"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

31 October 2010

Autumn Sunset

To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray,
That with thy wonted favor thou,
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.
From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night,
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.
Father this we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ thine only Son,
Whow with the Holy Ghost, and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.
A memo from my middle son, who calls himself the "Bunny Whisperer"... All spelling and punctuation is in the original document. Anyway, without further ado in case you ever need to know this stuff:

how to hipnotis a bunny
1. find a bunny that likes to be upsidedown
2. flip it upsidedown
3. wait for 30 seconds
4. it will be hipnotised.

Yes, he did this yesterday, but not with one of our bunnies. Ours are, clearly, too strong willed for hypnosis. But he seriously had a bunny in his lap, still as if it were a toy, feet in the air, for half an hour yesterday.

Seriously, I can't make this stuff up! Someone from the 4-H got a picture, but I don't have a copy. Alas.

29 October 2010

Pure Awesomeness

I'm very pleased with my teenage son. Helping in a tae kwon do demo today, he managed to get kicked, not once, but three times in the same finger. He was holding boards for kids who had not studied martial arts to break. Getting your finger smashed between someone's foot and a pine board isn't fun.

Of course, I had no idea it even happened. I was in another part of the room, doing other things. But afterward, he came to me for sympathy. His finger was swollen. Poor kid.

But the show goes on. Next thing I knew, he was doing his bo staff pattern. A little off his game but only he and I really knew. It must have been hard to keep a grip on that swinging stick with a swollen and painful finger.

I splinted it, but he's in now typing up his homework. I wish I had the resillience of a teenager.

Needless to say, martial arts is good for him. I think, after today, I will stop worrying quite so much about his future. He'll turn out alright. In a lot of ways he already has.

25 October 2010

Vines and Branches

By reason of circumstance, I find myself pondering out the John 15 narrative of Jesus as the true vine and us as the branches. I guess it is what my friend Paul referrs to as a blinding flash of the obvious, but there's more to this passage than the idea of being attached onto Jesus. There's a profound statement here about community, who we are, not just who I am.

I think we like to imagine that we are the vine, and Jesus is the soil. We're rooted in Christ, we say. We take our nourishment directly from him. Me and my Jesus. We're tight, me and him, we like to believe.

But when we do that, we promote ourselves into his place. I am the vine, not Jesus.

But if Jesus is the true vine, we are still tight with him, still taking our nourishment from him. But the image is less individual. We are not one by one rooted in the soil, but we are all part of one whole, of which he is the center, the support, the source. All nourishment still comes through and from him, but we are not individually rooted, we are grafted in, one by one still, but all grafted into the same source. One source, one life, one vine.

If Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, we also look like him. When we promote ourselves to vine and say we're rooted in Jesus (as the soil), we excuse ourselves from bearing resemblance to the source. But the vine has the same texture, only greater, bears the same leaves, only more. The vine bears the same nature as the branches, but reaches farther, nourishes the branches, supports the whole structure.

There is no idividualism in branch-ness as there is in vine-ness. Jesus can, as the vine, exist on his own, without us. But as the branch, we have no life in our selves. As the branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine... you know the passage. I suppose there are other vines that exist apart from the true vine, but what sort of fruit do the bear? Only the true vine endures.

I don't really know why I'm blogging this, except as a way of thinking out loud. I guess the revelation that modern individualism does promote us to being our own vine, and that if Jesus must be the vine then such individualism is heresy. I guess I'm just trying, yet again, to get into the ancient mind.

Just fooling around...

Some interesting (yes, digitally manipulated) photography. Nothing to write home about, but I thought I'd post them here.

I want a rug like this. Except that a custom rug would probably cost a fortune; so much for that idea. This was originally a tree. It was a cool tree, but the sailboat behind it was a little out of focus. meh.

Some sort of flower I found in Canada. The original picture was cool too...

