Monday, June 30, 2008

Preaching on the akedah: a sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (the first 2/3t)

I still have to reconstruct the end of this sermon, for which I had only notes, and which worked out well in the pulpit, but the Holy Spirit was helping out then and right now She wants me to get to work, so I will reconstruct the rest of the sermon later -- or post some summary paragraphs. Sorry... but I still thought it would be worth to have us chew on these questions.

My sermons tend to make people work anyway and send them off to ponder questions and/or invite the community to reflect on these questions together.

I have more written down and reconstructed, but the place where I leave off below is a good place to stop, for now, so that you can do your own thinking.

I'm thinking our congregation might do a Bible study of the whole Abraham -Hagar -Sarah cycle of stories sometime in the next year. We'll see what folks say. We are on reduced numbers and slow rhythm in the summer, since we are university-affiliated, but that's fine. All in due time.

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 8, Year A,
Revised Common Lectionary
June 29, 2008
St. Mary’s House, Greensboro

Genesis 22:-1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

We just heard a few minutes ago
one of the most disturbing stories in the entire Bible:
the story in the 22d chapter of Genesis
known in the Christian tradition
as the Sacrifice of Isaac
and in the Jewish tradition,
more accurately, as
the Binding of Isaac
or the akedah.

The story is also found
in a different form
in the Muslim tradition.
In the Qur’an,
it is not entirely clear
whether Isaac or Ishmael is the son
who is bound to the altar of sacrifice
but tradition generally says
that it’s Ishmael.

This story is a vital one
for all three traditions
who claim Abraham as a father in faith.

The problem is
that in the biblical story,
No one looks good.
At least to our contemporary eyes.

is a father who acquiesces
to slaughtering his child.

Sarah, the child’s mother,
is absent,
as are all the other women
who are part of the broader tale
of Abraham and his kin.

This includes Hagar,
the mother of Abraham’s other son,
Abraham, at the urging of Sarah
and under orders from God,
has sent Hagar off into the desert
with the boy, Ishmael. His boy.

the legitimate heir
according to the Bible
is a victim
who is spared
but who doesn’t appear in the story again.
We don’t hear anything about his
going back down the mountain
with his dad and walking home with him for three days.
– Well, would you if your father had raised a knife on you?

The ram
looks good
in that his death
spares the child;
but of course, he’s now dead.

And God –
God doesn’t look too good either.
God saves Isaac, proving trustworthy in the end,
but first God says to Abraham,
who has already shown plenty of trust in God,
“One more test. Kill your son.”

It’s ethically a very troubling story.

And it’s troubling spiritually
and existentially.
Theologically, if you want to use that word.

God does provide in the end,
and we’ve often heard the story with that emphasis:
if you are faithful, God will provide.
Sacrifice has meaning.

But the story leaves us asking:
Does God test us?
Does God provide for us?
Does God provide for us
only once we have passed a test?
Do we know
that it is God who is speaking to us?
How do we know?

Do we have to be willing to give up
even the people dearest to us
in order to be faithful to God?

Does the story hold up
in the death camps
and the killing fields?
Does the story hold up
in Sudan and Zimbabwe?
Does the story hold up
on the other side of Greensboro?
Does the story hold up
in this neighborhood?
Does the story hold up
in homes both poor and rich
where women and children
are not safe
in their own homes?

It really would have been easier for us to hear
the alternative text from the Hebrew Bible
that the lectionary offered us for today.

But we can’t avoid this story.

We can’t throw it away.
We have to wrestle with it.
It’s our story.
Generations of Christians have pondered it.
Artists have portrayed it.
It’s our inheritance.
It’s part of our common inheritance
with Jews and Muslims
and it’s part of what divides us from them.

It’s important to engage the story
for some of the same reasons it disturbs us:

This story
with the whole sequence
about Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and their children
is about rock-bottom basics of life:

Family relations.


and the prevention of violence.

And because the stories
of Hagar, Sarah, Abraham, and their children
are core stories in millennia of living tradition
in three sibling religions
they evoke centuries of interreligious relations,
in the past
and in the present.

This story also raises,
because it is such a difficult story,
the vital question for us as believers
of our relationship to the Bible.
What are we going to do with the Bible?
Or, to put it in the other direction.
what is the Bible doing with us?

How do we read it?
Is there only one way to do so?
I want to say a few things about the Bible.
And then I want to invite us
to focus on one dimension of the story
and to do so in the present.

This is a text from the past
that makes us ask questions in the present.

If we were dealing, say, with the book of Kings,
we could look at the text in some kind of historical context
as well as in conversation with our present lives.

We can’t really do that with the Abraham family saga.
It comes to us with the revelatory power of legend.

Note that I put revelation and legend together.
Just because a story comes to us as legend
doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring us truth about our lives,
ourselves, the world around us, and God.
It is revelatory.
This story makes us ask questions in the present
precisely because
its historical context and roots are, at best, shadowy.

Another biblical note:
This story, like the Bible as a whole,
is not a rule book
and it doesn’t necessarily give us people to imitate.

There is behavior to imitate in the Bible.
But that’s not all there is.
The lens of “do as the people in the story do” doesn’t work
-- and it’s not the way we as Anglicans interpret scripture.

Think about it.
Driving Hagar out into the wilderness?
Being willing to suffer the casting out of women and children
who are foreign
or who are from what used to be called the servant class?
Who are from what some call today the underclass?
Sending children to their death?

Or is that already what we do?

The power of the Bible
is often that it offers us
not prescriptions
but a mirror.

A mirror of our family relations
of the dynamics of human history
of relations between communities.
A mirror of religion
and the actions people do in religion’s name.

Later in the Bible,
the prophets will certainly point these things out to us
and so will Jesus.

