Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Eucharist = thanksgiving

As so often happens, I arrive at church constricted in spirit and leave differently, in the spaciousness of the Spirit. The transformation is not from one moment to the next, but often I notice it, part-way through the liturgy.

Here is the post-communion prayer we said today. It is one of the alternative ones.

[Presider and People say:]

God of abundance,
you have fed us
with the bread of life and cup of salvation;
you have united us
with Christ and one another;
and you have made us one
with all your people in heaven and on earth.
Now send us forth
in the power of your Spirit,
that we may proclaim your redeeming love
to the world
and continue for ever
in the risen life of Christ our Savior.


Thanks be to God.

Radio silence not due to Red Sox madness (alas)

Would that my lack of blogging were due to immersion in the Joy of Sox.

Still swamped. Have been meaning to post my sermon from last Sunday, but I haven't had time to reconstruct it; I had the beginning and end fully written and the middle only in outline form and preached that part extemporaneously. Life is beyond busy here (thank you, Mimi, for the kind thoughts and prayers) with all the usual (three courses and attendant prep and recovery, online work, correction of assignments, meetings with students about their research paper topics because it's that time of the semester) plus extra meetings with students which took up my usually open Friday, and then one of my two computers (the one I own as opposed to the one my school owns) going into a coma and requiring my usually quiet writing Saturday to be spent with the nice tech people. (I am going to need a new machine, but for now we have the hard drive rigged up so I can read it from the computer that works -- anyone want to donate a laptop to an impoverished church lady?) And then in the middle of the week I had to drive to Raleigh for meetings at the diocesan offices. That is, as they say in New York, a shlep. (See definition 2 for the noun here.)

And (now you're going to feel really sorry for me) I leave next Friday for Europe, where I am giving a paper at a conference on the church. (Okay, the conference is on ecclesiology and ecumenism, but I thought I'd spare you the jargon.)

I know, I said this blog wouldn't be a journal, but several of you out there are friends and it's a good way to keep in touch even if I keep the really personal details out of this space.

Oh, and I'm building a new blog related to some of my work on church and race here, and it is launching on All Saints' Day, which if I am not mistaken is Thursday and the day before I leave town.

Stay tuned for news of that. I am off to church. Thank God for small congregations with 11:00 a.m. liturgies.

P.S. Is anyone else flabbergasted that there is a debate going on in certain corners (actually, it's more the fact that there is hardly a debate) about whether God is a Christian? It boggles the theological mind.

Child labor: Gap Kids sweatshops in India

Latest is in this from this story in The Guardian.

The Gap is investigating now.

Here's a related story, same day, same publication, on the role of consumers in all this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sox Nation South

Yes, have been too tired and busy to discourse on saints in the Episcopal and ecumenical calendars, and didn't get to watch the game last night, but did have a peek at some batting practice photos, and here are some. Paul has his princes and I have a few BoSox. These are for you, Paul. (The one not in uniform is general manager Theo Epstein, in case you didn't know.)

Also, an interesting column in yesterday's Globe about psychological changes among Red Sox fans, specifically the loss of angst.

Those of us of a certain age who dwelled in Boston for a certain time will, of course, never forget the angst part. It's you youngsters we worry about.

And then of course there was last night's game, and this morning's article. Go, boys!

Now on to the day... We have more rain...

Rain at last!

In San Diego there is fire, and here there is rain. At last the drought has broken.

Of course it chose to break when I was on the road to Raleigh to see the bishop (and a couple of other people at the diocesan offices), though I was almost there when it started. But then it REALLY poured, as in can't-see-in-front-of-you-and-it's-so-bad-you-almost-pull-off-the-road, when I was on the way back and it was already dark. 180 miles total, about 100 in the rain.

It is very wet, the geese have been out all day (this part of NC is overrun by Canada Geese who apparently were migrating South from Yankeeland and decided not to keep commuting and just settle here in the milder climes) (otherwise they are quite stupid birds), and the earth is happy.