Okay, cool in a sort of boring here's a random flower kind of way. I guess if I'm posting pictures of Canadian flowers I ought to post this one:

Halifax Public Gardens, September 2010

20 October 2010

Market-Driven Evangelism

My good friend Robert Munday posts on his blog that the liberal attempt at religion
"hasn't worked. The Brave New World doesn't need chaplains. A purely horizontal "gospel" overlaid with a religious veneer just isn't appealing to anyone. If people want to support gay rights and the Millennium Development Goals, all they have to do is vote Democrat, and they can sleep in or take the kids to soccer on Sunday morning. And they can probably feel better after a Yoga session, an hour of transcendental meditation, a walk on the beach, or a work-out at the gym than they will after a service at the typical liberal church."

He's right. It hasn't worked. There's nothing in culture driven Christianity that isn't already in the culture, and people under fifty tend to enjoy sleeping in on Sundays. The liberal church offers nothing to get out of bed for. The harried parents of young children like their sleep. The active nightlifer with no kids needs a Sunday recovery day before returning to the work week. The busy parents of teens run all weekend and sure don't want the school day conflict of dragging their weary kids out of bed to bleed over into their Sunday. And for those who do enjoy the morning there are options, newspapers and coffee, golf, hobbies, outings. There is too much to compete with church for those whose hearts aren't really in it anyway.

But as a church, we've taught the people not to put their heart in it. It's not just a liberal problem. When we tailor worship to the tastes of the people, we subtly tell them, 'its all about you' and 'if you don't like it, we don't expect you to come.' Probably one of the most tiresome remarks I hear in churches is when the older members (there's a profile here, usually women, older but not elderly) begin to say "we need more young people here." That's the first sign of impending doom. Usually they don't really want more conversions, they really do just want more younger people. It's a painfully obvious assessment which more bluntly put means "we're afraid that the church can't stay open long enough to outlive us and give us a nice funeral unless there are more people here who are younger than I am." In some places, the sentiment is almost predatory... and anyone under the age of about forty or fifty will sense the self-serving sentiment. At the same time, many of these people make no effort to bring their own families, their grown children and their grandchildren, to Christ.

The next step in the descent is the idea that we should change worship (usually not "our" worship but to offer a second, contemporary service, at no cost to the old guard, of course... the clergy do all that work) to meet the perceived tastes of the desireable under forty crowd. (The most appalling I ever heard was the suggestion that to attract "young people" our congregation "should have a polka band in here or something." yeah, that's something!) We start to use "their" music, and language and culture, without realizing that they can get those things without the bother of church. At the very worst, and this is where the liberal side becomes obvious in their failure, we begin to use their "gospel." Never realizing that we aren't offering them something they don't already have.

Gen X (GenY, GenZ, and whatever we're calling the gaggle of young-uns running around in our world without Jesus) needs the real Gospel with its sense of counter-culture (to feul in a more holy way our pre-existing sense of rebellion), real community and connectedness, and a sense of transcendence. In a world casting about for answers, we would do well to pay attention to the actual questions instead of repackaging the same old emptiness.

Evangelism is no longer about attracting to your congregation a population that is culturally expected to attend one church or another. Those days are gone, if they ever existed at all. Evangelism must now be about learning what the questions are, digging in, being relational and incarnational, and giving the answers that only the Gospel offers. Some people won't hear it, there are hard words in there. But the ones who are really casting about for the answers are out there. Taking the time to dwell with people, to know and love them, these things will almost always be a blessing to the church, even if they don't result in more people to warm our pews.

16 October 2010

Better Left Unsaid

This evening, I picked up the TEC-Pittsburgh Bishop Price’s report to diocesan Convention.  Yes, many months have passed, but I still feel the need to see how TEC’s convention went: which of my friends were elected to offices, how things are shaping up (for better or worse) for the year ahead, etc.  It only takes a Facebook comment or two from a friend on the “other side” for me to be aware that Convention is a-coming, so off I go to hit the website. 

And tonight, I found Price’s address… his early remarks, which I will attend in a moment, were followed quickly with ideas about moving forward, ending suspicions and hostilities among factions in TEC.  I’m very sorry to hear that my friends in TEC-PGH are not experiencing the unity and peace we have had in ACNA-PGH.  Of course, knowing the range of folks who stayed in TEC, one can expect anything but boredom; nonetheless, I am sure many are battle weary.