Now the question for us
for today, in this place, from this text, in this time.

This disturbing story
shatters our image of God.
Perhaps it also shatters our sense of self.

I just used a violent image: shattering.
The story is a violent story.
It is a story about trauma.
It probably is hardest to hear
for those who are survivors of trauma,
whether individual or collective.

It is a story about violence.

The world in which the people of Israel
lived 3,000 years ago was a violent world.
The world into which Jesus was born
2,000 years ago was a violent world.
The world in which
Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived 1,000 years ago
was a violent world.

We live today in a world of violence
in which we raise children to send them off to be killed
in wars planned by their elders;
in which women and children
are too often unsafe in their own homes;
in which the descendants of Hagar and Sarah and Abraham
are not at peace with one another.

So this is my question for us
and not one I can or will answer
in ten minutes in the pulpit,
but a question for us as a community,
wrestling with a story
that disturbs our understanding of God.

What is our understanding
or image
of God
in a violent world?

[More words to come - but think about the question...]

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah on the survival of Judaism and Anglicanism

This essay by an English rabbi comes to us from The Guardian, via Doorman-Priest. Thanks, DP!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

(Older) lesbian wisdom

In honor of San Francisco, Paris, and many other cities' Pride Day, Acts of Hope brings you the wisdom of our friend janinsanfran, who has written two essays that will interest many of you.

1. Jan's monthly essay for "Gay and Gray" reflects on the changes among elders in the lgbt community following the advent of gay/lesbian marriage.

2. "Obama: a dyke's eye view" is Jan's essay on her blog for this Pride Weekend. A must-read for persons of all genders and sexual orientations. And not just for U.S. citizens, but for folks abroad as well.

As a hetero woman who loves men but is also highly suspicious of overly charming and good-looking men who know they are charming, I found this essay helpful. Even with my hermeneutic of suspicion of both handsome men and politicians, I need a dose of lesbian political wisdom from my friends. Jan says she suspects her post will not be popular. I think her analysis is right on.

P.S. * SF Pride story and photos here.

Summer slowdown: Sunday afternoon -- preaching aftermath, music, nap

I have preached on the akedah, the Binding of Isaac, one of the most difficult texts in the Bible, after being up half the night fiddling with the sermon and still not figuring out its conclusion till I was in the pulpit. We had a guest presider, the Episcopal Chaplain at Duke (though it also has "regular people," my congregation is a chaplaincy for three of the colleges and universities in Greensboro, so we are siblings of sorts), and it was great to have her with us. Ladies' day at altar and pulpit. Kevin is away at an ordination in Washington.

I may or may not post the sermon since I finished it on the spot and it's always hard to reconstruct. Same thing happened with my sermon on Jacob & the angel and the widow & the judge. Seems to occur with these wrestling-with-G*d stories.

There is an old-time music concert in Greensboro this afternoon with a group about which I hear nothing but praise, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and it sounds like great fun, outdoors and with fine music, but after all this biblical exertion I need a good long nap. After the nap, we'll see.

Here's a MySpace page I just found for the group. When you click, you'll hear some of their music. They are a young African American string band, and I think I'm going to be a fan.

Here they are via YouTube. You can see them as well as hear them in action. Great fiddling and banjo, and it's a jug band with a real jug. Good harmonies, too. MadPriest, are you listening? (Note: the Mad One has some good Sunday afternoon music himself. Have a listen.)

And yes, the computer is fixed. Still tinkering with bits of software I had to reinstall but we're up and running after a full "re-imaging" and installation of new and improved super-duper virus protection.

Her Grace is watching live kitty tv, also known as the bird activity outside the window.

As for Jesus, he showed up, right on time, and the congregation left well fed, to love and serve.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday cat blogging: study in sepia

I overexposed a sequence of photos of Her Grace, Maya Pavlova of North Carolina, F.B.E. This was accidental, but it turns out that My Lady Bishop looks quite lovely in slightly fuzzy almost-sepia tones.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Computer virus break (oy)

I ran into a nasty virus on a link from +Clumber's blog, Barkings of an Old Dog (note: not from Clumber's blog itself) --see my note in the Comments there on the most recent post. [Later note: Clumber has removed that post so no one else will get infected.] I am writing this in haste while the computer is in "safe mode." Am going to the tech-y people to disinfect in the a.m. (this sounds ominous) so if I'm offline for a while, I'm in quarantine!

Note: This does not in any way indicate conflicts or schismatic rumblings between Her Grace, +Maya Pavlova, and her beloved canine episcopal brethren. It's just a nasty tech-y problem.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Unequal America"

Meanwhile, Harvard Magazine has discovered the gap between the rich and the poor...

Worth the read, though, in the July issue. Here.

Workers in the vineyard: the Gospel for the day

... according to the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church.

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went.

When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same.

And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, 'Why are you standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard.'

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, 'Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'

When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.

Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.

And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'

But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Matt. 20: 1- 16 (NRSV)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Praying for friends and enemies: on Bonhoeffer and GAFCON

Justin Lewis -Anthony at the Three Minute Theologian remembers Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the subject of praying for our friends and enemies and applies it to this GAFCON week. Read it here. [Oops -- this link never wants to work; both FranIAm and I have tried to fix it. So just click on the home site of the Three Minute Theologian, the first link above, and scroll down, and you will find the Bonhoeffer post. ]

Tip of the summer straw hat to
Dave Walker at the Church Times Blog via The Episcopal Cafe's The Lead.

Lord, have mercy - Israeli border policeman kills self at Sarkozy farewell

In this morning's top stories from the AP:

JERUSALEM - Israeli security guards have whisked French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert away during an airport departure ceremony. An Israeli police spokesman says a border policeman committed suicide at the Sarkozy farewell ceremony.