I am exhausted. Endless work at school, plus the long drive and not enough sleep.

Needless to say, the road looked nothing like this painting (Rainstorm, Union Square by Childe Hassam, 1890) but the only picture of cars on a rainstormy road I found on the Web was from Australia and it had far fewer cars than we had on Route 85/40; also, they were driving on the left. And this is more beautiful.

Looks like it's by He Qi, does anyone know?

I found this without title or artist on the Web. Perfect illustration for one of my course websites. So up it went. Now, exhausted and nearly empty of words (I know, hard to believe - but a 16 hour work day will do that to me) I think you all might like it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Widow demanding justice, Jacob wrestling: back from the mountains, sermon-writing

... or sermon-finishing, or sermon-wrestling.

At St. Mary's House we are already using the Revised Common Lectionary (which the Episcopal Church everywhere will formally begin using this coming Advent) and this Sunday there is a choice of readings from the Hebrew Bible: Jeremiah 31:27-34 or Genesis 32:22-31. Both are very rich. I picked the Genesis one, of Jacob wrestling with the stranger, sometimes known as an angel and thought by many interpreters to be G*d. The painting above, by Marc Chagall, has hung in my dwelling (beginning with my dorm room in college) everywhere I have lived. Interestingly, when I was looking for reproductions of it on the Web, I found it, among other places, on a blog about the writing life.

The Psalm appointed for the day with the Genesis reading also happens to be one of my favorites, Psalm 121.

And then there's Timothy on the matter of scripture, sound doctrine, itching ears, and persistence.

The Gospel, of course, is a powerful one: the story of the widow and the unjust judge. I will begin with that story.

I worked on the sermon in the mountains, but now it is working on me. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Running for the hills

Glory be to Godde, it's Fall Break in the land of we-start-the-semester-mid-August-and-we-don't-get-Monday-holidays-off.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I am heading for the mountains, as I did last May. I will have a laptop to do some writing,* but will be out of range of the internet and cell phones. Within range will be vegetarian breakfasts at the B&B, hot tubs, and the Appalachian Trail.

* There is the small matter of a paper I am giving at an international conference in early November, so in addition to sleeping and hiking (not at the same time), I hope to think deep theological thoughts and write a few of them down. If the Creator grants me a poem or two in addition to that, my cup will truly run over.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Autumn Leaves

Fall has arrived. Two days ago the temperature finally dropped, and the nights are cool. The first red splotch of leaves has appeared on a tree near my office building.

It is a bit early for "Les Feuilles Mortes" (literally "dead leaves" -- the original of the song many know here as "Autumn Leaves") since there are only a few autumn leaves around, but the fall mood reminds me of my favorite version of the song and I haven't posted music in a while.

This version is by Yves Montand. I don't have the recording from my childhood, which is my very favorite, but this live one was on e-Snips. Enjoy.

Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA

Here's another live one:

Get this widget
Track details
eSnips Social DNA

I had another one up here, again with Montand speaking the poem first, then singing, but the eSnips link stopped working, so I have removed it. (Thanks to JohnieB for catching this, and boo to eSnips; the link worked when I posted it a day ago.)

I am cutting and pasting my comments on the author and lyricist of the song from the Comments section since many of you will be interested. (French folks, skip this, you know it already.)

"Les Feuilles Mortes"'s lyrics are by the 20th c. French poet Jacques Prévert and the music is by Joseph Kosma, also French, though born in Hungary. Here's a bio of Kosma. The two wrote many songs together, but Prévert was already a poet in his own right. Kosma wrote other music as well. Ken, as you will see, he was involved in your beloved movie Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise). So was Prévert, in fact. The dreaded Wikipedia is pretty accurate; see their bio of Prévert. We used to read his poems as children in France, as the bio notes. Prévert is in the curriculum!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Completely unsurprising

I am not a math geek. I am a cool history/lit geek. (They didn't ask about theology.) says I'm a Cool History / Lit Geek.  What are you?  Click here!