But why, oh why, if he wanted to foster an atmosphere of reconciliation, did Bishop Price open up with remarks including the following:

“Certainly the lawsuit initiated by Calvary Parish and its rector, the Rev. Harold Lewis, is a huge reason. We need to be eternally grateful to that wonderful parish and its rector.”  I suppose, in the TEC world of lawsuits, that one can become hardened to the point of ignorance of the Scripture’s command against Christians suing other Christians in the courts.  I suppose, considering our lawsuit loving American culture that it is easy to forget that churches suing churches make for public relations nightmares.  But at the very least, does Bishop Price not understand that some of the very people sitting before him were people originally named as defendants in that lawsuit?  Does he not understand that individual priests and laity, people just trying to love Jesus, some of whom stayed in TEC and were in the room with him had liens against their very homes and were personally sued because of an act of conscience taken in good faith?   Does he not understand that some of the hurt and suspicions he has noticed among the factions of the TEC diocese are in fact rooted in part in that lawsuit?  Wonderful?  Grateful?  He’s either woefully ignorant or out of his mind. 

But the bishop goes on:

“We are not without our challenges, however. Although all the dioceses have their former bishop still living in the diocese, Bishop Duncan has been elected Archbishop of the Anglican Province of North America, which gives him greater visibility and clout on the global scene. I continue to interact with him regularly in ecumenical circles, and our shared use of this Trinity Cathedral also throws us together from time to time. This interaction has been cordial thus far, but there is a surrealistic dimension to it.” 

Yes, I imagine this is pretty surreal for you.  The House of Bishops to which you belong waved its magic wand, but the victim refuses to go poofing away.   But why on earth did you need to include those words “thus far” in describing your interactions with Archbishop Duncan.   Why not simply be gracious without qualifying the word “cordial”.  The only time I’ve heard Archbishop Duncan speak on the subject, he had nothing but kind words for you. 

Bishop Price, if you are working to end an atmosphere of suspicion, you are shooting yourself in the foot.  I suggest you consider leading by example.  Try to see the best in your nearest ecclesiastical neighbors and stop qualifying your compliments.  If you want to end suspicions among your own flock, stop describing their former colleagues and life-long friends with qualifiers.  If things have been cordial, simply say so.  We, in return, will strive to offer you the same dignity and good will.

Finally to my friends in TEC, please know that the one matter on which your bishop was most grievously wrong was this one:

“What this has revealed is that while there is lingering anger, hurt, and tension generated by the losses this diocese suffered in 2008, not the least of which are losses of friendships and long-standing relationships…”  He’s right that there’s been a lot of loss.   But anger comes from passion, hurt comes from caring.  We, many years ago, agreed to give one another the power to hurt us by being vulnerable, by caring for one another.  In unspoken agreement, we submitted our hearts to one another in friendship.  And as far as I am concerned, those friendships and long-standing relationships are far from lost.  In fact many are strengthened, as only disagreement can reassure friends that their relationship goes beyond the surface.  And like a bone grows back stronger in the place where it was broken, only friends who have given and received forgiveness and shared the agony of a sincere reconciliation can truly share the strongest bond.    I may not see many of you as often as I used to, but friendship is one thing that must not be lost to lawsuits, divisions, and the opinions of bishops.

(For the curious: the rest of Bishop Price’s remarks are here: http://www.episcopalpgh.org/2010-price-convention/)

10 October 2010

Baseball Haiku

A swing and a miss--

Ball or strike, who can decide?

Redlegs lose again.


You know, I almost wish they’d come in second for the season.  Then we would have had an unspoiled though lesser victory, the first winning season in ten years.  To lose at home in the first post season game in the Great America Ball Park, to not even score.  Just sad.   Well, maybe in another ten or fifteen years, we can actually win a post-season game or two. 

Big market baseball wins again, gotta be a hollow victory for Philadelphia.

A Post-Season Lament, with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel


Cincinnati, you’re breaking my heart,

You’re shaking my confidence daily.

Cincinnati, I’m down on my knees,

I’m begging you please to run home.