The emphasis is mine. The story continues to give news of the rest of the situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The headline was "Guards whisk away Israeli, French leaders."

So an Israeli soldier --specifically a policeman who works at the border, perhaps at one of the many checkpoints that disrupt the daily lives of Palestinians-- was so upset, so desperate, so conscience-ridden perhaps, that he killed himself in public in front of a head of state, and there is nothing about him in the headline?

I'm glad President Sarkozy is safe, really I am, but this soldier's life is not one to ignore, nor is his gesture, which reminds me of other public suicides (note: this was not a suicide bomb) in the Vietnam and other eras.

We'll have to go to the Israeli newspapers for detail. (Note: there is plenty of diversity of opinion in the Israeli press. You'd never know this from what we hear in these parts.) Just a short report from Ha'aretz so far. The headline was "Border policeman dies from self-inflicted shot at Sarkozy farewell."

I hope someone from the media investigates the story behind the gesture.

And I grieve for the border policeman's family and loved ones, and pray for those who cross and guard borders daily.

Every day I think I won't blog and then something like this happens.

Updates later in the day:

-An anonymous poster raises questions about my speculations; fair enough. I still hope for the story behind the story, and the life behind the headline, and I still say "Lord, have mercy." But posting in haste is not a good idea, and I ought to know better. Anonymous, however, might do us the courtesy of identifying himself or herself.
Padre (and proud abuelito) Mickey, also in the comments, says the latest is that the weapon firing may have been an accident.
-A bit later,
The Guardian says an investigation is afoot to find out whether we are dealing with suicide or accidental firing. Either way, a tragedy in a torn land, and a dead man, one more, among the many.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hail yes

The thunderstorm threatened for hours. At last it is raining, the hardest, most dense rain we have had in months, and it is also hailing, simultaneously. The hailstones are huge -- between half a centimeter and a centimeter in diameter.

Maya Pavlova is under a desk lamp, ignoring it all and grooming herself.

I am designing theology sessions for the diocesan Deacon Formation Program.

Luiz on "the spirituality of sweet tea"

My friend (and friend of several of our readers here) Luiz Coelho has a lovely essay on "The Spirituality of Sweet Tea" at the Episcopal Café this weekend. *Permanent link here, though the essay is still on the front page, till early tomorrow. *Sweet tea, a reality both Southern U.S. and Brazilian.* Thank you, Luiz.

I'm struck by the fact that several of us who are Café columnists have been writing about slowing down, contemplation, Sabbath, overwork, overscheduling, and related matters.* (Today's column by Luiz, and also here, here, and here and probably some others I've missed.) *We're noticing the speed and superficiality of the culture around us and its production-centered values and trying to dip into our traditions to find deeper and more thirst-quenching waters.

{...drinking chilled,* unsweetened peppermint tea, slowly... and waiting for a North Carolina thunderstorm to descend on us...}

* no ice cubes

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tech-y question: RSS feeds

Sometime I will do some web research on this, but perhaps one of you blogger buddies out there can help me.

1. Can you explain RSS feed, what is is, and how it works?

(I do have a simple online definition, but I'd love a beginner's explanation in your words. Please include explanation of what a "reader" is.)

2. Do you have a simple set of directions to install this feature?

3. Where did you find the best explanations and directions? (Blogger, Google, some other place?)

4. What has been your experience with this piece of technological communication? I'm almost definitely going to set it up, and I am reasonably tech-y, it's just something I haven't gotten to, and since I am having a catch-up sort of summer, I thought I'd investigate now.

Many thanks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday cat blogging: bonus photos

We've already had one appearance today by the Right Rev. and Right Hon. Maya Pavlova of North Carolina, but it's an animal week here at Acts of Hope, so we bring you this little sequence from the study. These photos are from a few weeks ago on a sunny afternoon. Enjoy.

This first one was featured earlier today on Byzigenous Buddhapalian. La Reverendisima Maya Pavlova had sent it and the fourth photo in this sequence in her pastoral letter to Padre Pablito.

Click each photo to enlarge, especially that fourth one.

New baby human

My colleague Eric, who teaches courses on Buddhism, Shamanism, Tibetan and Himalayan Religions, Religions of the Minorities of Southwest China, and all manner of other interesting things, and his wife Dáša, who recently joined our Foreign Languages faculty part-time to teach Chinese and is also a fantastic runner, are the new parents of a little boy, Soren, born yesterday evening. Soren has ten fingers, ten toes, and a cute nose, and everyone is fine, if a little tired and stunned. Welcome, Soren! We're so glad you arrived safely.

You heard it here first: Mark Jordan hired at Harvard

This news just in from a friend at Harvard Divinity School.

There's a bird up there

Click to enlarge.

This is the current favorite perch: the bathroom window, open to the breeze. There is a screen, of course.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

N.T. Wright on the Colbert Report

Even as I write.

You can catch the video online on the website. Which is what I plan to do, because it is time for some sleep.

Cognitive dissonance

I have been reading books and articles related to women in the worldwide church, or rather, to women AS worldwide church.

What's the difference? Sometime in the 1980s a shift happened within churches and in ecumenical gatherings, both the formal ones (e.g. the World Council of Churches) and the informal and new ones (e.g. Women-Church) including feminist groups: the focus of women's language about our church participation --at the grass roots and among theologians-- shifted from a "Please, sir, may I have some more" or "Please let us in" approach to a "We are church and have always been church" approach.

I'm talking about the world church here, church across the board, not just Anglicans, but what is sometimes called the oikoumene, from the Greek and meaning "the whole inhabited earth."

And by the way, the pioneers in this new approach toward women and church have often been Roman Catholic women.

