our personalities. We problem-solve differently, we come from different families, and we have different backgrounds.

Dr. Hansen tries to separate mother and father based on the type of love each is uniquely capable of showing. A mother’s love is “unconditional-leaning,” while a father’s love is “conditional-leaning.” Dr. Hansen fails to explain these new terms, but I’m guessing that the “conditional” loving father is the type who screams at his kid during soccer games; the type who only remembers to show affection on those rare occasions when his son makes him proud. A mother’s “unconditional-leaning” love, on the other hand, means that she will probably stare at her lap while her husband screams at her son, and later hold him in private, trying to explain that “Dad didn’t really mean to scare/scream at/hit you.” (She also loves her husband so unconditionally that she wouldn’t dare to challenge his parenting decisions.)

Dr. Hansen’s view of parenting is pretty narrow, and it fails to stand up to even the most casual application to the real world. Most halfway-functional fathers deeply love their children, and would take exception to that love being labeled as conditional. Most mothers (at least the ones I have met in the course of 5 years of youth ministry) would also agree that Dr. Hansen’s attempt to categorize parental love is laughable. The vast majority of mothers and fathers love their children, and that love is beyond measure or condition.

So, if Dr. Hansen is unable to describe heterosexual marriage, how can she claim to be an authority on same-sex relationships?

Let’s consider the source: “Dr.” Hansen likes to play on topics that provoke an emotional or hormonal response: Andrea Yates, 9/11, child-molesting priests, gay marriage, and incest. And, yup, she takes the stand that would do a neoconservative proud. Hansen continues to prove that psychology is indeed a soft science. She begins each of her arguments from a supposition she never attempts to back up. Homosexuality is an undesirable choice. The Catholic priesthood harbors a large number of homosexual predators, and there is a conspiracy to force journalists to cover this up with misleading language. Feminists are bad.

Here’s my favorite:

After nearly one year of reflection, most Americans, including President George W. Bush, still see the events of September 11, 2001 in stark, black-and-white terms. This widely shared viewpoint is that America was unjustifiably attacked that day by evil, worldly forces, or as the president declared, by “evil-doers.” This simple—not simplistic—type of thinking is morally and psychologically healthy and lays the foundation for an appropriate response. Unfortunately, the majority’s perspective is not shared by all.

A stark, black-and-white worldview was also shared by the Jihadists who piloted the airplanes on that day. A morally, psychologically healthy worldview, Dr. Hansen? How would you respond to an American soldier in Baghdad who has had to learn the painful lesson that not every Iraqi is your enemy, and not every American is your friend? How would you diagnose someone who has seen the shades of grey in the world?

Dr. Hansen goes on to state that anyone who dissents from the President must logically deny that evil exists in the world:

The answer is that these dissenters, rather than viewing evil as the end result of moral choice and free will, as most Americans do, deny that it even exists.

Pacifism, on the other hand, is “morally and psychologically problematic.” To quote Marge Simpson, “I don’t even know where to begin telling you what’s wrong with that.”

I’ve stopped rambling and come to the point: Dr. Hansen is ill. Perhaps she needs to find a colleague—one who attended a strong university, and not a DeVry-equivalent—and spend some time on the couch. She has chosen her radical right-wing viewpoints not because she believes in them, but because she is siding with the majority. I can just hear Caiaphas singing to Judas, “You’ve backed the right horse!” Dr. Hansen takes specious argument to an art form.

Why am I even bothering to talk about this hack? Because she is exhibiting behavior common to some Americans who wish to claim they are in the majority. Go to msnbc.com and read some of the comments on the “What do You Think?” section. You can find the Trayce Hansen’s of the world there, too. They spout hateful, racist, bigoted messages, and have screen names like, “I_LOVE_AMERICA,” or “GOD_BLESS_OUR_TROOPS.” Implying, of course, if you disagree with their hatemongering, then you must hate America, and you must hope that God does not bless our troops. Dr. Hansen might have found a school willing to sell her a PhD, but it only makes her a slightly more highbrow “AMERICA_RULZ!”

SO, if you read through Dr. Hansen's website, here is her recommendation for being a mature, mentally healthy adult: Hate feminists, gays, and pacifists; Love whatever is popular.

In short, here is Dr. Trayce Hansen’s prescription for psychological health:

Vote Neoconservative!


