"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)

29 May 2011

A Poem

I walked the graveyard of my soul,
And called upon my ghosts,
Amid the graves, the weeds, and stones,
Among the heavenly host.
I walked among the church at rest,
Alive amid the green,
The faithful ‘round to right and left,
And I alone between.
I walked beneath the striking sun,
And momentary breeze,
The rustling stirring in my heart,
As echoed in the trees.
And each step further as I walked,
I heard the gentle sounds
Of saints triumphant, saints at rest,
Of Christ in all around.
-- Anonymous

24 May 2011

Cross Cultural Dining, Banana Cheetos, Gratitude, and Friendly Faces

Every time I walk into the local Korean market, the gentleman who runs the store asks "Where's your baby?"  Nevermind that my baby is now five years old.  Nevermind that I may clearly be dropping in just to pick something up while I'm on that side of town for some church event.  Nevermind that the other two children are notably absent, too.  It's my little guy he asks about. 

We're not regular visitors over there; the store is across town.  But I guess we're memorable.  I've only once seen another caucasian person in that store.  The first day we dropped in it was like a visit to a foreign country; I was able to find what I needed, but only slowly and with painful attempts to sound out the Korean letters to make sure what I thought I was buying was really what I was buying.  

The owner greets all the customers in cheerful Korean.  Except the first day we walked in, we heard him greeting the Asian people right in front of us, but as we came in right behind he gave us a baffled smile and a little wave like he didn't know how to respond to these strange visitors.  Kind of a friendly version of "y'all ain't from 'round here, are ya?"   A couple of visits later we decided to try out our pathetic four words of badly pronounced Korean and greet him.  I've never seen anyone look so stunned.  So yeah, we are memorable.

One one visit his wife spent several minutes talking to "the baby" in Korean.  Being about a year old, he was strapped Korean style (very comfy) to my back and not going anywhere.   I have no idea what she said to him but she was very enthusiastic about it.

On another visit we took a friend, a missionary who speaks Korean, with us... I was hoping she'd help me broaden my Korean shopping expertise, or at least tell me what a few curious looking products were.   Our friend had a great conversation with the shopkeeper, in enthusiastic Korean.  This time it was my turn to stand wide-eyed.  Occasionaly our friend would tell me what was going on: "she asked how I know Korean" but I was clueless when the shopkeeper ran over to a display, took down something else I couldn't read, and gave them to my wide-eyed kids.  My friend translates "She wants to give you these because she likes you."  I somehow managed to convince my boys to bow and the middle child to say his "kamsahamnida" (Thank you)... convincing the youngest to use his Korean words is like pulling teeth. 

What she gave my children happened to be these bizarre snacks that taste like banana candy but have the shape and texture of cheese puffs.  I have to admit, they're weirdly delicious.   Youngest boy loves them now and apparently had to have them on his last stop at Seoul Mart.  

The folks over there have obviously integrated well enough into American society.  They seem happy.  They speak English at a functional level, at least.  Their son was hanging out around the counter with a few school chums (of various races but all boy!) last time I was there.  Clearly a nice family.  But they're obviously grateful when we make an attempt at their language.   Sometimes just a Korean "thank you" is greeted with exhuberence beyond what would be expected. 

And I'm grateful too, that my youngest can hear his first language and be so welcomed by his first culture.   So many internationally adopted kids become cultural orphans.  We don't speak Korean with him.  I'm a very limited Korean cook.  We haven't yet taken him back for a visit.  They say its hard to go back as a young adult because everyone expects that they know the culture and language, when they don't.  They're Americans in Korean skin. 

But at least my little guy has the chance to hear the language, if not to always understand.  Like every Korean boy, he hates his hanbok, loves mandu.   He counts in Korean, with a different sort of accent, neither truly Korean nor truly not.  

But at least Korea won't seem totally weird when he goes.  At least he knows other people who stand along the wide bridge that goes between American culture and Korean.  And he's learning to explore, not just where he comes from or even where he's going but that there's a wide wide world out there full of fascinating people and places.

And maybe once in a while, banana cheetos aren't such a bad plan.