Women are church.

Which doesn't mean that all persons are, in practice, suddenly equal.

Women make up a majority of worshippers in all Christian churches. Go up the hierarchical ladder and you find fewer and fewer of us.

Not that this is the only indicator of women's lives as church; far from it.

Over the last few decades women, many calling themselves feminists, others not, have drawn attention to the destructive and interrelated institutional (as in systemic, as in structural, not individual) webs of sexism, racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and socio-economic class - based bias (sometimes called "classism").

(Stick with me here, this is not about using ideological jargon, it's about the real lives of real people and where the churches are in relation to these people.)

The same women who have drawn attention to the reality of interlocking oppressions --and therefore the need for interwoven movements for liberation and healing-- have also noted the relation between church teaching and practice on the one hand and social practices harmful to women on the other.

Ways of interpreting the Bible or of offering (or not offering) pastoral care directly affect --and reflect-- the health and well-being of women and their dependent children.

Do you know what the major issue (one of four key issues, but the one that came up most often) was during the World Council of Churches' 1988-1998 Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women?

Violence. Violence against women. In homes. In churches. And of course on battlefields, in migrant camps, on streets, but especially in those other places, home and church, the places that should be the safest. No socio-economic class, race, or nationality was exempt. Women from every country and every church reported this.

That was the major issue brought up by church women. As a Christian issue. As an ecumenical issue. As an issue related to who we say we are as friends and followers and disciples of Jesus and as images, icons, of the living God, the one and holy Trinity.

The other issues lifted up by "the Decade," as it became known, were:

- Women's full and creative participation in the life of the church. (Are women participating in the life of the church to the full extent of their God-given gifts? Are women as well as men of all races, cultures, and economic conditions viewed as the images of God? Do the language and the shape of the liturgy reflect this? Do women have access to theological education? If they have access to it, can they use it to the fullest extent of their abilities? Are they remunerated for it? Do we value the wisdom of church women, whether or not they have formal theological education? Do we reflect this in the way we raise our girl children in the church? )

- The global economic crisis and its effects on women in particular. (Women and their dependent children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Everywhere. U.S., Mexico, Haiti, India, Thailand, Ghana, Brazil, Fiji.)

- Racism and xenophobia and their specific impact on women. (If you are dark-skinned and a woman, you are more likely to be poor. If you are a migrant or immigrant and a woman, your chances of suffering from both poverty and violence increase. So do the risks for your children's health and well-being.)

The method of the Decade during its second half involved visits by a team of four people, usually two women and two men, to local churches around the world. It was the first time in its 50-year history that the WCC used this model of local, person to person visits. The WCC chose to call these visiting teams "Living Letters," using the language of Paul the apostle in the Second Letter to the Corinthians:"You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Cor. 3:3, RSV)

(The WCC is now in the middle of a Decade to Overcome Violence whose focus and methodology are in part and quite directly inspired by the Decade in Solidarity with Women. It too has a Living Letters process.)

In the years before the Decade, another WCC project involved a broad number of grass-roots women, extending even beyond the Protestant, Anglican, Pentecostal, and Orthodox members of the WCC to include Roman Catholic and other women. The project, which has become known as "the Community Study," was called the Community of Women and Men in the Church. It lasted from 1978 to 1982 but its roots grew earlier from a number of earlier places and events, including the 1974 WCC conference on "Sexism in the 1970s," the first time a World Council of Churches international gathering used the term "sexism."

The WCC staff person running that 1974 conference on sexism, was a Black South African Anglican named Brigalia Hlophe (or Ntombemhlophe) Bam. Brigalia Bam later served as the Secretary-General of the South Africa Council of Churches. She is now Chair of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission.

Note the methods or processes by which the two projects, the Community Study and the Decade, came up with their findings: broadly based, grass-roots-involving (and involving church leaders too), ecumenical enterprises involving face to face conversation with much listening, study, and examination of the relationship between faith in Christ and daily life, and the relationship between daily life and the structures and institutions affecting it. A lot of sitting in circles, a lot of breaking or melting of silence, a lot of tension, tears, and anger but also patience, hospitality, and hope.

I know that at Lambeth the Bible study will be participatory and involve a carefully designed process that is not unlike the processes I have described above, though it will of course only involve bishops and their spouses. (With the exception of one duly elected and consecrated Bishop of New Hamphire and his spouse; but I digress.) Gerald O. West, a South African theologian (U. of KwaZulu-Natal) whom we heard speak at the Society for the Study of Anglicanism last November in San Diego, a contextual and liberation-oriented scholar who has also worked with women's concerns and examined approaches to biblical interpretation in the age of HIV/AIDS, has been coordinating the design of the sessions. This reassures me.

But --here it comes-- I confess to having almost the same feeling about Lambeth and GAFCON when I look at them through a feminist lens. Or, if the word "feminist" bothers you, through the lens of women as world church.

Of course, push me against the wall and I'm a Lambeth woman. I'm an Episcopalian --a happy one-- and an Anglican --a heartfelt one-- and Lambeth is my instrument of unity too. (Discussion about the why, what, whether and how of the Instruments of Unity --or Instruments of Communion-- some other time, or not at all.)

But that's part of my point -- the act of pushing against the wall. (Note the violent image.)

Who will be pushed against the wall? Who will push? Who will be outside the circle? Will there be true circles of listening and struggling with difference with integrity, charity, and hope? Will the relation between living Christ's resurrection and building justice be intimate, casual, clear, muddled, ignored, nonexistent?

Both GAFCON and Lambeth raise some of the same questions for me.

Who will be defining the situation?

What is church? Who is church? Where is church?

Who decides? Who interprets? Whom does this benefit?

What is unity? At what cost and over whose backs do we build unity?