My attempt at something somewhat intelligent...not really

I have wanted to post something for a while - something thoughtful and intelligent and meaningful. But my days are filled with poopy diapers; drooling, teething, whining; and little sleep. None of which helps me make any kind of sense in my own head let alone in the bloggosphere where at least two other people may read it.

My day today went like this...

Me: "Put it down"
Baby: "Maaaa maaaa ma ma ma, nay nay nay No!"
(I take it out of his hand and turn back to paying the bills)
One minute later...
Me: "What do you have in your mouth"
Baby: (pulling out a dead beetle from his mouth and holding it out for me to see) "Nay Nay Nay...No"

He's learned No, as you can see. Shaking his head, and getting very good at vocalizing the word. He'll go up to the light socket and shake his head. Now, do you think that means he'll stop himself from touching it? Nay nay nay nay No. He's only one. I can't really fault him for it.

So, as I have probably somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes of quiet (naptime for now), I will try to get at least one thing off my chest (start your timers....Now)

I have to admit I haven't read any of the HOB statements. I am trying to reread the Harry Potter series (because the ending just didn't do it for me), but I only get about ten minutes here and there to read anything, and Harry Potter seems far more interesting and satisfying than Episcopal Church stuff right now. I won't add to what the other two have added here - both very thoughtful and intelligent - because I will just sound stupid.

What I have been thinking about is all this crap that has come up again regarding women's ordination (on various conservative blogs they can't even stomach to use the words, instead choosing to refer to "it" as "WO"). Woe is me... I remember people telling me that it was women who had the hardest time with other women being ordained. At first that really surprised me. How could women be so unsupportive of other women - aren't we all in the same struggle together? But then I was something like 11 years old, and didn't really know how evil women can be to each other. The next year I learned very quickly how nasty girls can be in middle school gym class. The biggest critics of me when I was going through the "process" to become ordained (and my first year of ordained life) were women - specifically OLDER women. I listened politely for twenty minutes as one priest lectured me on why I needed to use the title "Mother" (thus my user name) - which I have always hated, but hated that much more after that lovely encounter. I remember one meeting (in a ladies room of all places) where another priest commented on the state of my shoes, and laughing as she left. Of course, she was wearing PENNY LOAFERS (with a penny in them), which went out of style like 20 years ago.

Oh...and stop your watches...the baby is awake. (That has to be a record for shortness.)

See? I told you. I guess I will continue this later...

I have relocated to the dark confines of the baby's room - hoping my mere presence will let him sleep for a few more minutes. A nasty brown stink bugs is buzzing around me. Sounds something like what's happening in the Anglican Communion...but I digress from my previous digression about penny loafers and such.

Okay I was wrong. Baby is awake for good. I will have to try again one of these days.

Pop Quiz, Hotshots!

Ok, so my last post was way too serious. Now for a little lighthearted fun. No disrespect is intended (well, maybe just a little). Here is a pop quiz for all those who have been following the news in ECUSA and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Instructions: View each pair of pictures and answer the questions provided.


Which one of the above is a megalomaniacal evil genius motivated by a lust for power?

And which one is Dr. Evil?


Which of the above pictures depicts two shady individuals plotting the fate of millions?
And which one is Dr. Evil and Number 2?


Which of the above pictures depicts a secretive cabal of villains, cackling over their nefarious schemes?

And which one is Dr. Evil and his henchmen?
4. Extra Credit: In the image below, who is Archbishop Akinola about to give the middle finger to?

a. Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori

b. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

c. anyone concerned about the human rights of gays in Nigeria

d. The worldwide Anglican Communion

e. You! That's right, you! I don't like you and I'm coming for you next!

Well, as you may have guessed, there is really only one way to fail this pop quiz: if you take it seriously.

Where men are men and sheep are scared

According to a blogger named Greg Griffith, there is finally a place where men can feel free to be men.

(Hint: he's not talking about the local gay bar).

I am normally reluctant to cast stones at another--particularly people like the folks at this blog, as calling them out only inflates their sense of GRAND IMPORTANCE in the world. However, several sources (Including Fr. Jake, the Anglican Scotist) have pointed out some very disturbing comments by commenters, contributors, and the manager of the blog. Forgive me if I’m a little intense, but unlike Mr. Griffith and his friends, I don’t think that threats of violence are a laughing matter. Here it is, in a nutshell:

(original thread is here; it’s a response to some notes from the House of Bishops Meeting and anger at the Presiding Bishop; I’m not fully schooled in blog code yet, so I’ll just reproduce the more violent comments verbatim—boldface emphases are mine. You are welcome, if you can stomach it, to take a gander at the entire thread):

Greg Griffith wrote:
I’m already reaching for my pistol…

Bigjimintx wrote:
P.S. Texas is a “concealed carry” state. No telling who was packing heat in the meeting.

