Monday, December 31, 2012

For Folks With Nimble Minds

Peter Berger's latest: Two Old Germans Drinking Coffee


Modern Science Writers Leave Science Behind, which includes this gem:

"Anyone who is willing to take off his partisan glasses will quickly come to the conclusion that both sides of the political spectrum—conservatives and progressives—are willing to throw science under the bus whenever it is politically expedient."

These Are Things We Should Be Considering Seriously

A Millennial Church Emerges

Although, since last year's successful "Ashes to Go" campaign was initially met with the standard indifference [aka Connecticut resistance] by those whose support I sought, I imagine any initiatives in this direction will have to be undertaken individually, too.  I doubt one could expect anything more than tepid verbal support from any diocesan bureaucrats, either.

The Quakers Try To Build A Worship Site And Look What Happens

Phila. police tie construction-site arson to union sabotage

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

Again, due to the particular nature of the season, there are no lesser feast days this week.  However, the normal schedule returns next week with four very different individuals remembered.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Food Policy Success Stories of 2012

I'm particularly partial to #2, especially as a response to those who think that the unfortunate in our society exist to slake the very odd control needs of the mayor of New York City and other privileged politicians who share his world view.

The Gregory Illustration

To Howard Kurtz & Co, it's "obvious" that Gregory didn't intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, "obviousness" is one of the first casualties – and "obviously" innocent citizens have their "obviously" well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, 11-year-old Schylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so "obvious" that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth-grader? Because he's got a TV show, and she hasn't?

Anything involving guns is even less amenable to "obviousness." A few years ago, Daniel Brown was detained at LAX while connecting to a Minneapolis flight because traces of gunpowder were found on his footwear. His footwear was combat boots. As the name suggests, the combat boots were returning from combat – eight months of it, in Iraq's bloody and violent al-Anbar province. Above the boots he was wearing the uniform of a staff sergeant in the USMC Reserve Military Police and was accompanied by all 26 members of his unit, also in uniform. Staff Sgt. Brown doesn't sound like an "obvious" terrorist. But the TSA put him on the no-fly list, anyway. If it's not "obvious" to the government that a serving member of the military has any legitimate reason for being around ammunition, why should it be "obvious" that a TV host has?

Three days after scofflaw Gregory committed his crime, a bail hearing was held in Massachusetts for Andrew Despres, 20, who's charged with trespassing and possession of ammunition without a firearms license. Mr. Despres was recently expelled from Fitchburg State University and was returning to campus to pick up his stuff. Hence the trespassing charge. At the time of his arrest, he was wearing a "military-style ammunition belt." Hence, the firearms charge.

His mom told WBZ that her son purchased the belt for $20 from a punk website and had worn it to class every day for two years as a "fashion statement." He had no gun with which to fire the bullets. Nevertheless, Fitchburg Police proudly displayed the $20 punk-website ammo belt as if they'd just raided the Fitchburg mafia's armory, and an obliging judge ordered Mr. Despres held on $50,000 bail. Why should there be one law for "Meet The Press" and another for "Meet Andrew Despres"? Because David Gregory throws better cocktail parties?

More Fun With/For David Gregory

First, even “banned” magazines are ridiculously easy to acquire. How long did it take your producers to find that magazine? Five minutes? Ten minutes? There are millions upon millions of these cheap and easy-to-manufacture items in circulation, and “banning” them will have exactly the effects you so brilliantly demonstrated on national television.

Second, labyrinthine gun-control restrictions serve mainly to instantly (and often inadvertently) convert otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. It’s a media-created myth that guns are largely unregulated in the United States. In fact, they’re so heavily and complexly regulated that it’s difficult for citizens to track jurisdictional differences or even sometimes to understand the laws in their own jurisdictions.

