"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 March 2011

Somewhere Between Hope and Despair

Baseball.  The first day of the season.  Pittsburgh fans everywhere note that “at least we’re tied for first!”  For one day.  Its a dark humor, the only time of the year the local team is expected to be at or above .500. 

Its a strange place where everything is fresh and new and yet, at the same time, the outlook does not look good.  A sense of expectation and dread at the same time.  The hope of heartache.

I admit that the Pirates are not my first love in Baseball, but I know the feeling of hope and despair.  For ten years my favorite team followed the same pattern.  It was only last year, which began with the same dark hope, that Reds fans saw any real fruit borne after the long dry spell.   The Reds show that quick turn-arounds can happen, even if they’re rare.  And so maybe there is a little more glimmer for Pittsburgh as I see this season.

But if Facebook is telling, the rest of the Burgh is not so hopeful.

The Reds play today.  Pittsburgh opens their season in Chicago tomorrow.  

Here’s to a fresh start.  A new year.  And even to the same old players, fans and managers that have made the past years what they were. 

Here’s to baseball.

30 March 2011

On old movies

Growing up, there was nothing more eye-rollingly time wasting as being forced to sit down with the parents and watch old movies.   We had no idea what our parents saw in those things with their slow plotlines, bland characters, special effects involving visible wires, and grainy black and white film.  Perhaps watching the old stars in their prime made our parents feel a little younger, nostalgic, at least until we groaned “Yeesh mom! Is in black and white!!! Ugh!” 

Black and white meant old, ancient, hideously passe to a generation who grew up on color TV, basic video games, cheap pocket cameras, and the big screen efforts of Disney and Warner Brothers.  Life was living color and we were proud of it.

I’ve since developed a taste for black and white photography (which ironically my mother hates) and Fred Astaire movies.  But what baffles me is my own children’s reaction to the movies of my childhood.

As I write this, my two youngest are playing Star Wars on the Wii.  Middle boy should be getting back to his school work, but he’s using his break to wield light sabers at Darth Vader.  Funny… minus the Wii, that’s just what little boys were doing thirty years ago.

Star Wars was released when I was three years old, younger than either of those two kiddos on the Wii right now.   That would be the equivalent to my childhood of movies released in 1949, when my mother was three.   Star Wars should be their Abbot and Costello, Little Women (Starring Liz Taylor), or maybe Sands of Iwo Jima.  Harrison Ford is as old to them as Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra are to my generation.

So what’s the fascination?

I think the difference is that GenX is the first generation to be so totally raised on media that it has gained the familiarity of a family member.  While my parents’ generation was charmed by remakes of their old favorites, X’ers get irate.  Don’t mess with my Star Wars!  The purist freaks out at Jar-Jar (okay everyone freaks out at Jar-Jar).  People actually argue over whether the movies are best watched in chronological order by storyline or by release date.  Media has become the new storytelling tradition. Our movies have become part of our culture identity.  To question Star Wars would be like questioning the Pilgrims and turkey at Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s interesting, that in this age where everything from kitchen towels to cell phones are disposable, where media flashes in the pan come and go, that such an icon of the 80’s has become so entrenched.  I wonder what the future of these modern icons will be.  Will my grandchildren be playing Virtual Reality Hoth battles? Will “a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away” someday come to really refer to us?

After all, I don’t see anyone playing Gene Kelly video games.

On phone manners…

Wrong number this morning… while trying to get my kiddo up and dressed against his will.  The phone rang, and deciding to give grumpy boy a brief break, I answered it.  The woman on the other end of the line sounded way too elderly for her pathetic phone manners.  Not to excuse the young, though.  No matter…

For those of you who were raised without the benefit of stern Southern parents (who forbade me from the day I recognized a dial tone from calling boys—proper girls waited to be called, they did not do the calling—and any other manner of telecommunications atrocities) here are a few guidelines for calling me, especially when you don’t intend to.