Virg wrote:
“they don’t realize most of us have guns, know how to use them and nobody’s gonna mess with our bishops!...”
At last…a perfect solution to all this bickering going on in the church. We’ll just kill the sobs.

Frances Scott wrote:
Frankly, Mr. Maxwell, I wouldn’t waste a bullet on [the Presiding Bishop].

Greg Griffith wrote:
I won’t criticize those who think the best course is to play the pacifist, but they shouldn’t find fault with those who want to pick up their sword along with their trowel.

Greg then responds to a critic:
The only way you can visit SF and come away thinking “all testosterone blazing,” is to have spent WAY too much time in the extreme, hyper-feminine wing of the Episcopal church. You and Jake’s girls need to get out into the real world more often. You know… experience more diversity.

Greg then responds to the outrage his statements have caused at Fr. Jake’s blog:
While I appreciate your advice about watching our p’s and q’s, I refuse to conform my posts to the delicate sensibilities of Jake and his gals. This will always be a place where men can feel free to be men… the kind of place our church used to be, once upon a time.

It is a common tactic of the self-styled reasserters at Mr. Griffith’s website to use words and phrases that provoke an emotional response: feminist, gay agenda, extreme, Louie Crew, Jack Spong, Bishop Pike, etc. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone being called a “girl” since my grade school days. (What’s next, Greg? Gonna call me a poopy-pants?) Those tactics have garnered Mr. Griffith a large audience (although the commenters seem to be restricted to the same 7 or 8 people), and he’s welcome to continue to use them (the people and the tactics). If these threats are truly indicative of how their web community feels, then Stand Firm is indeed a place where men are men; and the sheep who follow the website contributors do so out of fear.

There are two possibilities here:
Mr. Griffith was just joking and it was all in good fun. He had no idea that the talk of guns, violence, and misogyny was in the least bit threatening or harmful.
Mr. Griffith knew exactly what he was doing.

Either way, this is yet another example of religion used as a tool for stirring up anger and violence against a minority. (Yes, in the Church, ordained women are a minority, and gays even more so). Maybe I am giving this website too much power, but I think that straight white males (including me) have more than enough power in the church and in the world. (What we need to do about that is going to have to wait for another post, but, in a word, “surrender.”)

Words are powerful, and those with any power must be gracious and noble with their use.

After all, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” However, given the name of his website and his “manly” nature, I think Mr. Griffith would better enjoy Darrell Hammond’s SNL interpretation:

“The Penis Mightier.”

Yep. After all, the name of Greg’s website, “Stand Firm in Faith,” has some obvious allusions to old Priapus and his domain in the Greek pantheon. What Greg espouses is not the pinnacle of being created in God’s image, but its opposite—“manliness” at its basest form—the manliness that keeps women in their place in the kitchen; the manliness that espouses rape; the manliness that makes men into lesser beings.

It doesn’t matter where in the world you live. It’s dangerous to be gay—more dangerous in some areas than others. It is also dangerous to be a woman in many parts of the world (and many parts of our nation). Let’s not heap more verbal or physical violence on them than they already must endure.

Lesbians are frequently gang-raped and murdered in South Africa. The idea is apparently to either “turn” them or kill them. Gays in Nigeria are arrested simply for being what they are.

Oh, and let’s not forget Matthew Shepard. This “church” would be only too happy to tell you where Matthew is spending his life. (This link is not for the faint of heart or the easily angered). Contributors to Stand Firm have said, on numerous occasions, that not only are the gays going to hell, but so is anyone who shelters them. Shame on the fearmongerers!

I hope Mr. Griffith would express his shock and horror at such crimes. However, by his comments (and those he has allowed to remain on their site), he has effectively taken one giant step beyond the mere language of violence. When is it EVER OK, acceptable, even laudable to joke about using guns; when is it ever manly to insult someone by calling them a girl? This is the same language used by those who support the jailing, rape, and murder of gays and lesbians. And Mr. Griffith thinks it’s funny. Just havin’ a little fun.