Playing ball in the afternoon with the Phillies,

No-hitter post-season (post-season!)

I got up to grab a beer, when I come back to watch

Game two lead disappeared.

Cincinnati, you’re breaking my heart,

You’re shaking my confidence daily.

Cincinnati, I’m down on my knees,

I’m begging you please to run home.

Jubilation, they’re playing at home,

No! down one to zip, just first inning.

Jubilation, its’ post-season play,

Don’t lose this one now, Cincinnati!

09 October 2010

Keeping an unhealthy distance from our food

I took my two younger kids to the pumpkin farm with a friend today.  On the (overpriced, amuse the city kids – since when are hayrides slow tours of the decorated with cartoon characters corn field, when I was a kid they were bouncy, chilly, night time rides on dirt roads ending at bonfire and far less tame and phoney- contrived) hayride, Nathaniel noted that the fields seemed to go on forever.  Wow, lots of corn! 

At the end of the day, I picked up two pie pumpkins for two bucks and decided to process my own pumpkin puree.  That little adventure took most of the rest of the day and left me with a sticky orange kitchen.

Of course, home processed pumpkin will contain no preservatives, nothing artificial, and will maintain most of its vitamin content fairly intact.  I made pumpkin bread, just to top off the evening.  With lots of cinnamon.

But the whole experience made me think.  Pumpkin usually comes from a can, not a vegetable.  Pumpkin cans are “grown” in stores, in neat rows.  There is no powdery mildew (which gobbled up my only little pumpkin plant while I was away last week, leaving us with one small underripe pumpkin), no weeds (another reason my pumpkin was smallish, weeds), no planting and harvesting season to be obeyed.  We’re pretty far removed from our food. 

And in return our food is pretty far removed from its point of origin.  Most of its nutritional value is broken down, its loaded with artificial everything. It fights weeds and fungus by means of chemicals, and then passes those fungicides and pesticides on to us.  yummy.

I’m no organic crunchy mamma, but Its obvious that this can’t be good for us, mentally or physically.  I don’t believe in “better living through chemistry.”  Nor do I believe that people are really too poor to live healthier lifestyles.  Most “green” products are indeed repugnantly pricey, but the things that really work to keep us healthier and the planet greener are not products.  The things that work are practices, things that don’t cost anything and will tend to save money in the end. 

If I wanted to nickel and dime myself to death, I saved about $7 by processing my own pumpkin.  Of course, as an hourly wage, that stinks.  But I had fun, and its something good to feed the family.  Not bad for a day’s work. 

08 October 2010

Birth Control and Beasts of Burden

I was having a conversation with a friend tonight, and I have no idea how the conversation took this turn (you know those type of conversations) except that we were discussing the Pro-Life movement, abortion, and society. And I pointed out that the ancient bedoins used a kind of interuterine device on their camels, to prevent them from being incapacitated by birthing and nursing. They placed a stone in the camel's uterus, so that little baby camels wouldn't prevent would-be mamma's service as a beast of burden.

Which does lead one to wonder what the real impetus behind the feminist movement might be. After all, women mustn't "sacrifice" their careers (burden bearing) for child bearing.

Sounds snarky, I know. But look at what our culture has become since women turned from child bearing to burden bearing. For a while, we all lived on one income (male as wage earner or combined family business model) and we did quite well. Then women joined the burden bearing and more material possession came to be seen as accessible luxury and then necessary to our families. Now most American families would say that it is difficult if not impossible for the family to "get by" on one income. Inflation, joblessness, materialism; these are the burdens we bear.

Birth control and feminism have turned women into camels, who have a load other than life to bear. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? So much for women's liberation.

Gone snooping...

I don't watch the Episcopal news much anymore. It's not something that I need to know, and more often than not it just gets me needlessly indignant or depressed. I pay attention to big stuff, the things that come my way without my looking for it, because I have friends who are touched by what the Episcopal Church does, but I don't go looking.