First, please understand that you are barging into my life at home.  If I’ve given you my number (friends, family, colleagues and deacons to be) then it is because I want to hear from you.  Do not hesitate to call.  If it is a bad time, I tend not to answer.  But not everyone can ignore a jangling phone, so please understand that you might be interrupting a bad day already in progress.  Or dinner. 

My mother used to say that her favorite aunt always began a conversation with “is this a good time?”  How much more essential those words in these days of cell phones!  Way to go Aunt Margie.  I try to remember to use those words often, especially if i know I’ve called your mobile number.  (I keep my own mobile number somewhat guarded and don’t tend to pick up unless an actual name shows up on caller ID.  Anyone else can leave a message, though I may ask how you got that number.)

If, for whatever reason, you call me and you do not mean to, do not aggressively ask “who is this?” as if you were calling your husband and had just been told he’s in the shower.  You called me.  If you don’t know who I am, ask nicely, maybe even apologize for not knowing.  Then you may figure out if you are calling for someone else in my household or have a wrong number without my thinking you’re a jerk.  By the way, in this day and age, you’re not an anonymous jerk, either.  I have caller ID!

Do not just hang up when you find you have the wrong number.  It won’t ruin my day to be hung up on, but I will smile if you’re nice about it.  Apologize.  It won’t kill you.   In fact, if you are nice about it, you won’t be an anonymous nice person either… caller ID, remember?  In fact one elderly lady was so sweet, and so repeatedly calls my number by accident, that I feel like I know her.  Usually I just let the phone ring when her name pops up, as she always seems a little embarrassed to find I’m not Caroline.

And finally, if you’re a telemarketer, take no for an answer.  You *are* interrupting me at home.  If you don’t take “no” with basic decency, the next thing out of my mouth might not be as gentle. 

I’m astonished sometimes at what passes for phone manners.  My children’s friends seem to know how to speak on the phone… “hello, this is Lil’BIlly, is Lil’Jimmy available, please?”  What is it with grown-ups?  Is there an age where we begin to think that what our mamas taught us no longer applies to us?  That decent manners are for kids only?  I just don’t get it.

29 March 2011

On Idols

Sometimes, in reflecting on the modern church, I feel like I hear Christ saying "do you love me more than these?"

Yes, my mind takes the passage from its context, lifts the words in ways that I would never tolerate in a sermon, and asks, do we love him more than these?

Do we love him more than these buildings, trinkets, prayerbooks, preferences? Do we pray the prayers for our own ears or for his? Do we sing to him or make a beautiful noise unto ourselves? Are the things we use in worship ours, or given by him for his us? If all things come from him, we can, if forced to give those things up, do so to his glory. But if all things are our own, what praise can we offer?

Do we love him more than culture, neighbors, saving face, reputation? Do we march to his drum, our own, or our cultures? Do we value independence or declare dependence on our Lord? Do we walk in his light or search blindly for a match? Do we love him enough to lose?

Do we love him more than life? Do we love him enough to die?

The Scripture leaves it ambiguous what "these" are in Jesus' words to Peter. Do you love me more than some unseen thing? Of course, Lord, can the stones praise you? If altars could sing, why would churches need voices? Can an organ play itself or a prayerbook offer its prayers?

Or maybe "these" are men. Playing on Peter's sense of competition, however friendly, do you love me more than your brothers do? Is your zeal so great that you might neglect the command to love both God and man? If you love more than the one next to you, then you have a duty to feed the sheep along side you, bring him along, encourage his zeal. Don't just graze in the shepherd's pastures in holy aloneness.

Jesus' words, we know, are playing on Peter's betrayal. Peter in his zeal fell into arrogance, thinking himself forever loyal, and then into denial and betrayal. And perhaps "these" are to some degree these thoughts, desires, ideas in our heads. Do we love him enough to face our own betrayals, allow him to pick us up, and begin again to follow and feed. To return to the fold, not only as a broken sheep but as a feeder of sheep. To be forgiven. Gone are the days of self-righteous, now we are made righteous by him. Again, he has given. If our righteousness comes of ourselves, who can we praise?