What are the truly important matters for the friends of Jesus who call themselves the Body of Christ?

What are the needs of the world and the signs of the times?

Where ought our attention to be directed in these times?

And where, where will be the women and the voices of women, women as church?

I am late with my monthly column for the Episcopal Café because I have been trying to write a carefully worded piece on what ecumenical, worldwide women's questions and wisdom have to say to us in this Lambeth year, a perspective that goes more broadly and deeply than that of Lambeth yet is in some ways marginal to it.

Wherein lies the rub.

The nicely moderate words won't come out and instead I am pondering in public, or perhaps ranting, after realizing suddenly, a few hours ago, that I was having a profound experience of cognitive dissonance. That got me unblocked and writing.

The cognitive dissonance is this: the language and structure and process and concerns of one set of events (Lambeth, GAFCON) seem light years away from the language and structure and process and concerns of the other set of events (the WCC Decade and related gatherings and movements).

I know this is not entirely true. From looking over some of the Lambeth resolutions and some accounts of the last meeting, I see that it is not entirely true. I also see that it is partly true. And GAFCON, which, as most readers of this blog know, is not my thing, may have a participatory process about which I don't know. (Though I would love someone to filter it through the ecumenical experience of women for us. I doubt that any of the reporters or commentators will. Someone, please prove me wrong.)

So that's the lengthy thought for the day, and here I sit.

Can I get a witness?

Adolescent geese

These are from last week. It is now June and the baby geese, fuzzy and grey, have turned into adolescents, with smooth colored feathers just like their parents'. Mom and Dad (or Mom and Mom, or Dad and Dad, who knows, it's been known to happen with penguins) are still watching carefully. The adolescents are not quite on their own, thought they are just a shade smaller than the adults. You can hardly tell them apart.

If you count the goslings carefully in that second picture, you can see there are still seven of them. For some reason these photos won't enlarge when clicked. I have to figure out how to make this happen; I usually just rely on luck.

Rhododendron, May 2008

Click to enlarge and see the heart of the flowers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Seven little goslings, all in a row

... at least in one of the pictures.

I took these pictures last month before going out of town.

The goslings were just about to leave the cute baby phase: they were no longer small, round, and super-fuzzy, but they were still a little fuzzy, undifferentiated grey, and visibly smaller than their parents.

As you will see tomorrow, they are in an entirely different phase this week. For now, pull out the oohs and aahs.

I am including the first overexposed photo just so you can see the baby geese together on land. On land they and their goosey parents poke into the grass almost constantly for food. If I am remembering correctly, we'd had some rain, so there were probably a lot of delicious grubby things to eat.

The family is prettier on the water.

Click each photo to enlarge and see detail.

Ploof! They jumped into the water. These next seven photos are a sequence. As soon as the geese started jumping in I followed them with my camera (Pentax ME-Super, 400-speed 35 mm film) and clicked and clicked and also moved around on the shore. (No telephoto lens, just a standard one.)

Back to shore they came.

Don't forget to click each picture to enlarge it: you'll be able to see the goslings up close and the details of the water with its swirls and reflections.

Office move

So, the college decided a few months ago that I needed to change offices.

Bad news: moving is always a pain in the patootie.
Good news: it makes you clear the clutter.

Bad news: my old office is much larger.
Good news: my new office is much sunnier.

Also, it is closer to my Religious Studies Department colleagues (two* full-time, one part-time) so we will all be on the same part of the hall together.

******One is new, we ran a search this year to replace a colleague who left a few days ago.

Overall, not a bad thing, but it had to happen today and this meant packing books and papers yesterday for several hours in the p.m. with one other person and spending half the morning today supervising four or five large young men in bright orange t-shirts.

I will unpack sometime in August. Maybe sooner, but I am working at home for the first two-thirds of the summer and have the books I need here, and I really don't want to see the inside of my office building right now. At any rate, all the furniture is in, all the books are in, the internet and phone connections are properly wired (there was another nice young man in a bright orange t-shirt who came and took care of that), the door is locked, and someday I will make order out of chaos. Ah-choo! There was dust on those books.

I came home and had a long nap.

That is all.

I have no idea...

... why everything on the blog except for the last three posts is suddenly in small print instead of medium print.

I will investigate later today.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A postscriptum to the Del and Phyllis post and Mary Hunt's 2004 essay on marriage

I had this in as a Tuesday P.S. to my Monday post for about an hour, but it was getting so long I decided to give it a post of its own.

(1) The San Jose Mercury News weighs in.

(2) A triple P.S. from me:

(a) Furthermore, how does the love of these two lesbian women in any way diminish me or my relationships and commitments as a straight woman? In no way -- on the contrary. I can say without hesitation that my lesbian and gay friends have taught me to love --and have loved me-- as well as my heterosexual friends, and sometimes better.

(b) I see the point that the San Jose Mercury News is making, and I applaud its editorial for both its sentiment and its strategy. I also want to say that marriage isn't for everyone, and that not everyone makes a choice for monogamy. Also, coupledom sometimes just doesn't happen. I agree with my friend the theologian
Mary E. Hunt that the standard for relationships should be friendship. All of us, whatever our chosen or accidental circumstances, single or coupled, can fit into and live up to that one.

One of the admirable things about Phyllis and Del is that they have been friends to each other and a devoted couple for so long -- and that they have been friends to many: their couple relationship has had a public, civic dimension. Which if, of course, part of what marriage is about.

Del and Phyllis, may you live out the rest of your days in joy, peace, and love. Thank you for inspiring so many of us. Also, you are beautiful!

(c) Mary Hunt has a thoughtful essay on marriage (occasioned by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon's wedding ceremony at San Francisco City Hall in 2004) here. I recommend it highly. It asks some of the questions we all need to be asking and that go far beyond "should lesbian and gay people marry?"