But 31% dumb/dork/awkward? Moi?

And 53% sci-fi/comic? Hardly. I do own a Yoda t-shirt (a nice t-shirt, French-cut and red with a Yoda appliqué) from the year "The Empire Strikes Back" came out, so I think this little piece of Star Wars trivia upped my score. For the record, I do not own a comic book collection or watch sci-fi series (okay, a few Trek episodes back in the day).

These tests are silly. Why do we keep taking them? Discuss.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A sermon on faith by Karen Favreau

We have been blessed with a wealth of preachers the last few weeks at St. Mary's House, Greensboro. Yesterday our preacher was a new friend and colleague, Karen Favreau, who has joined us at St. Mary's House this year. A deacon postulant (or as the jargon goes, a postulant to the vocational diaconate), Karen is a full time graduate student in the Counseling Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which we serve as Episcopal/Anglican chaplaincy. She is also a freelance writer and her spiritual memoir, Ridiculous Packaging: Or, My Long, Strange Journey From Atheist To Episcopalian, In Two Acts, was released by Cowley Publications in 2005. (I tried to link to Cowley's website, but it wouldn't work, so the link is to the beast Amazon.) Karen may be reached at and no, she didn't pay me to say all this. Enjoy her meditation on faith.

Sunday, October 7, 2007
St. Mary’s House, Greensboro, NC
Feast Day of St. Francis
Luke 17:5—10

Today’s Gospel lesson is what I refer to as one of those “tough love” passages we encounter now and then in the New Testament. It’s a passage in which I can visualize Jesus smacking his head with the heel of his palm or rolling his eyes before lovingly chastising the disciples for “not getting it.” And these “tough love” passages always make me squirm because I can relate so intimately to Peter and the rest of the motley crew—most of the time, I don’t quite “get it” either.

In response to the disciples’ well-intentioned request for “more faith,” Jesus replies, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you.” I can understand Jesus’ frustration. After all, his followers had witnessed firsthand the transforming power of faith in peoples’ lives. “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace,” Jesus tells the woman who’d been hemorrhaging for twelve years. “Take up your mat and go home” he says to the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof of a crowded house. What more did the disciples need?

Before I continue, I thought it might be a good idea to examine what we mean by this thing called “faith.” In the letter to the Hebrews, faith is explained as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is what empowered the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Old Testament to forge ahead when others declared their situations laughably hopeless. It’s what sustained Jesus and kept him from succumbing to temptation during those 40 days in the desert, and it’s what allowed him to say “your will be done” during those agonizing final hours in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And faith is something we’ve all experienced. Yet it’s not something we ever master, or an achievement that can be obtained by jumping through the right hoops. And it’s not a one-shot deal. Right when we think we’ve got this faith thing down, right when we’ve finished slaying dragons and weathering the slings and arrows of this life, we let our guard down just a bit, and fear burrows into our hearts. And when fear worms its way into our being, it becomes all too easy to turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous As Frederick Buechner writes, “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession.”

“Lord, increase our faith!”

Maybe Mother Teresa prayed a variation of this request as she wrestled with doubt and loneliness in her own ministry. A new book entitled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light is based on decades of correspondence, and the letters within reveal something very disconcerting: for the last 50 years of her life, the beloved saint felt spiritually abandoned, cut off from God, and completely alone. “I am told God loves me,” she wrote, “and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Mother Teresa, a perfect example of the servant in the parable Jesus shared with his disciples, the epitome of one who expects no reward or recognition, had run out of steam. Upon learning of her dark decades of the soul, columnist Leonard Pitts figuratively shook his fist at God and said, “You know, you could have given her a sign. Would that have killed you?”

I find it interesting that the powers that be chose to publish her letters after her death. Maybe they wanted to “protect” Mother Teresa—after all, there are many Christians out there who like to envision their saints as superheroes who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Or maybe they wanted to protect US. After all, why would we want to be confronted with the knowledge that the glorious saint in our midst wrestled with the same stuff that we mere mortals deal with everyday? If we knew that the amazing woman who hugged lepers and fed outcasts in India felt like God was distant and unloving, might we be tempted to say “What’s the point?”