I wonder what Mr. Griffith’s wife thinks about all this? I wonder what the women who contribute to Mr. Griffith’s blog think about his statements?

Violence + misogyny + self-righteousness + homophobia +humor=?

Apparently that is Mr. Griffith’s definition of a real man, Anglican style.

I’m not making a “slippery slope” argument here; nor am I attacking a “reasserter” view of the Bible; nor am I making any attempt to defend inappropriate tactics used by progressive Christians. I am calling on Mr. Griffith to repent of his words, and of those he has encouraged on his website.

After all, Mr. Griffith, it takes a real man to admit his mistakes.

So what does it mean?

Following the House of Bishops' response to the Primates last week, the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates has issued a report making recommendations to the Primates and to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

First is an acknowledgement of the hard work and due diligence of the House of Bishops, and I must agree. Given the diversity of opinions, and the sheer weight of individual agendas, for them to have come to some agreement (though not unanimous) is a blessing. Despite what others may say (such as one blogger who is convinced that the HoB is demon possessed - no link provided on purpose), the HoB is trying to do its best with the difficult situation here in the Episcopal Church.

Second is an outright acceptance of the work. Yes, that's right - read it.

"By their answers to these two questions, we believe that the Episcopal Church has clarified all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them in the Windsor Report, and on which clarifications were sought by 30th September 2007, and given the necessary assurances sought of them."

The JSC accepts the work that we have done, accepts the moratoria and the apologies that we have made, and commends it all to the Archbishop, to the Primates, and to the whole Communion by extension.

But wait, there's more:

For the first time the JSC acknowledges the hardships placed upon us by the "incursions" of foreign bishops into the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church.

"We feel obliged to note that the House of Bishops makes a point here which needs to be addressed urgently in the life of the Communion. In appealing to the statements of Lambeth Conferences and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church is reminding all Anglicans that we are committed to upholding the principle of local jurisdiction. Not only do the ancient councils of the Church command our respect on this question, but the principle was clearly articulated and defended at the time when the very architecture of the Anglican Communion was forged in the early Lambeth Conferences, as well as being clearly re-iterated and stated in more recent times as tensions have escalated."

But, as though that needed clarification - because obviously it does! - the report goes on to cite several examples where the primates in their own words, and the Windsor Report, clearly calls for the incursions to cease. And as if that wasn't clear enough, the report uses their OWN words against them:

"As a Joint Standing Committee, we do not see how certain primates [read, Moses Tay of South East Asia, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, and Peter Akinola of Nigeria] can in good conscience call upon The Episcopal Church to meet the recommendations of the Windsor Report while they find reasons to exempt themselves from paying regard to them. We recommend that the Archbishop remind them of their own words and undertakings."

Finally, of some interest, is a second call from the Anglican Communion for the current litigations to be suspended. Why?

The answer, my friends, is that the Gospel calls us to reconciliation. Say it with me: rek-uhn-sil-ee-ey-shuhn.

In the original communique from Dar es Salaam, the Primates asked that both parties give "assurances that no steps will be taken to alienate property from The Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of that property to those congregations."

And the JSC writes, "Unless some measure of reassurance and security is given to those congregations, parishes, bishops and dioceses ... there will be no reconciliation either within The Episcopal Church or within the wider Anglican Communion."

Yes, folks. They're talking about putting down the guns, calling a truce - or at least a cease fire - and continuing in the apostles teaching, fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. And we can do this without agreeing with one another!

Recently, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburg opened the "Common Cause Council of Bishops" meeting by saying, "Our shortcoming is not 'right Faith.' Our shortcoming is 'right Order' and 'right mission.'" - addressing, of course, a group of people whom he was comfortable agreeing with - other evangelicals.

Of course he's going to say that "right faith" isn't as important as "right order" and "right mission."

But I wonder - what would our current situation have been like if they had taken this approach from the beginning? What if they could deal with the tension of unlike beliefs (not discordant faith), and instead work for "right order" and "right mission"?

I find it hard to accept their words at face value. And I guarantee that the rhetoric will change from this point on. Now that we've conceded and apologized - placing a stand-still on future actions, waiting on the Holy Spirit to bring about a deeper consensus on these issues - they have nothing to fight with us about... unless they change the arguement.

They won't put down their guns. They won't call a cease-fire. They have too much to lose: Bishops have been made (Minns) and power has been grabbed, and they fear losing that.