I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that we don't shape our own road. Good gifts do not come from our own labors. But that all things come from him who did not grasp at what was due him, but emptied himself to be born in the likeness of men.

Hands which grasp and cling, to our rights, our loves, and our lives, cannot be open to receive. Only man and monkey have hands which can grasp. Of the two the one that has the mind and spirit to know when to let go is only man.

27 March 2011

Holy Failure

Let the gentle reader from Carnegie beware.
Tomorrow in the Lenten series in my parish we'll be talking about failure.

The whole point of this Lent is for corporate self-examination and discernment. In this difficult season, who are we, and are we being the people God has called us to be? Where are we going, and is that the same as where God is leading us?

We've done the easy work. We've talked about our history and about our successes... the fun stuff. Tomorrow we'll talk about failures.

God uses our failures. That's the whole nature of God, that when we ruin it all, he redeems it; what we intend even for harm, he can turn to good. Or simply said, that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.

But admitting failure, allowing failure to work for our good, requires humility that most of us are loathe to exercise. A corporate environment is a difficult one for airing failure, even corporate failiure. We don't like to say we're not perfect, not good at something, not all right.

But there are gaps in every parish, brokenness in every community. And these things need to be acknowledged to be addressed.

We'll also be reading tomorrow from Revelation 3:1-6, a letter to a community on the brink of ultimate failure; a people who had marginalized Christ's followers within even the Church itself. There are rough words about being dead, needing to wake up, being soiled, needing to repent, being judged. The letter is full of contrasts, the soiled and those who will wear white, the dead and the living, victory and failure.

But are we willing to sacrifice our idea of victory in order to avoid ultimate failure? Do we abandon our idea of the good life in order to truly live?

I suspect that if I asked the congregation how many of them wanted the church to grow, every hand would go up. If I asked them how many of them wanted the church to change, how many hands would stay up? Growing means change, even as new people bring their faith to the community. Growing means change as God shapes us. But so many just want new contributors to their church, keep it the way it is, just add new donors. Let them give money, but not contribute themselves. Let us make new members, without the work of new believers. Let us have our victory, the future we desire, without price.

I'm dubious. I don't expect talking about failure to go easily with crowd of sturdy South Hills Pittsburghers.

24 March 2011

Make the hurting stop...

Those of you who know me in my life "afk" (away from keyboard) may know that I have, with some reluctance, research and outright identity questioning (okay maybe not that life-changing but definitely with more than a hint of trepidation) become the new owner of a Blackberry smartphone. Now personally, I have long held a preference for more stupid phones. I have the death-touch on my husband's Windows Phone and on his iPhone before that. He hands it to me with "look at this" and as soon as those fancy-pants phones touch my fingertips, zap, the screen goes blank and the "this" that I am expected to see vanishes into the bowels of the phone's user interface. I bought my last phone because I knew that phones that just made calls were going the way of the dodo and I wanted a reliable one to last for many years of near-luddite bliss.

But over the years, I've decided that it might be nice to have a phone that can actually do a few neat tricks. Knowing my touch-screen-fingers-of-doom, I bought a Blackberry. New and hot and cute and red, but with a retro actual keyboard because I can't use those touchy screen ones.

I even put a few apps on it. A map, a bible. A prayer book would be nice, but it will be a cold day in July when I pay forty bucks to Church Publishing for a 1979 BCP for my shiny new toy. Scanning the web for alternatives (anyone want to write a St. Augustine's Prayerbook App for me????) I came across this:

Instill positivity in your BlackBerry handset at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church
By Rupal | September 5th, 2010 |
Gadgets and gizmos have become the tools for developments. Smartphones have become the latest to join the technical revolution, and have provided us a way to communicate effectively and easily with our friends, family members, and colleagues. When we talk about smartphones, how can we leave behind the super cool smartphone, BlackBerry? As a BlackBerry user, you must have tried out numerous applications for the smartphone. You would have come across various applications which have allowed you to perform your work effectively and efficiently. But, have you come across such a situation, where a BlackBerry smartphone was blessed by the Church?