Don’t worry; “faith” is not the same thing as “certainty.” Nor is it the opposite of “doubt.” Rather, as Paul Tillich tells us, doubt is a necessary element of faith.

“Lord, increase our faith!”

While I’m not a fan of bumper sticker slogans or catchy phrases that try to distill complex theological concepts into seven words or less, i.e. “What would Jesus do” or “I’m too blessed to be stressed,” I did see a clever t-shirt message the other day that made me stop and go “hmmm.” The t-shirt said “DON’T Keep the Faith—Pass it On!” OK, it’s not exactly Kierkegaard, BUT it did remind me of something very important. Faith is not something we keep to ourselves. Nor is it something we gain or sustain by ourselves. We live out our faith in community, communities filled with broken men and women who struggle to make sense of Jesus’ life and who strive imperfectly to live up to his teachings. When our faith is so great that it spills all over the floor and we can no longer contain it, we share it with the thirsty person next to us. And when our hearts are cold and empty and God feels one million miles away, we hold out our hands in the hope that someone will do the same with their abundance.

I would be remiss if I didn’t somehow work St. Francis into today’s sermon. Actually, I’d finished my sermon a couple of weeks ago when Rev. Matthews said, “Oh yeah, we’re blessing the animals that day, so you might want to work St. Francis into it.” It’s easy to romanticize St. Francis on a day like this and turn him into some sort of cuddly Dr. Doolittle character. Yet St. Francis was truly radical and wonderfully subversive. In an age when the Church had become bloated with power and more concerned with collecting indulgences than with feeding the poor or bringing the Gospel to the oppressed, Francis, by his example, forced the Church to take a long, hard look at its priorities. The idea of challenging the Catholic Church in Italy in the Middle Ages is about as fantastic as telling a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. As biographer Donald Spoto reminds us, Francis, like most saints, was an eccentric. Among other things, he probably would not have passed the psychological examinations required of those wishing to enter the ordination process in the Episcopal Church. [Howl of laughter in our congregation from those who are or have been in the process and all those who have sat on discernment committees.] Francis was in love with God, and, as we all know, love makes us do wonderful, crazy, eccentric, life-changing things. And so does faith.

Even though Jesus got annoyed at the disciples for requesting “more faith,” I will continue to do just that. And, as that prophetic t-shirt reminded me, if I AM blessed with “more faith,” then I have a responsibility NOT to “keep it,” but to pass it on, however imperfectly, in thought, word, and deed. Perhaps I will pass it on by stepping outside my comfort zone and reaching out to someone who doesn’t look, act, or speak like me. Maybe my whole world will be rocked as a result of this influx of faith, a faith that St. Francis showed us could transform lives and challenge everything comfortable and familiar to which we cling. Faith is powerful stuff. Therefore, if we pray, “Lord, increase my faith,” we might do well to remember another catchy slogan: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Into Great Silence

See below.

Also because I am taking the day to be quiet and write.

More Francis: "in the wilderness," by Bellini

I'd never seen this one. It's "St. Francis in the Wilderness," by Giovanni Bellini (late 15th century).

At St. Mary's House we are having the Blessing of the Animals tomorrow.

Maya Pavlova, who is lounging by the laptop, says "I don't think so."

I shall bring a photo of Her Highness instead.

Speaking of Joan Chittister...

(which I did briefly in the previous post)

... She's on Krista Tippett's radio show Speaking of Faith (SOF) this week.

You can either listen to the show or read all about it on the SOF website or listen to the podcast.

Friday, October 5, 2007

"Into Great Silence"

Below is the second half of an e-mail I sent to the students in my History of Christianity course yesterday. (The first half involved Giotto frescoes of Saint Francis.)