Third, strict-liability gun offenses breed disrespect for the law. I tend to agree with your friends in the mainstream media — prosecuting you for holding an empty magazine in your hand would be a travesty of justice. You weren’t going to hurt anyone, you were merely using a prop for an argument, and — after all — the magazine was simply an inert hunk of metal. But the law is the law, and I’m sure you’ll agree that you should be treated exactly the same as any other (previously) law-abiding citizen caught with a similar item.

And then there is this, which is sublime:

"Had it up to here with all those intolerable fines and inconsistently applied regulations and restrictions?"  Well then, just wear the "David Gregory" mask when dealing with law enforcement or the TSA, and it's no problem:

The word that appears on all of those pages — inert — means quite a bit. Let’s see if anyone in the media looks it up.

Media plays up gun buyback that turned up inoperable weapons
If you're wondering why I've taken such a political bent lately, it's because my bishops have, for as long as the expression has been current in the American idiom, always encouraged me to "speak truth to power."

There are none so powerful as the coalition of the wealthy who now feel they have carte blanche to regulate our lives to an absurd level, using their control over the law and the media not only to treat us like something sub-human in need of custodial care, but to tell us why such treatment is a good thing.

Thus tyrants have always presented themselves.

Now I appreciate that when bishops started telling us to "speak truth to power", they meant it only to Republicans when they are in the White House or serve as the majority in either the Senate or House or Representatives.  I recall a great man of the church intoning the wonderful prayers of the baptismal liturgy one Sunday, especially the verse about respecting "the dignity of every human being", and then stating in the sacristy as we were de-vesting after the service how he would gladly kill then-President Reagan.  To anyone outside of the church, that would seem incongruous.  To those of us who have been serving in the church for a number of decades, this is normal. 

A couple of years ago, all you needed to do to reduce a roomful of clergy to a stuttering rage was to say, "Sarah Palin".  Then all of their sanctimony disintegrated rather quickly.  Again, if this is how lay people wish to manifest the Gospel, that's their business.  Clergy are and should be held to a different standard, as we are the ones charged with illuminating how Gospel values are to work.

Prayers, like words, mean something.  God has given us tremendous freedom to choose love and community over hatred and division.  While I do not expect politicians or media, sequestered in a bubble reinforced by their affluence and race, to be anything other than addicted to controlling the people on the outside of that bubble, while exploiting suspicion and fear as its fuel, as a Christian I feel called upon to address these issues in a way that some may find pungent, but a few may realize as an extension of what God has called us to do.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Debbie Harry

The "punk rock" movement was messy, disharmonic, sometimes violent, and wholly necessary.  The great creative period in popular music that had ushered in the fantastic cultural shift that was the 1960's  had been supplanted in the 1970's by the droning electro-pop of disco.  Instead of Jimi at Woodstock, or even the Stones at Altamont, there was now a battalion of sequined, interchangeable, air-coiffed "singers" offering equally interchangeable, tedious, synthesized music that accompanied dance moves that made even the graceful look as if they were suffering from cranial damage.

On the other hand, punk rock was loud and as in-your-face as a bellicose Red Sox fan in a Bronx bar.  If disco prepared the foundation for the metrosexual, punk was its primordial remedy.

Early punk bands were mostly English and ridiculed and attacked all sorts and forms of institutions.  The most memorable of the early punk songs was the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen", which melodized:

God save the Queen
She ain't no human being

Well, you may as well watch them, but I warn you.  By the way, the singer's name is Johnny Rotten and the bassist, Sid Vicious, is renowned as the worst bassist ever to get a recording contract:

Well, that was horrible, wasn't it?

Punk bands were known to play in the noisiest and loosest manner possible, somehow turning three simple cords into something like a world war.  They could be very drunk while on stage and were sometimes known to physically assault their fans.  The word finesse was wholly lost in this type of music.  However, it was refreshing in that the musicians were playing their own instruments, however badly, and were not the product of some studio electronics.  If disco had John Travolta and other boys prancing around a dance floor with hair like that of my date to the 9th grade homecoming dance, punk rock had "slam dancing", which is just as it sounds.  Trust me, I think I'm still bruised from it.