...the role of theologians, and especially of feminist theologians, is to ask critical questions so that we generate thoughtful conversation to help shape what is emerging.

My view is that marriage ought to be available to any adult who wants to marry, but that marriage is not necessarily the best way to organize a society to optimize the common good. There are legal, religious and political issues at hand. I raise them here to start that conversation
. ...

Read the whole essay.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Critter pictures coming soon, and a blog flashback

We have had a dearth of Friday cat blogging recently. It also seems to me I mentioned something about baby geese and baby ducks a while back, though perhaps that was in a letter and not on this blog. I regret to say that although the neighborhood goslings have all survived (geese are a hardy and obnoxious bunch) only one of three baby ducks has survived (snif) but it is now nearly as big as its mama, and they were swimming, well, swimmingly, on their little pond at sunset today.

I'm taking some rolls of film into the shop tomorrow to have CDs made (I don't own a digital camera, just my old-fashioned one) and soon you shall see creatures. Mostly geese and Miss Maya Pavlova (not in the same place), because the ducks don't like having their picture taken, and today, when they were willing, I had run out of film. But I got to say hello.

Meanwhile, the weather continues hot, hot, hot, though the humidity was down and the evenings are tolerable. "Humidity was down" is, of course, a relative term here in North Carolina.

Blog flashback:

This year on this date:

Summer Disco, Special Edition: Dame Emma Sings the Red Priest (1)
Musical link is gone, but the Comments are worth a read!
And I reposted the music a day or two later: Summer Disco, Special Edition: Dame Emma Sings the Red Priest (2) - Ah... Vivaldi. Sung by Emma Kirkby. Life is good.

Eight Random Things Meme - at last
All you ever didn't want to know about Ms. Acts of Hope.

Saturday foodie report
I had just gone to the Berkeley Farmers' Market. Sigh.

Congratulations (again), Del and Phyllis

Loving, brave women. Congratulations and blessings to you, Phyllis and Del.

"Again," because we remember 2004, when you were also the first:

And because, as the news story reminds us,

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love at a time when lesbians risked being arrested, fired from their jobs and sent to electroshock treatment. Read on.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sing it, Ray

I always loved this piece of the verse in the hymnal version, but it's not always in the performances...

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

Still, Mr. Ray Charles rocks this song.

The Constitution lives - with its interpreters

An American flag waves within the razor wire-lined compound of Camp Delta prison, at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base. (Photo by Brennan Linsley, Reuters)

Well! The Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 (which always seems to be the number these days) on the Guantanamo case. News story here from the Associated Press and here from the BBC.

Adventus has already weighed in.

The SCOTUS Blog is closed to comments, but has all kinds of interesting follow-up to the decision already. Go there to get info closest to the source.

No doubt the beloved BB will weigh in sometime in the next few days. Constitution bloggers, rejoice.

The ACLU is here. (You knew I was going to get that one in, right?)

As a former Roman Catholic and an ongoing student and teacher of Catholic social thought, it grieves me that the four dissenting justices are all RCs. If Catholic social teaching has one* underlying principle, it is the dignity of the human person. Habeas corpus, anyone?

* I was being rhetorical, it's really two: as Charlie Curran's book notes, Catholic social teaching is grounded in a view that embraces both the inherent dignity and the social nature of the human person.

P.S. I think there are a lot of parallels between Constitutional Law and biblical interpretation, but that is another conversation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Martin Smith on time to pray

Martin Smith writes about prayer and time in yesterday's Episcopal Café.

The permanent link is

singing the same song, or at least related tunes.

Thank you, Martin.

...To have a prayer life at all now is usually a symptom of considerable courage, the chutzpah to swim against the tide. And perhaps that is how it should be, since Jesus’ teaching, is about learning to swim against the tide of conformity. And prayer itself is a paradoxical activity. It requires leisure to be opened up by unplugging from the pressures of everyday demands. But it isn’t itself leisurely; it isn’t a pious version of stress management that temporarily recharges the batteries for a return to the fray. It is itself a kind of inner work. ...
****************************Read the whole thing here.

Summer slowdown; holy communion (redux).

Still pondering the matters I mentioned two posts below. Thanks for your thoughts. Keep 'em coming! (Slowly and in your own time, of course.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"The Mother-Daughter Wars" (on Alice and Rebecca Walker)

Salon has a poignant, thoughtful, sharp commentary by Phyllis Chesler on the very public mother-daughter tensions between the writers Rebecca Walker and Alice Walker, who are daughter and mother.

You should be able to get into Salon with no trouble. (If you get a message asking you about Salon Premium membership, just ignore it and click on. Look toward the top right of the page if you can't find a place to click forward.)

The essay is

P.S. PJ makes a very good point in the Comments about a point I had managed to overlook -so much for mindfulness in the summer- so the piece isn't perfect (far from -- "emphasizing abortion"?) but I do think the major point about mothers and daughters and about the public nature of the discussion was spot on. More comments and criticism welcome! Thanks, PJ.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Summer slowdown; holy communion

Deirdre Good, colleague and friend, writes about academic summers and provides a link to the sage summer advice of Ms. Mentor, who is the Miss Manners of academe and writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Thank you, Ms. Mentor.

Life has quieted down here. The academic year is over. I have met some immediate deadlines and taken care of the most pressing household concerns. I've visited my parents, attended the memorial service for my mentor, and traveled again for a major professional obligation. I have gotten some rest.