A Prayer, a Thank-You, and a Question for our GLBT brothers and sisters

The Bishops have done what they can (see the statement here) in New Orleans. Once again, we are asking a much-oppressed group in our midst—within the body of Christ—to wait.

Contrast the patient, faithful participation of the GLBT Episcopalians with the grasping, greedy behavior of Akinola, Iker, Duncan, Ackerman, etc. I think it’s pretty clear where Jesus is in our midst. We (TEC) do not deserve the faithful presence of those who are most demeaned and dishonored in our church.

Thus, a prayer from our BCP for GLBT persons everywhere in the world who have been victims of violence of any type, and for those who have simply been asked, again, to wait:

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(Now I know our little corner of the blog-o-verse isn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar-yet-but I’m hoping some visitors will comment-respectfully, please):

To our GLBT brothers and sisters: thank you for showing God’s grace to the rest of us. My question for you is this: in light of what happened (and didn’t happen) in New Orleans, how are you doing?


Christmas in September? By No Means!

My brothers and I would explode into action at about 5 a.m. on Christmas morning—much to the chagrin of our mother, who had been playing the organ at the midnight service just a few hours ago. We would sneak downstairs (which, in a 100+ -year-old house is not a silent experience), hoping to catch just a peek around the corner into the darkened living room. The first light of dawn would give us glimpses of reflections from wrapping paper and tinsel. Our father would take a great deal of time brushing his teeth and going into the kitchen to make large quantities of freshly-squeezed orange juice (mostly to play up the waiting). We were not allowed to set one foot downstairs until Dad was good and ready. The four of us sat on the stairs for what seemed like hours, and to be honest, those moments of huddling, waiting, guessing, and barely containing our excitement—those moments of wonder at what might be revealed—well, those are my best memories of Christmases past. (I remember the waiting and the closeness with my brothers far better than any of the gifts we received).

For Episcopalians (and Anglicans) around the world, this is also a time of intense waiting and expectation. The House of Bishops will have crafted their response to the Dar Es Salaam communiqué from the Primates (and its “deadline” of September 30) sometime this afternoon. Bloggers from all ends of the spectrum are waiting to see what will be revealed. Many (especially the more homophobic bloggers) are simply waiting to pass yet another judgment upon the Episcopal Church. It brings to mind a child who rushes into a room full of presents, unwrapping without a care, as he already knows what will be revealed—he has become accustomed to receiving everything he demands from overindulgent parents, and he is simply looking to find some way in which they have wronged him yet again.

Shoot, it brings to mind Veruca Salt:

I want the world
I want the whole world
I want to lock it all up in my pocket
It's my bar of chocolate
Give it to meNow!

I want today
I want tomorrow
I want to wear 'em like braids in my hair
And I don't want to share 'em

I want a party with room fulls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don't get the things I am after
I'm going to scream!

Others have taken a more balanced approach (thank you, Fr. Jake, and forgive me for paraphrasing you):

What will follow September 30?
October 1st.
And not much else.

The fate of the Church, and the quality of our days together that will follow, will depend largely on our response to what is revealed (and not as much on the actual content of the revelation). Can we remain committed to staying in relationship? Can we commit to finding a way forward together? Can we commit to discerning God’s will together? Can we do all these things without excluding the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters? Or will we simply mirror the world around us by splintering off into polarized and isolated factions?

Again: the content of the Bishops’ response will be important—but it will not be nearly as earth-shattering (and earth-CHANGING) as the response of a faithful Church. It is most likely that the Bishops will challenge us to offer acceptance and full inclusion to the GLBT faithful; it is also likely that we will be challenged to work with those with whom we disagree. If we can survive the sensationalism of the media that will report on this meeting; if we can survive the spin of the ultra-polarized “Angry-cans,” then we may truly wonder at what has yet to be revealed (on this issue today, and in the years to come). I think, in the end, that what TEC has to say will sound suspiciously like the Gospels. Imagine that!

Pray for our Bishops. Pray for all in relationship with the Episcopal Church. Most importantly, pray for our gay brothers and sisters, whose life in the church will be most affected by the events in the coming years.

In the days to come, I think we will hear that tomorrow does not belong to us.

We will hear that, contrary to what some may say, there are no bad eggs in God’s Church.

In the end, I think those who are actually listening will hear something wonderful.