But, for all of its necessary, raw appeal to the power of music as primal force, sooner or later a more sophisticated form of the music had to develop.  That next level, known to musicologists as "New Wave", was handsomely embodied by a petite, platinum blond from New Jersey who became the ingenue of the Greenwich Village and East Village joints that were in those days at the cutting edge of this latest musical trend.

If the punk rockers were "hot" on stage, Harry was cool.  If they were frenetic, she was serene.  If they presented their lyrics of rage and disregard with a voice that sounded as if an Osterizer was implanted in their larynx, Debbie Harry was smooth, gentle and a little breathless with lyrics about the universal themes of desire, lost love, and remorse.  Her delivery and style altered the energy of the punk movement without disturbing its drive or originality.  Her band, named "Blondie", became the biggest thing in lower Manhattan in the late 1970's, when I first entered the music scene.

This is a much better video than the one above, and not just because Harry is prettier than Johnny Rotten:

One evening at The Bitter End, when my guitarist and I were desperately trying to convince the owner to let us play a gig sometime, Debbie Harry came in with her entourage.  I don't recall who was on stage that night, but they were known to Harry and she sang one song with them.  It wasn't one of Blondie's, it was "Someone to Watch Over Me", an American standard from earlier in the century composed by George and Ira Gershwin.  It was beautiful.

The reason I think of her from time to time, as I now am older and beginning fondly to look back on the halcyon days of my youth, is because, not long after she finished on stage, the two of us were within feet of one another at the corner of the bar.  I wanted to tell her how nicely she had sung that old torch song, but the place was far too loud and crowded to permit it.  Also, she was a big star at the time and I was a big chicken.  So, I raised my glass to her and smiled.  She winked at me.

Sometimes, at the end of a trying day, I think of that wink and I smile.

Harry would eventually become a torch singer and still performs, although usually singing American classics in smaller venues.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hey, Bishops! How About This Cause? It's Much Closer To Home Than Hawaii

Fathers disappear from households across America

I forget where I saw it now, but "a father" was one of the top requests to Santa Claus this season.  I think something in us all just died a little.

I Hope Our Politically Active Bishops Address This Wrong

Democrats appoint white male to Senate seat long held by minority.

After all, Hawaiian diversity is unique in the United States, with Polynesian and Asian demographic groups long established in the state's political power structure.  This is exactly the sort of thing the superior order usually get riled up about.

I hope they don't ignore it just because of the political party involved.

Moore From Mike

Documentary-maker and liberal activist Michael Moore said the reason for mass shootings in the United States is largely due to fear and racism, and on Christmas Eve he pleaded, “calm down, white people, and put away your guns.”

Thus says another white millionaire.  You know, the people who now tell us what to do.

As Ever, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Anti-gun Documentarian Michael Moore's Bodyguard Arrested on Airport Gun Charge

Also, this from the American city with the strongest gun control laws and the mayor who doesn't want armed guards in schools outside of the one he sends his kids to:

Chicago Reaches 500 Homicides

Laws only control the law-abiding; criminals and lunatics exist outside of the law.  Something tells me that the Chicago murder rate would be bigger news if it didn't usually involve impoverished blacks.

Oh, hey.  Look at this.  I mean don't look at it; move along.  There's nothing to see here.

Gallup: NRA Has 54% Favorable Image in U.S.

54% is much higher than the favorability rating of the media.  How can that be? 

Also, Howard Kurtz of CNN is a little dim: "Kurtz, a journalist himself, is mired the same sense of entitlement that people are objecting to in Gregory. He thinks journalists are special people who float above it all, who don't live in reality."

Our Bishops Tell Us There Is A "Culture Of Violence". Thank God For Hollywood, Eh?