Well, this is going to be a reality now. Yes, you can get your BlackBerry blessed by Rev. Lisa Vaughan. Rev. Lisa Vaughan from St. Timothy’s Anglican Church will organize a prayer this Sunday. She will be there to bless people with their electronic gadgets like smartphones and laptops. The special ceremony will be free for everyone, where anyone can come up with their electronic gadgets and gizmos to get it blessed by Rev. Lisa Vaughan. St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, which is located near the Hatchet Lake, is the most famous church in the Nova Scotia province. This Sunday, you should definitely visit the famous church in Nova Scotia, and do not forget to carry your BlackBerry handset along with you.

Apparently this is not a spoof. I found it here.

The whole thing kind of reminded me of a hideously awful Christmas sermon I sat through two years in a row in which the congregation was invited to bring their favorite gift to church on Christmas day for what I cynically refer to as "the blessing of the stuff." Only it's worse; the blessing of the stuff seems, to our neighbors in Nova Scotia, to actually be trying to pass for outreach. Anyone can come to this "most famous church in Nova Scotia" and get a little "positivity" in their communication toys. I wonder will it make the battery life last longer, because I'm notorious for forgetting to charge that little thing.

Sad to see the insanity that plagues the American mainline churches has leaked northward. Sort of leaves one to wonder what we will export next.

Just thinking of the consequences:
"Bless O Lord, this flame mail, which I am about to send to my boss. May it burn brightly until he is cowed into submission. And may it have no future repercussions on my stipend or tenure with this company. Amen"
Or maybe it would forever after just shut down at any request for illicit websites.
Or maybe not.
And also the whole idea does leave one to wonder if there's holy water involved. (Please?)

16 March 2011

For your amusement

A conversation between my two younger sons:

N (age 8): You know where I'm going to live? In SPACE!!!
M (age 5): But then we'd never be able to see you again.
N: You could come for a visit.
M (sadly): No, I couldn't because I don't like going into space.
N: Then I could send you a postcard. I'm sure there are lots of pretty things to see up there.
M (thinks a bit and replies): Well, before you go into space, I'm going to KICK you.

Love, little brother style.

12 March 2011

Lenten Feasting (with recipe for my Orthodox friends)

I had people over for dinner last night, wholly out of the spirit of Lenten denial and all. A number of preferences, dietary restrictions (Lenten and otherwise) at play along with my Southern Pride (tm) which requires that having people over involve an utterly fabulous meal.

So much for self denial.

So I came across a recipe for Lent from an Eastern Orthodox website; modified it a bit for my cooking style, and was very pleased with the results.

Since I know some among you are keeping Orthodox fast, here's the recipe (as I modified it):

Orange Shrimp and Scallops with Arabic Spices

Fill baking dish with 1-2 lbs shrimp and/or scallops (used both and it was awesome good)
Add red potatoes (I boiled them a bit in the microwave first so that they wouldn't need more cooking than the seafood did.... overcooked seafood has the texture of those gloves my grandmother used for doing the dishes)
And little rolly-polly peas (there, now I can say I fed them veggies)
Sprinkle liberally with orange zest (original recipe called for lemon, but I don't care much for lemon)
Sprinkle liberally with parsley, garlic (minced and fresh), onion (minced)
Salt, pepper, and cayenne as much or little as you like
1-2 tsp of cumin, sprinkled over the top
And about two or three tablespoons of lime juice and about a quarter cup of orange juice.
Bake at 350 degrees until seafood is done through and serve over hot rice. We had fruit and spring greens as a side dishes.

One of the side effects of general giving stuff up for Lent for me has always been an exploration of new foods and what's out there. There is so much abundance and variety in God's bounty. I know that's not the real reason for Lent's disciplines, but it sure is an interesting side effect. If nothing else, I find it makes me thankful.

09 March 2011

Found on TEC/Pittsburgh's website

Worship Supplies Available
St. Michael's of the Valley, Ligonier, is offering used liturgical vessels, stoles and cassocks for donation to a foreign mission or a congregation in need. Free for the asking.