I canceled my attendance at a conference this past week and weekend. It was my first absence in 15 years and I was supposed to help give out an award to a terrific scholar, Barbara Hilkert Andolsen of Monmouth University, whom I had nominated for the honor. But there were two other women speaking in tribute to her, and I e-mailed in my tribute, which someone else read on my behalf. I stayed here, getting into a steady rhythm of life, enjoying the reunion with my congregation this morning.

I am one of those very blessed people who worships and helps lead worship in a wonderful congregation. I have not capitalized "holy communion" above because the communion we shared this morning, the communion with Jesus and with each other, is also a broader communion. Our visiting preacher, Bob, spoke of this with different words but in the same spirit.

In this time of summer slowdown, I (and some fortunate others) can move into greater mindfulness, attentive to the ways in which all our lives can be both attentive and eucharistic. One can rarely have the latter without the former. Do we gulp down our food our savor it? Do we approach our dinner plates, our dishes, our piles of unsorted papers, our work, our encounters in stores and homes, with haste? with dread? with pleasure? with resentment? with hope?

If we feel dread, do we take time to know that we are feeling it? (I asked myself this very recently about two small tasks I was dreading and which were growing bigger by the hour because of the dread.) Not to wallow in the feeling, not to over-analyze it, but to notice it?

If we meet a person, a task, a place, do we meet that person, task, or place, as reverently as we would the moment of Holy Communion?

There is still work this summer: completion of small and large writing projects; getting the new administrative staff person settled with the diocesan committee I chair (we are all volunteers, but she is paid through a small grant we have) and starting to plan for some teaching I'll be doing in the diocesan deacon formation program; a few other things.

But life is less riddled with the term-time lurching from one fire to the next with metaphorical fire extinguisher in hand. I have more control over my time and over the rhythm of the days.

There is more time, of course, to attend to inner realities, and those can be as challenging to face as the outer ones. Still, there is more space to be reverent. I try not to mourn the times I was not able to be reverent, mindful, eucharistic, in this past packed year. Perhaps summer can also be a time for reconciliation: for forgiveness of self as well as others.

In this way too, summer holds the promise of sacrament.

Are there ways in which you have, hope for, struggle toward, a sacramental summer?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sabbath meditation

Here's a little something for our weekend meditation.

It's a video biography of Julian of Norwich with a lot of quotes from the writings of Julian herself.

It has a slow pace, and remember, you can always "pause" the video and ponder on a little piece of its contents.

The video notes that the writings of this 14th century mystic and theologian appeal to many people in our time. Find out why.

Brought to us by Trinity Television and New Media, via the Episcopal Café.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Nicaraguan priest elected president of United Nations General Assembly

Well! Look where Miguel D'Escoto has turned up!


Summer tunes: we start with the Animals...

... because I thought of them over at P.J.'s (she's asking for songs that make you say "yeah!") and because this song of theirs has been a favorite of mine for decades.

All together now... We've gotta get out of this place...!

As you will see on the YouTube comments, this was a favorite, if you can call it that, among U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.

And another one of the same, with the real boys playing live, not just still photos. (Tip o' the summer straw hat to Kate Morningstar.)

Bishop Tom Shaw's trip to Zimbabwe

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts, who is a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, has just returned from a trip to Zimbabwe, where he traveled alone and visited Anglican congregations and clergy at the request of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Read about it, and see a bit of video and a few photos, in the Boston Globe here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Inclusive church and YSL's funeral

Francophile that I am, I read all the reports about Yves Saint Laurent's funeral today and looked at several dozen news photos.

Picture this in the U.S. (though it would never happen here):

Top fashion designer dies after long suffering from brain tumor and other ailments, at the age of 71.

Fashion Designer was gay and had business and life partner of several decades, older than he.

President of the Republic and (third) Wife, former model who had worked with Fashion Designer, attend funeral, which is conducted with state military honors because Fashion Designer had been recipient of highest state honors, the equivalent of a knighthood.

Funeral is a Roman Catholic Mass.

President and Wife sit with Business-and-Life Partner of Fashion Designer, after meeting him on the steps of the church, embracing him, and offering condolences.

Partner of Fashion Designer sits in front row with President and Madame, and with Mother of Fashion Designer, astoundingly chic and shapely at age 95.

Catholic priest presides at funeral liturgy, acknowledging the relationship of Fashion Designer and Partner. He helps Partner up the steps before the processional, holding him by the hand, and accompanies Partner at the recessional, as the pall-bearers carry the casket toward the door.

Priest is former Diocesan Chaplain to Artists. (Yes, there is such a thing in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris.)

Partner of Fashion Designer, President of the Republic, and Madame walk down church steps together.

Partner of Fashion Designer and Fashion Designer had recently entered into a Civil Union (described in France by the acronym PACS).

Among the several eulogies (and yes, there was a proper homily about the Resurrection) are some words from Partner, who speaks of his admiration (admiration) and love (amour) for Fashion Designer. As he walks away from the ambo, weeping, the musicians play Jacques Brel's "The Song of Old Lovers." ("La Chanson des Vieux Amants.")

After the liturgy, when the pall-bearers carry the casket out of the church, the 800 congregants, and 1,000 more people standing in the street, burst into applause, then pause for a moment of silence during the military honor guard, then clap again.

In an interview, a model of African descent praises Saint Laurent for having opened the way for Black women to be fashion models and lauds his sensitivity and love of women.

* * * * * * * *
The news stories said all this. The photos showed all this. (And more, including Catherine Deneuve weeping for her old friend and reading aloud a poem by Walt Whitman, presumably in French translation. But that is not the point of this post.)

Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria when it was still a French colony. His body will be cremated and his ashes taken to Algeria's neighboring Maghreb country, Morocco (also a former French colony) where he and his partner Pierre Bergé owned a property in Marrakech. His ashes will reside in a botanical garden, where Bergé says he will join Saint Laurent when his time comes.