Can't speak for anyone but me, but I'm starting to get real tired of being lectured to by a collection of sanctimonious, millionaire hypocrites.  The standard nowadays is for them to tell me whether or not my granddaughter can be protected in school, how big a cup of soda I'm allowed to have, that I can't have goose liver if I want it, and that I am now to be stigmatized because I own a gun.  Remarkable.

William Burroughs, the Beat Generation novelist, once said, "Whenever there's a mass shooting, people always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it."

The whites took the guns away from our tribe whenever they wanted to move us, too.  I know, I know, they were just doing it for our own good.  That's what whites do; they get to decide that.

Oh, look.  Here's another:

Rahm's Kids' School Protected by Armed On-Duty Police

It's okay for his kids, just not for yours. 

For those nervous that I might use a source from a site not approved by wealthy whites, this is from an objective media site:

Gun Control Debate Exposed The Media’s Bias, David Gregory Exposed Their Hypocrisy

And now, Iowahawk explains how a poor, black kid in Washington D.C. can be busted for possession of a 30-round rifle magazine [those are illegal to possess in the District], but a rich, white man will be excused by his buddies in the press and in the government:

David Gregory can have and do illegal stuff because journalism. And because free speech. Also, because shut up.

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Here's more:  Criminals are people who break the law. All David Gregory did was break the law.

If you're not white or wealthy or politically connected, you will have no one to help you.  If you are, the law doesn't matter anymore.  Shoot 'em up, Jaime.

Thursday's Prayer

Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom. —St. Justin Martyr

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Government Got Distracted

I thought the reason that government could tell people they couldn't buy fois gras, drink sodas out of big cups, or have too much salt in their food, was that all other health problems were taken care of.  Oops.

One of the world’s greatest killers is making a comeback. Once thought to be nearly eliminated as a public health threat, tuberculosis is again becoming a serious danger due to a rapid increase in drug-resistant strains of the disease around the world.

It Appears That I Shall Be Immortal

Expressing Anger Can Add Two Years to Person's Lifespan

Thank you, White House and Congress.

It's Always About "Control" With These People

Gregory Mocks LaPierre for Proposing Armed Guards, but Sends Kids to High-Security School

Yes, the millionaires in the media and government will always be protected. Those living without private or publicly-funded security or police departments and with an expected law enforcement response time of 30 minutes may feel differently than Dave.

We live in a world where malls, hospitals, movie theaters, and even public libraries have armed security. Why is it so weird to suggest the same for schools? Heck, I even know of churches that use discreetly armed personnel. 

[Disclaimer: I would employ an armed guard at a former parish, when I was a rector in Hartford, whenever we had an evening meeting or liturgy.  It was a long-time practice at that parish, considered both prudent and normal.  There was not a person in the parish, including those who thought there should be no guns at all in the world, only rainbows and unicorns, who didn't welcome that guard and admit to feeling safer because of him.]

Why is it provocative of me to want my granddaughter to have professional protection while at school?  It seems a much crazier idea to declare a location a "gun-free zone" and expect those words, like magic, to keep away psycho killers.

Ironically, it appears that Dave, in his passion to address this problem in society with the usual journalistic objectivity, managed to violate Washington D.C.'s gun control laws. 

Police probe NBC's David Gregory on gun clip

From the comments: "What I want to know is how many citizens have been jailed in DC for violating this law? And is their skin color darker than David Gregory’s?"

Before Anyone Gets Judgemental...

...this was written by an Obama-voting pacifist. See, free thinking is still possible.

Scenery chewing in the Theater of Outrage over Wayne LaPierre's unremarkable news conference.

How Not To Give A Eulogy

President Obama was supposed to eulogize the memory of Sen. Daniel Inouye. Instead he told us about his favorite summer vacation.

Eulogies are not permitted by the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and I'm sure that the staff of the National Cathedral [which is Episcopal] is regretting ignoring that particular italicized portion of the prayer book.

Leave it to the pros, willya?