22 May 2011

Tackiness, its not just for Americans anymore

This morning, in a friendly debate with the Junior Warden, who let the record show is an enthusiastic University of Kentucky fan (and who, let the record show is consistently amused with my having been raised in University of Tennessee territory, aka "Big Orange Country" (and "Orange U Glad Yer A Vol??" )) the very same Junior Warden flat out denied the existence of Big Orange vestments.  To this, I replied, "I am sure there are indeed Big Orange vestments out there; however, there is never ever a liturgical season in which their use is considered appropriate." 

Well all this got me internet searching.  After all, as good an argument as it may be, it deserves to be backed up with facts, right?  Good ol' cold hard facts.  

And so I googled it... "Big Orange Chasuble"... 

Some things you google with fear and trembling, lest you end up with an eye-full.  There's a reason Google breaks down to Go Ogle.   While the reasons for fear and trembling may differ here, I have to admit I held my breath a bit when I hit that search button.

Friends these search words will not leave you disappointed... to settle all scores ever with the Junior Warden on this issue, I found this link

Yes, folks, its the Big Orange Mass. 

From the article: "The Reverend Paul Vlaar wore an orange robe and decked out his church in orange before Sunday’s match against Spain, the BBC reported.  He even acted as a goalkeeper as a parishioner kicked a soccer ball down the aisle."

The video is something to see... definitely a gross violation of the 11th Commandment ("thou shalt not be tacky") for which the priest involved was given a suspension and encouraged to do a bit of reflecting on the situation.  Indeed.

21 May 2011

Faithless Heathen Anglicans!!!

Its the end of the world and Mid-Atlantic diocese is electing a new bishop?  Clearly they don't understand that they'll all be raptured up in a few hours and not have the chance for the bishop-elect to so much as pick up a crozier and wave his hands around over confirmands.  Harumph!  Why already, all over the world, 6:00 PM is happening and the only people left to give, surely false, reports that nothing is going on are people like my friend the  Rabbi Down Under, who obviously was not included in the fine print of the Rapture (tm) for being Jewish.

***remove tongue from cheek****

Okay, so the end of the world is coming, but really no one knows when.  All I can tell you in truth is that we're a day closer than we were yesterday.  How or when or even where it all begins, I have no idea.  God seems to tell us on a need-to-know basis and as yet we haven't needed the details.  And it could be that the bishops we elect today have no chance to do bishopy things.  But we are to be good stewards,  expecting Jesus any moment like a theif in the night and preparing to pass the Gospel to the unchurched, undiscipled, and unborn for generations to come.  And so, it seems fitting to me that the diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has elected John Guernsey today to be their bishop.  A faithful man for the day of reckoning and a gentle and wise man for the days until.  

Congratulations bishop John and the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic!   End of the world or not, it is a day worth celebrating.

And really, on the off chance that the lunatics stumbled across something real,  how many people can say they were elected bishop on the last day of the world.    God to the Church. "Last bishop out, please turn off the lights."

16 May 2011

Creative failure and some advice from mom.

I admit, I can't sew.  This probably surprises no one. 
Neither can my mother.  Its probably some defective gene or something.
Actually, in my mother's defense, she made a really lovely quilt once, when I was a kid.  Nobody was ever allowed to touch it after that, probably for fear that it would disintegrate on contact.   She spent hours on that thing.  And it is a sign of how grandmothers see the world that we children weren't allowed to look at that quilt wrong, but as soon as my first child was born, the quilt came out of the box and was spread on the FLOOR unrequested, for little mister prone to sudden messes to roll about on.

So now that little mister is a teenager and his younger brother is almost nine (and one more but he won't be appearing in this tale of woe, except possibly cast as an extra in the scene).  The two big boys attend a study center two days a week, where we dutifully have their heads stuffed full of classical knowledge like algebra and logic and Shakespeare and science.  And it is the custom of the study center, on the next-to-last Wednesday of the school year, that the kids have dress-up day, where each child whose dutifully crafty mom is eagerly on the ball is allowed to appear in the costume of their favorite character from either history or literature, someone they've studied that year.

Isaac's first year in study center, I simply pretended not to notice dress-up day.  I stink at the whole competitive mothering thing.  Our first year in 4H, I referred to the other mothers with awe as "domestic goddesses" and mostly hid from them.  Ignoring dress-up day is nothing out of my ordinary.   Dress-up day?  No, never heard of it.