We had already studied Benedict, the granddaddy of them all (in the West; we studied Basil and Macrina in the East too) and the later Cistercian reforms. This was just a bonus because the movie happened to be showing on campus as part of a French documentary series.

* * * * * *
The film "Into Great Silence" about the Carthusians is tomorrow evening, Friday, at 8 p.m. in Bryan Auditorium in Frank Family Science Center. Slow, quiet, and beautiful. Here's a link to the Carthusian order. It was established in the late 11th / early 12th century (depending which founding event you use), so it's right within the purview of our course. Although most monastic orders today have adapted to contemporary life -- see, for instance, some Catholic Benedictine Sisters (Erie, PA, the group to which the well-known writer and peace activist Joan Chittister belongs), some Anglican Benedictine Brothers (the Order of the Holy Cross), and the ecumenical community of Taizé (see also here for short description of the Taizé monastic community, founded in the 20th century - the first link incorporates this description and much much more about Taizé-related activity around the world) -- the Carthusians remain much as they were centuries ago and have always been among the strictest of monastic orders, even more so than the Trappists. They do, however, have that website!

* * * * *

I just saw "Into Great Silence" and I am going to be silent about it except to say "go see this movie." (Unless you are fidgety or have ADD or ADHD -- although if you do, it may calm you down. It's nearly three hours long and has hardly any words.)

None of my students came, but it's Friday night and at least they now have web links. Yes, I had also announced it in class. Twice.

If you insist on reading a review, here's one by Laurence Freeman, O.S.B. (the Christian Meditation guy).

Francis follow-up: Saint Francis and the Sultan

I promised more Francis fare, and here it is.

This comes from a New York Times op-ed from last Christmas Day by Thomas Cahill. I first heard the story in a sermon for the feast of St. Francis two years ago. So yes, the encounter between Francis and the Sultan really did happen. Read the op-ed here.

If the link won't work, please let me know and I will do a cut and paste job. The link works for me, but I have one of those login thingies --don't you love it when I talk tech?-- with the Times.

In the same vein, here is a meditation on Francis and the Sultan by Jesuit peace activist John Dear.

Here is another by a freelance Catholic writer, Wendy Hoke.

Burma action: blogging day yesterday, International Day of Action tomorrow

I didn't have a chance yesterday to join the bloggers who posted about Burma, but there is still time for me to alert you to tomorrow's International Day of Action for a Free Burma.

WASHINGTON - October 5 –A diverse group of Buddhist communities are uniting and taking to the streets this weekend (October 6) in support of Burma's monks and nuns. Vigils and peace walks are planned for major cities including Barcelona (Spain), Chiang Mai (Thailand), London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Chicago. The focus of the events will be at 12 noon (local times) this Saturday, October 6, as part of the "International Day of Action for a Free Burma." A list of vigils can be found here.

Leaders from many Buddhist traditions have spoken out, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Organizations such as the International Network for Engaged Buddhists (based in Thailand) and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (based in the U.S.) have also declared their support for the monks and the people of Burma. Many of these statements have been collected here. Since Friday, September 28, Buddhists have organized vigils in more than 20 locations, including Tel Aviv, Milan, and Washington, D.C. Many have worn red (the color of the Burmese monastic robe) to show their solidarity with the monks. At some vigils, such as one held in front of the United Nations in New York on September 29, participants chant the Metta Sutra (an classic Buddhist text on loving kindness for all beings) which the monks in Burma have taken as their inspiration.

Dr. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), states, "We are deeply saddened by the events in Burma. Buddhism in the West is exactly about taking action for liberation of Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike in any place where people suffer at the hand of hatred. We intend to continue in the unwavering commitment to the practice of nonviolence and of loving kindness that our brothers and sisters in Burma have so courageously demonstrated. We believe this is the only way that true peace and justice can take root in Burma." Rev. Alan Senauke, associate director of BPF and an ordained Soto Zen priest, states, "This is an historical moment of opportunity and danger in Burma. The function of a movement here and in Asia is to show the world, the activists in Burma, and the junta that people everywhere are watching and supporting a movement of human rights and national reconciliation, and that a transition to democracy will succeed."