I'm Beginning To Find George Orwell To Be A Much Better Writer Than I Originally Thought

Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations

Things To Come

In fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist. The technology driving this change is already at work, and nothing can stop it. The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Speaking As A Former PBS Intern, This Is Both Good And Fair

‘Charlie Rose’ Show Agrees to Pay Up to $250,000 to Settle Interns’ Lawsuit

Tuesday's Quotation

Sometimes, when the soul least thinks of it, and when it least desires it, God touches it divinely causing certain recollections of Himself.    -St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

This Week's Lesser Feasts

December 28: The Holy Innocents

As this is not a lesser feast day, I would not ordinarily have included it, as this list is of those days that are often unknown or forgotten for no good reason.  However, given recent events, I did want to mark this day.  Originally, it remembered those first-born males slaughtered by King Herod in his vain attempt to prevent the coming of the Messiah.  Over the centuries it has become a "catch-all" day for prayerfully focusing concerns about the plight of children, especially those killed or murdered in number.  I have, during the last three decades, heard it used by advocates fighting against poverty and disease in Africa, and also by members of the pro-life movement fighting against abortion.

As of this year, I will always associate it with the children of Sandy Hook, especially since the original number of those killed by Herod was probably around 20 and not the inflated numbers popular in history.

More of the day and its origin may be found here.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

December 29: Thomas Becket

The holy, blessed martyr, as he is regarded in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", is of particular significance in the Church of England and its Anglican cousins as his martyrdom marked the resolute line between church and crown.  His history is often invoked when the church stands in moral opposition to something promoted by the state. 

From the BBC:

Thomas Becket was born in around 1120, the son of a prosperous London merchant. He was well educated and quickly became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on several missions to Rome. Becket's talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When Theobald died in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop. Becket transformed himself from a pleasure-loving courtier into a serious, simply-dressed cleric.
The king and his archbishop's friendship was put under strain when it became clear that Becket would now stand up for the church in its disagreements with the king. In 1164, realising the extent of Henry's displeasure, Becket fled into exile in France, and remained in exile for several years. He returned in 1170.

On the 29 December 1170, four knights, believing the king wanted Becket out of the way, confronted and murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was made a saint in 1173 and his shrine in Canterbury Cathedral became an important focus for pilgrimage.

O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Merry Christmas, Everyone

The Fitzgeralds at home.  Alcohol may have been involved.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Liturgies Of Christmas

Christmas Eve:
5:00 pm Celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the occasion of the Feast of the Incarnation with Carols and Hymns.

10:30 pm Festal Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, also with Carols, Hymns, and special music.

Friday, December 21, 2012

William Butler Yeats' "The Fiddler of Dooney"

There is absolutely no reason for me to post this poem other than I like it and it makes me smile.  The image of the people dancing I understand at a level that old Yeats would have recognized as rud a bheith dĂșchas agat. The expression loses something in translation, so I'll just leave it at that.

The Fiddler of Dooney

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’
And dance like a wave of the sea.

Matti Moosa

"So, why don't you come over and have some nice...pie!"

It was a familiar bidding, and one I always looked forward to receiving, especially at the end of a long day serving as the vicar of two parishes in the countryside of western Pennsylvania.  I was single in those days and sorely missed the company of people I had known in New York City.  In fact, the transition from being a free-lance clergyperson and academic researcher in the world's greatest city to being a basic, meat-and-potatoes parish priest in Edinboro, Pennsylvania was such a shock to my system that I filled all of my waking hours with work, driving back and forth between two churches and visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and parishioners in a route that covered 1500 square miles.  Given that winter lasts about nine months of the year in Erie County, and that it snows every single day of winter, those treks could be arduous.

I had invested in an answering machine, which was an extravagance, because in the pre-cell phone days it was the only way my far-flung congregation could get important messages to me.  Well, by important, I mean they could record complaints about the organ music, complaints about the new hymnal [yep, the hymnal was new back then], complaints about the new Book of Common Prayer [ditto], complaints about my sermon...well, you get the picture.  I reached the point where I would have to sit down and steel myself before I hit the "play" button.