Contact the Rev. Dr. Jim Simons at 724-238-9411.

Posted on March 9th, 2011

Okay, ACNA... shall we take him up on it? I'm all for mission and donation, but somewhow I find it ironic that they admit to having too much "stuff" while they're trying to take ours.

Remember O man....

I'm reminded of the scene from History of the World Part I, where the Roman servant went with visitors to Caesar reminding them as they entered the throne room, "Remember, thou art mortal. Remember thou art mortal. Remember thou art mortal."


Ash Wednesday is the liturgical way of remembering our mortality while we approach the king. Remember O man that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

People ask why we do this. Why put on ashes, why the liturgy, why the day?

The simple answer, that ashes were an Old Testament sign of grieving and repenting is too simple. Signs and symbols are rich, but if they don't have meaning for us, they are empty for our people. That was then, this is now.

But we're in continuity with the people of "Then"... we put on ashes to remember our roots. Moreso, we remember that our roots are "dust" of the earth, the hands of God shaping what was worthless adam (earth) into Adam (man), transforming intimacy. Remember, o man that thou art dust, but the hand of God touched you. Remember your roots, o mankind.

My father used to tell us when we went out of the house to remember our family name. You bear the mark of who you are, you represent your people. You are dust, you represent dust, you will return to dust. Who you are before God is first and foremost dust. You're marked with dust.

But you're marked also with the sign of the cross, the identity not of who you are but of who you are becoming. Not of what you are but of whose you are. Not of the dross that is burned away to dust, but of the fire that refines the gold. You are marked, you are dust.

We do these things because it is like attending our own funerals every year. Its not about just where we came from but where we are going. Our destiny is the grave. We've earned it in our sin, our nature cannot escape it. To dust we return. But even as we go to the grave we make our song... Remember you are dust, remember whose you are. The grave could not hold him, nor can it hold those who are marked as his own.

I think this Lent will be about dust and dross and what gets burned away. About dust and ashes and grieving and funerals. And about resurrection and what comes after the end of everything.

07 March 2011

What I learned this week: a trip to the Bahamas

Oprah Winfrey has two houses.  On the beach.  In the Bahamas.  Big ones.

I always figured it wasn’t nice behavior to take seconds before everyone had had firsts. 

And what on earth does she do with two houses?  Next door to each other.  She can’t live in them both at one time. 

How could someone who comes from working class roots be so oblivious to the realities of poverty and homelessness. 

There seems to be no middle class in the Bahamas, except maybe a few who work in the established tourism industries.   Just up the beach from Oprah’s double estate women sit in the market making things out of palm fronds and pestering tourists for a sale.   

I walked through the market… a more cultural and educational encounter than the established tours could give.   The voices never ceased; “Make you a deal… only five dollars… only a dollar… see something you like? Braid your hair, mum?  Carriage ride, mum?  Taxi, mum?”  and the brazen guy who insisted on a tip for selling me a bottle of water.     We ate fried conch (not bad but the texture wasn’t my favorite).  We visited Parliament House (and did take that carriage ride… why not?  Its slower than a taxi and I wanted to really see what was out there).  

There was something not real about Nassau.  Not destitute, not third world.  Even the wizened “native crafts” being touristy and tainted.  

An island over, a day later, Freeport was much more real to me.  Industry greeted us at the port, not tourism (even its native form).  And while we took a tourist excursion that day we were in a national park; we rode there in a rattletrap van (that almost didn’t start on the close call hurry back to the port) on open and undeveloped roads with a guide who shared the stories of the island’s history.   We explored real nature, kayaking up a creek, visiting a cave, a nature walk, an afternoon on the beach. 

And I find it strange that the unreal world of a cruise ship tour was more real than the reality of a walk on our own through a Nassau market.   Strange that a rattletrap van would be more real to my western eyes than Oprah’s two houses (yes, I saw them… from a distance).   That reality is more beautiful than  design and how little money has to do with any of it.