Except, once in a while, like an old wound you just have to keep checking out, I hit the diocesan website for the local Episcopal diocese (Pittsburgh, TEC). I know most of the players over there, love a lot of them, and care about what they are doing. Sometimes it's compassion, sometimes morbid fascination, but every three or four months I make a snoop of their website, take in the news, read the documents.

So I find things.

Like the TEC diocese's proposed 2011 budget, in which a record $400,000 is being set aside for legal expenses next year, almost a third or their total expected expenses. Legal expenses will rate almost $150,000 more of the expected expenses than will "Congregatoinal Mission." This strikes me as poor stewardship, but I guess if the traffic will bear the use of their funds this way, there isn't anything to stop them.

Legal expenses for the past three years and 2011 will total over 1.3 million dollars... I can't imagine that a decision in their favor will result in them getting their money's worth, especially when utilities and maintenance on empty buildings will be factored in. Most of our properties are albatrosses... but I guess, if it makes them happy to pay lawyers, who am I to stop them?

Most of the folks left behind in Pittsburgh-TEC are believers, dear folks who just happen to be loyal to a fault to an institution that isn't loyal to them. But TEC itself, nationwide, is a wasteland. I'd much rather see them throw their funds at lawyers than use the money in attempts to spread their poison.

For me, lawsuits have become a background hum. Easily ignored unless someone suddenly changes the volume. Granted I'm not in charge of a congregation. I stand to lose nothing, so maybe for others it is a more pressing issue. But maybe, just maybe, there is something to be said for keeping the other side occupied with treasure which moth and rust destroy and thieves may break in and steal.

Source for financial information: http://www.episcopalpgh.org/wp-content/uploads/file/2010DioConv/Section%20B-20100913.pdf (PDF, page B-1)

03 October 2010

Random Stuff

I haven't abandoned this blog; I've just been away for a few days. I went up to Canada on a pre-arranged tour with my mother (in celebration of her birthday!) and did the tourist adventure with her. I admit that I got a little edgy pretty early on in the trip because everything was sort of spoon fed to us. There wasn't much chance to explore, go off the map. I'm amazed at how many people consider a bus ride by an historic spot to be an actual tour, how a gift shop full of trinkets counts as exploration (or for that matter even as shopping). You can go to all these places, spend a fortune, and never explore, never even get off the bus, if that's what you want. But why would you want it.

Most notable, perhaps, was the adventure I went on in New Brunswick. Most everywhere tourists go in massive flocks in Canada will accept US dollars, especially since the exchange rate is pretty close to identical right now. But among the tour gaggle, I saw no Canadian bills change hands at all. Nobody seemed even remotely interested in using the local currency, no more than they were eager to strike out and snoop the local scene. I, on the other hand, had a mission: to mail a postcard from Canada for my kids. For that, I needed a Canadian stamp, and I was prepared to purchase it with Canandian money. (I had about sixty dollars Canadian left over from a previous trip... when I finally did get my stamps, the girl at the drug store flipped out because the Canadian two dollar bill I handed her, which had been sitting in a box from probably my first trip up there ages ago, had been replaced over a decade ago with a two dollar coin.)

To buy a stamp, in the midst of tourist insanity, was an adventure which required asking directions from locals, walking blocks out of my way, snooping about, going to an out of the way pharmacy, spending local currency, and getting back to my actual postcards, leaving me no time on the regimented tour schedule, to mail them until the next day. Thankfully the next day was a walking tour which went right by a mailbox.

The tour guide for the Halifax walking tour noted that he liked those tours best because the walkers were the ones that really wanted to experince the place, not just ride by it and say they'd been there. I guess that's the sort of person I am. The walking tour was fantastic, mostly because Halifax is a wonderfully walkable city, and even though the day was very foggy, we got to go up close enough to all the important sites that fog didn't matter much. The walking tour didn't take us right back to the starting point either, we had easy directions and were given the time to meander back to the rendez-vous point. I guess walkers were expected to be explorers, off-the-mappers.

But it makes me wonder, if you aren't willing to engage the culture, buy a local stamp, use the local currency, walk the local trails, and eat the local food, why do you go there in the first place? If all you're left with is a blurry scrapbook picture taken out the window of a moving bus, have you really been there?