But once or twice a week, there would be a message from Matti Moosa, either bidding me to come have some of his freshly baked pie or describing in detail the mildly insane and totally hilarious dream that he had the night before.  [I remember in particular a dream that Matti had of his death.  He was always irritated by the fact that the archdeacon drove a Mercedes Benz and could be ostentatious about it.  In the dream, he was riding to heaven in the archdeacon's Mercedes and St. Peter, much like Matti, took great umbrage at the idea of a priest driving what in western Pennsylvania in the 1980's was a very showy car.  The Great Fisherman, in Matti's dream anyway, forbade the archdeacon entrance to the Kingdom, permitted Matti a place in the realm eternal, and kept the car for himself.]

At first, I knew him only as one of my parishioners at my new parish.  I had a number of university faculty in that congregation, professors of everything from English to Education to Chemistry; the vice president of the university always sat in the front row, but Matti was easily the most learned.

He was born and raised in Mosul in a house that had been in his family for almost 1000 years.  Yes, that number is correct.  In Iraq, he had been an attorney, working among the other members of what was once a large and vibrant Mesopotamian Christian community.  Somewhere along the line, and I never got the whole story, he earned the right to study at Columbia University, earning a Ph.D. in History.

He was also an ordained deacon in the Syrian Orthodox Church.

As the Episcopal Church in the less-urban portions of the United States was in those days the closest relation to Orthodox Christianity, Matti, his wife and three children, became faithful members of my first parish as a rector.

He was one of those professors that most students would initially be afraid to have, as he expected them to be as serious and studious as was he.  As he was blessed with a photographic memory, he could quote whole sources from books long out of print.  I think he knew about every Middle Eastern language, and would sometimes lapse into Arabic syntax when excitedly presenting a point about historiography, Franco-British geographic manipulation, theology, the absurdity of continuing Muslim/Jewish strife, or when yelling at his frequently flatulent dog.  For all his seriousness, his sense of humor was, as I have found with many Middle-Easterners, at turns child-like in its joy and sublime in its regard for human foible.

On the occasion of our first dinner together, after pie, he described the book he was writing, an examination of the Maronite sect of Christianity, and asked if I would be willing to help him with it.  Of course I said, "Yes".  Within moments I had a type-written manuscript roughly the weight and thickness of one of the larger telephone directories.  I took it with me that evening, only to have Matti call me the next afternoon to ask if I was done with it yet.

He also wrote a well-received and timely history of the extremist Shiites of Islam, a translation of the poetry of Kahlil Gibran and of all of the poetry of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.  There was never a time when his dining room table wasn't covered with research papers, 3x5 cards, obscure notes in at least two languages, and all sorts of other objects related to scholarly study, except when we gathered together for vast Arabic meals finished with the most American homemade apple pie I'd eaten since my late grandmother's.

My salvation for those years, lost as I was afraid I was in the middle of nowhere, was with Matti, his learned and interesting family, and the fascinating scholars, poets, and writers that he brought from around the world to that former farmhouse on the outskirts of Edinboro.  Without him and his family's support and encouragement, I doubt that I would have ever continued in what became my life's work.

There are times, when our table is surrounded by family and friends, and the laughter and comments are ranging about the room, when I think back to those days long gone, when I would sit at Matti's table, in the midst of some argument about transubstantiation that was being heard in multiple languages, and remember the smile of sheer joy that he had.  It was then that he would say in Arabic, "Fadal".  In other words, "everyone eat and share the bounty that has been provided."

A great sentiment, don't you think?  It really sounds better in Arabic, though.

[Matti's page, yes, his own page, may be found at this link.]
Today, the government has asked for a moment of silence at 9:30am.  Governments being what they are, they also want church bells tolled.  Yes, during the moment of silence.  Secularists really need to stay away from spiritual matters, don't you think?