By the time he came home and told me all the other kids had dressed up, well, too late now.  *shrug*  Problem solved.

Until the next year... and I kind of "missed" the memo.   Not so neatly done this time though.  Maybe I should just let them play hooky on dress up day instead?  Again the complaint, again too late.

Year three passed much the same way, but year four involved my poor kid making his own costume out of scraps of paper when he arrived on site to realize that once again his mother had sabatoged the dress-up day memo. 

And so it goes.  Though we did manage a Helios god of the sun costume last year, complete with gold crown made by dad, who has some decent scissors and glue (and gold spray paint) skills when he wants to.  The rest was a bed-sheet.  So there.

But this year, now our sixth year of dress-up day shame, I have two kids in study center...  and alas, dress-up day is on the horizon.  And the darling sons of my youth have plans... plans, I tell you!  Evil plans.

Eldest boy has been reading Shakespeare.  MacBeth.  He wants to go as Malcolm.  This does not bother me, he has a kilt.  No crazy skills required.  But I can't exactly send the eldest dressed as king Malcolm (complete with Nerf sword) and then tell second boy, "you can go as a study center student." 

No, in fact, boy two has a plan.
He wants to be a civil war soldier. 

I'm doomed.  How on earth am I going to come up with that?

$13 in craft felt and yarn later, we've made him a Confederate jacket.  (If this were public school, no doubt we'd be thrown out as racists, but then the eldest would probably get suspended for getting in a fight over wearing a "skirt" as I'm sure most regular eighth grade boys would call a kilt.)    To an eight year old this is authentic Confederate perfection.  To me, its a perforated thumb and a crooked jacket that looks like its already seen a battle or several.  It may not survive a gust of wind.  

I called my mother.  Her "helpful" non-sewing responses:
1. "You should have told him to make it himself. "
-- Ah yes, I remember when she told me to make my costume myself... the year I wanted to be a camel for Halloween.  She bought the brown fabric, I made some sort of mangled mess.  No way a human body would fit in the camel suit, nor did it resemble a camel.  I think I went to the cosume party as a 1980's kid.
2.  "Everyone up there is a Yankee. They won't know the difference."
--Thanks mom.  Not helpful. I think yankees know what a jacket is supposed to look like, even if it happens to be grey.
3.  "Bandage him up a bit and say he's coming back from the battle." 
-- SCORE!  That's what mothers are for!

In the meantime, the boy is practicing his marching.  He wants to make a giant cannon now, to drag with him to study center.  Maybe that will be a job for scissors-dad.

08 May 2011

Sermon for 3 Easter

Amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the kings and queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it for Mr. Beaver had warned them, ‘he’ll be coming and going,’ he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down… It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

These words, so familiar to many but perhaps not to all of us, are how C.S. Lewis ends his book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Every Narnia fan knows these words. In the eyes of the mind, the lion is gently slipping away from the feastings, back into the hills from which he came, softly and unseen. Not a tame lion, the children, now kings and queens in their own right, cannot command this lion, he is not subject to them. In all things, he is in control.
“That very day, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But theireyes were kept from recognizing him.” Theirs had been a frantic weekend. Likely, they had come into the city to celebrate the Passover, and now these men were returning home. A week before, Jesus had come into town riding on a wave of excitement, hope that this would be the revolutionary to overthrow the oppressor and take control over the land of Israel. Victory seemed so near they could touch it! But something had happened, something unplanned. Surely this frantic series of events was not in the plan. Somehow victory had evaporated, this was definitely not going as planned. Chaos had emerged from every corner of Jerusalem and had converged on this Jesus. Everything had spun out of control.

Jesus had been a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and before all the people. We had seen his power and his authority and we had hoped, before it all went up in smoke, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Surely the disciples understood that theirs was a people who could not govern themselves, they were little better than slaves to the Roman government. They were exiles in their own homeland. How these disciples had hoped that this was the prophet like Moses, the redeemer and deliverer who had been expected for generations! And when he rode into town in triumph, the people were encouraged. Surely this was the glory of which he had spoken? But glory broke down into shame, when he was handed over, stripped and mocked and beaten and hung on a tree to die. Did not the Scriptures say that “cursed is the one who is hung on a tree?” They had watched with their own eyes as glory slipped from his grasp.