Rosemary Skinner Keller, R.I.P

A great feminist historian, churchwoman, and scholar has died.

Rosemary Skinner Keller died this morning of kidney cancer.

Dr. Keller was Professor Emerita of Church History and former Academic Dean at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She had also taught at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, where she served as the seminary's first woman Dean and Vice President of academic affairs. She was an ordained permanent deacon in the United Methodist Church.

With feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether (who is alive and well), Rosemary Skinner Keller was the editor of In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writings and the recently published, acclaimed three-volume Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America.

The Union Theological Seminary website has a biography of and tribute to Dr. Keller.

May Rosemary Skinner Keller rest in peace after her long and good labors, and may her memory and her work endure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 4: John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli), Bishop of Rome, pastor, teacher, ecumenist, friend of humanity

Today we commemorate Angelo Roncalli, best known as Pope John XXIII

James Kiefer has a bio, with some stories and a prayer, here.

The bloviation industry

Okay, so I had to look up "bloviation" in the dictionary too. But have a look. A friend of the family wrote this opinion piece, which appeared a couple of days ago in the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal.

Of course I disagree with him on cats, who have a lot more reason in their brains than some of the humans he mentions.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

And again I say to you (or rather, Howard Zinn says)

I mentioned it in the comments to this post and alluded to it vaguely in the comments to this one, so it's time, as we enter a new phase of the presidential campaign, to return to this post from February. Please. Read it.

In case you're lazy, I'm pasting below the excerpt I pasted back then. But really, read the whole thing.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore. ...

***************************Howard Zinn
***************************The Progressive (March 2008 issue)
***************************[boldface emphases by Acts of Hope]

Sensible advice: "No grave-dancing, please."

And please, no misogynist comments. Even those of us who have not been supporting Senator Clinton's candidacy have come to her defense when faced with the misogyny and sexism in the media, among political activists and commentators, and in casual conversation. She's not the Wicked Witch of the West. She's a politician.

Not that we have any illusions about politicians. But that is a different matter.

For the rest, I refer you to the eminently sensible FranIAm, who reminds us of the need for decency and decorum. (Sure you're not an Anglican, Fran? Oh wait, we Anglicans haven't been very decorous of late.)

Acts of Hope seems to be posting a lot about politics these days. If you want a break from that, see the post on Blandina and her martyr companions below. Which is not to say that martyrdom at the hand of empires isn't political...

Feline photos coming soon. Maya Pavlova, the publicity hound (yes, she approved the interspecies terminology) has been complaining that you haven't seen her gorgeous face in a while.

An addendum:

Two worth-the-read op-eds, from mainstream media, no less:

1. How Obama Won and Clinton Lost (Matthew Dowd, ABC TV)

2. What Obama and Clinton Underestimate (Mark Halperin, Time magazine)

Bob Diddley, rock on in heaven

I'm a day late to pay tribute to the great Bo Diddley, about whom many of you have read by now. There is a lengthy piece in the Los Angeles Times here. This great photo comes from there.

Rockin' Padre Mickey has weighed in, of course, as has prolific Greensboro blogger Ed Cone (Ed's has a video clip).

Now there is a square guitar in the heavens.

P.S. P.J. has a fine memorial post, with a link to the New York Times tribute and some music.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 2: Blandina and companions, martyrs at Lyon: the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls

About a decade ago I went to Lyon for the first time. That's going there as opposed to going through there, which happens a lot when you are a Parisian going either to the mountains or to the Mediterranean.

I stayed for a few days with a friend and his family and got the grand tour, or at least the important tour: the arena where the martyrs died (my hosts were fervent Catholics, so I didn't have to do any convincing to get to that site), the neighborhood with a lot of labor history (Lyon is a big textile city), and several foodie locations (Lyon is well known for its cuisine). Also the faculty of Catholic theology (which didn't have a website at the time - I see they now have online learning, too).

The arena of the early Christian martyrs is called l'Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls, and here it is.
To this day, the primate of the French Catholic Church is not the Archbishop of Paris, who does have a special status --I mean, having Notre Dame as your cathedral church does give you a certain je sais exactement quoi-- but the Archbishop of Lyon (which the French do not spell with an "s" at the end, the Brits stuck that on), who is known as le Primat des Gaules, Primate of the Gauls, and that's Gaul in the plural, with an s, just like the name of the amphitheater. This link will tell you (in English) why there are three Gauls and what they are. Or, if you studied Latin as a kid and read Caesar's Bellum Gallicum, even just the first paragraph, you will know the answer.

(Oh, glory be to Godde, I actually made a blog link to something in Latin. Isn't there a special snobby bloggy award for this? ;-))

For more on the martyrs and the who, what, where, when, how, and why of their witness ("martyr" means "witness" in Greek) and their feast day, do visit Grandmère Mimi and Padre Mickey.

Here is some detail of the amphitheater, with a map of it below so you can see what the original was like and what pieces of it endure.

You can see the entrance to the amphitheater. That's where the beasts came out and headed for the Christians.
Blandina has a church named for her in Lyon with both a sculpture on the portal of the church and a stained glass window. She is represented with two large kittehs, er, lions.

Grant us, O Lord of life,
the strength to witness with courage and clarity
as did Blandina and her companions
and to speak to the world
your truth and love,
in Jesus' name.

Kennedy in surgery at Duke

The Senator is having risky brain surgery in our fair state. Oremus.

More politics: Obama and his church

Rmj at Adventus has a sharply worded, well-worth-reading critique of the Senator-Obama-leaving-Trinity episode. Read it here.

A Tuesday postscript: Cardinal George puts Fr. Pfleger (who mocked Clinton from Trinity pulpit) on leave for a bit.