About the Buddhist Peace Fellowship: The mission of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), founded in 1978, is to serve as a catalyst for socially engaged Buddhism. BPF's programs, publications, and chapters link Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion with progressive social change. The organization is comprised of more than 4,000 members and 35 chapters across the U.S. BPF is an affiliate of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists.

Additional note from Jane:

Amnesty International is here and on their site you can download an urgent action sheet for the detained protestors.

From the BBC: Burmese Struggle Goes Underground

Friday cat blogging: wild-eyed stretchy beast

Actually, I think it was the flash.

This is still from the first series of pictures. I must take more soon. Maya Pavlova has settled in very nicely. She was a bad girl last night and jumped into the linen closet. But who can blame her? Those towels are so cozy and the door was open and she has dancer's legs. So she jumped up and slid in before I could stop her.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Happy Feast of Saint Francis!

Today is the Feast of Francis of Assisi.

More later, but for now, a painting by Giotto. This is Francis's conversation with the Sultan, and yes, that's fire on the left.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Shame, shame, shame (children's health, anyone?)

Bush vetoes SCHIP.

And the BBC puts this in its top three headlines, but the Associated Press (at least as filtered by Yahoo) does not.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A visit from Sudan

I have a Sudanese student in one of my classes. I had already known him for a couple of years before this semester through campus life. He is a fine human being with a smile full of sunshine. Today his mother came to visit, on her way to a conference on the West Coast.

They were in my office for a while, and while our conversation is not something I would talk about in detail on-blog, I do want to say how important the visit felt. First, because it is always a delight to meet our students' parents, and a special honor to meet parents who come from far away. Also, because of a church connection: the young man and his family are members of, and leaders in, the Episcopal Church of Sudan. His mother was on her way to an international Christian women's conference of a group I knew largely as being a conservative evangelical organization in the U.S. and whose international dimension I did not know. Through this group my student's mother is working to provide economic, psychological, and spiritual support to women in Sudan, especially those displaced and traumatized by war. The young man's father is bishop in a diocese that is the gateway to Southern Sudan. (Note to Chicago people: the Diocese of Renk, Sudan has a companion relationship with the Diocese of Chicago, as you probably know.)

In our congregation we pray for the people of Sudan every Sunday because one of our members is active with Save Darfur and keeps us aware of the situation there.

So, once we had had our mother/son/teacher conversation we spoke about all this. I told Deborah --that is her name-- about our prayers, she told me a little about her work with the women, and we promised to stay in touch.

Perhaps our congregation can build some ties, through these beginnings of friendship, with people in our Communion who are half a world away and with whom we share common humanity and faith.

The Current Unpleasantness seems and will seem very small in the face of both the life and death situation of so many and the power of faithful friendship.

Do you know about AFRECS? (The acronym stands for American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.)

My friend Mary Hunt is right: there is an intrinsic connection between friendship and work for justice.

Pray for the church. Pray for the people. Pray for this fragile earth, our island home.

May our prayers be yeast for action and our action be leavened with prayer.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bonus Ethiopian icon

Triptychon: Mary with Jesus and the Archangels Gabriel and Mikael surrounded by various Ethiopian Saints

Michael and All Angels

I know, it’s the day after the day after, but Blogger was acting up and wouldn’t let me in.

* * * * * * * *
[Written on the 29th, the very day.]

Six months ago, I posted this about Michael the Archangel.

Today I was off chairing a meeting of the diocesan anti-racism committee half the day and have nothing to add, but the Byzigenous Buddhapalian has a short post for Michaelmas, and Padre Mickey has a Celtic poem to Michael the Archangel AND a fine reflection on angels, and I don’t mean New Age angel fluff.

Blogger has been acting funny...

... or maybe it's my computer. The other one, that is: it's the work laptop that won't let me sign in. This Jane-owned one does what I tell it to do.