They had believed that this would be the one who would topple the oppressor and govern the people of Israel, this would be a man of power. But such was this man of power that he went quietly when the soldiers came for him, answered humbly before worldly kings, and failed to rescue himself from the cross while onlookers scoffed “he saved others, why can’t he save himself.” They had watched as power faded away, out of his hands until there was nothing left in him.

Perhaps they had even heard his claims that he was God’s own son, existing before Abraham, before creation itself. Perhaps they had heard the charges against him, that he had made himself equal with God. Could this be the one who brings order to chaos, light to darkness? But by the end of the week, chaos had claimed victory, frantic events and emotions surged, the one who we had so hoped would be our salvation was dead before our eyes. Darkness had overcome light, the sun had withheld its light, and if as the centurion said, this man was truly innocent, then we have indeed witnessed great evil taking victory at his death.

You must be the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know these things.

And if this were not enough, some women were at the tomb early this morning and they did not find his body there. The chaos, the suffering, was this not enough?

Surely the disciples, as they walked the road to Emmaus did not give credence to the stories of women. In the ancient world, women were not credible witnesses. As would be echoed in the Victorian era, through Freud, women were believed to be prone to hysterics. Perhaps this was imagined, a frantic attempt to make sense out of something really quite simple. The words seemed to be an idle tale, wives tales! Gossip! Get a hold of yourselves, ladies! And two men, two male witnesses, then went to the tomb, and found it empty, as the women had said. What could these things mean? Surely the whole world has spun out of control!

Theirs was a tame messiah. Like a pet who responded to external stimulus, sitting in hopes of a treat from the outside master, they expected their messiah to respond to the situations at hand. The outside needs of Israel would dictate this messiah’s strategy. The influences of Rome would require tactical maneuvers. The situation would control the savior.

A tame messiah is an all too human sort of savior. It should be no surprise that a tame messiah would lose control of the situation at hand, as his own life came to be threatened and things began to spin out of control. A savior who was of this world would require an army bigger than that of Rome to take on the challenge ahead of him. A human savior would be destined to fail.

The Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to be crucified, but Rome was glad to prove the point with any such ‘rabble rousers.’ Conquered peoples did not control Rome. Rome was in charge. Crucifixion meant humiliation, agony, death. Not only would the rebel never rebel again, his followers would be scattered, shamed, and very unlikely to try to pick up where their hero left off. And as if this crucified Jesus were not example enough of what Rome did to any hope of a human savior Israel might have, in 70 AD Israel rebelled against Rome in armed uprising. It was then that Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the Temple would be left upon another, that the people would flee to the hills with no time to turn back, saw its first fulfillment.

And so the disciples, who had hoped for a human savior, a tamed messiah, were crushed. And now, adding insult to injury, even the body had gone missing. The sheep were scattered and each was returning, somewhat shamed, somewhat sadder and temporally wiser, to his own village.

But ours is not a tame messiah. He felt no need to respond to the questions of the leaders of this world. He felt no need to flee the cross, the chaos. For he knew that his kingdom was not of this world, and even amid the chaos, he held the order of the universe in his hands. He did not fear the darkness that descended on that cross, for he was the light of the world. And now, as he meets these disciples on the road to Emmaus, he who is the word of God explains to them how the word of God would be fulfilled. Now he shows them how he was in control on the cross, how he taken the chaos of Holy Week and brought forth order, how he had allowed death to triumph in order to bring forth life.

What they don’t realize is that their eyes are being kept from seeing who it is that is explaining all these things. They realize they are hearing a great teacher, but they do not see the full reality of his greatness. Many many preachers have tried to push this under the rug with thoughts about how we sometimes don’t recognize someone out of context, when we don’t expect to see them. And the unexpectedness of this encounter can’t be denied. But the Greek verb is more active, their eyes were kept from seeing. Implied is who it is that is keeping them from knowing. They do not recognize him because he is not yet ready to be recognized. He wants them to hear what he is telling them, not cling to him as Mary Magdalene did in the garden.

But the point at which their eyes are opened, in the breaking of the bread is also crucial. Jesus does something culturally very strange. Clearly this is not Jesus’ house, most likely the house belonged to one of the two disciples who, as host could urge Jesus to stay. Jesus did the culturally appropriate thing to do, he acted as if he were going on up the road, so as not to impose upon his hosts. And the disciples did what ancient hospitality demanded, they invited him to stay. But again the words are more dramatic, they begged him to stay with them. This goes beyond cultural norms, it is almost embarrassing, how they practically force him (in the Greek) to come to their home for the evening meal. But now we know the disciples have heard what Jesus has told them, that this Jesus in whom they had put their hope was far more than an earthly king, that indeed he was not a tame lion.

And so it makes perfect sense, that, as the guest turns the tables and takes the part of the host, blesses and breaks the bread, takes control of the situation once again, that their eyes should be opened and they should recognize that the teacher and the Lord are one in the same.

When we invite Jesus in to our lives and our worship, when we beg him to stay (as we should if we take him seriously) then we have to recognize that he is not a tame lion. This Jesus will accept our invitation to be our guests, but quickly he turns the tables on us and becomes, as he properly is, the host and the master of the household. If we ask him to be guests in our lives, he will happily become the host, taking charge and blessing us from his abundance.

And if this were just some presumptuous guest making himself the master of the house, all that would be appalling, but in fact he is the one who orders the chaos, lightens the darkness, and created the house itself. And if he is the master of this place, there is no chaos he can’t order, no death that can hold him, so we need not worry about what the future might bring, for the guest has become the host and master of this place.

And at times he may seem distant, for he is not a tame lion that we should command him, but he’ll be coming and going as he wills, according to our needs and his desire. At times he’ll come to us with the gentleness of a lamb. At other times with the power of his lion’s nature. But always he will come as host and master, orderer of chaos, and life which no grave can hold.

03 May 2011

'Life of hard labour' in North Korean camp

Kang Cheol-hwan Kang Cheol-hwan says new images of the camp he lived in show that it has grown
In the living room of my apartment in Seoul, Kang Cheol-hwan pores over satellite photographs of the place he once lived.
Known as labour camp number 15, in Yodok, North Korea, it is perhaps one of the world's most secret places.
"It was a life of hard labour," he says. "Thirty per cent of new prisoners would die. And we were so malnourished, we would eat rats and earthworms to survive."
Cheol-hwan lived in Yodok for a decade - paying the price for "political crimes" committed by his family.
Amnesty International says there are signs the number of people being sent to North Korea's political prison camps is growing, and that the new satellite maps show the system is thriving.
Torture reports Cheol-hwan traces the outline of the camp on the map with his finger - snaking through North Korea's mountainous countryside.
New rows of buildings have appeared in one section of the camp. They are not there in photographs from a decade ago.
Satellite image of Yodok prison camp taken on 7 April 2011 (Image: Amnesty International/Digital Globe) Satellite image of Yodok prison camp taken on 7 April 2011 (Image: Amnesty International/Digital Globe)
"This is the guards' block," he points out. "And it's grown. I assume it's because they need a bigger security presence now."
I ask him where he lived and he points to a row of box-like houses a few hundred metres from the guard block, a single road leading in and out.
Reports from inside the camps are scarce. But many of those who do speak out tell horrific stories of torture, starvation and summary executions.
The new Amnesty report details accounts of water-boarding, sleep deprivation, bamboo pieces placed under the fingernails and imprisonment - sometimes for months on end - inside a 4ft (1.22m) by 4ft cell.
Cheol-hwan remembers the prison block inside his camp, where the troublesome inmates were kept. It was where torture and beatings took place, he says.
'No return' News is already filtering through the North Korean community here in Seoul of a wider crackdown taking place back home.
There is talk of listening posts, border fences and a sharp rise in public executions.
Kang Cheol-ho runs a church for North Korean defectors. He gets new arrivals every month and says the reports just get worse.
"I'm getting more and more dire testimonies all the time," he said. "That the clampdown is worse, the food situation is more severe and the authorities are making it clear, if you try and escape the country, you'll never get another chance.
"Nowadays, you'll be sent to one of these camps from which you may never return."

The rest of the story is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13268857