So, beginning at 9am this morning, the parish will be open for prayer, not silence.  Bells will be tolled at 9:30, of course, but that's not because of government fiat, but because that's what we do.

Any future requests for "moments of silence" from state authority will be met either with a moment of prayer, a moment of noise, or, depending upon the nature of the request, a stout "no".

We're the church and we're free from the dictates of the state.  After all, that's what Thomas Becket's martyrdom was all about.

No, This Doesn't Fit The Narrative

Gallup: More Americans Favor School Officials Having Guns Than Weapon Ban

That's because, unlike federal politicians and senior media members, most of us aren't millionaires with access to private or publicly funded security who live in cities with large, efficient police departments.

[Note: The police response time on the day of the shootings was 20 minutes.  20 minutes may as well be an eternity.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

After a week of “moments of silence”, I find that I’ve tired of them.  Christians were never expected to be silent in the face of God.  Moments of silence are what the non-theists, the secular, and government and public university employees have to do in the face of momentous, often traumatizing, events as they do not pray or are not allowed to do so publicly. 

Christians pray aloud.  Like the prophets, Christians stand before God rather than lay prostrate.  Like Jacob, Christians wrestle with angels.  During a “moment of silence” I want to yell, to scream, to cry, to ask God in a voice raucous and torn with grief why these things happen.  I want to take out my oldest, loudest guitar and play chords that would violate the integrity of nearby windows.

Mainly, I don’t want to stand aimless and silent, a passive portion of creation.  That’s for the non-theists; the people without belief or faith or prayer or words.  By choice, they have nothing to say.

But God has given me voice and heart and passion.  God has given me reason and words.  God has taught me to ask, to petition, to howl for justice, if need be.  God has taught me to be an active part of creation, and it is my responsibility as a Christian to fulfill that teaching.

So, don’t ask me for a moment of silence.  Ask me, instead, for a moment of prayer.  But, as always, be mindful of that for which you ask.

Thursday's Verses

Crown him the virgin's Son,
the God incarnate born,
whose arm those crimson trophies won
which now His brow adorn;
fruit of the mystic rose,
as of that rose the stem;
the root whence mercy ever flows,
the Babe of Bethlehem.

As Winter Approaches, The New York Times Turns To Its Annual Obsession

Namely, the quality of snow at ski resorts:

Rising Temperatures Threaten Fundamental Change for Ski Slopes

Since reporters, like a lot of people, tend to vacate during the Christmas holiday season, newspapers do what they do in the summers with shark attack stories and they pre-file global warming/climate change articles about things that might make affluent white people suffer.

For example, here's a pre-filed article from a 2007 edition of the NYT:

How Do You Ski if There Is No Snow?

Compare and contrast to your own delight.

[Interesting side note: In 2007, Pennsylvania ski resorts had record amounts of snow, but I recall a resort owner complaining that the media had no interest in informing people of that.  Do tell?  When you write the bulk of an article weeks in advance, you don't have time for immediate factual "irregularities"; just go with the established narrative.]

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

After the deadly Aurora, Colorado shooting Feinstein criticized those who said responsible conceal carry permit holders could have stopped gunman James Holmes, saying "...and maybe you could have had a firefight and killed many more people. These are people in a theater."

Opponents of the Assault Weapons Ban point to Feinstein’s hypocrisy on the issue, as the Senator herself said she obtained a concealed carry permit in California when she felt her life was threatened.

Another millionaire with tax-funded 24 hour a day security and ready access to law enforcement wants to tell those of us without such things what we're allowed to have.

Then again, when she speaks of irresponsible gun owners, perhaps she's speaking of other federal employees:

Pistol purchased by ATF agent found at alleged cartel crime scene in Mexico

Or this guy, who sounds like some kind of deranged nutcase; I'm told he's a federal employee, too:

“I guarantee ya, Barack Obama ain’t takin’ my shotguns. So don’t buy that malarkey. Don’t buy that malarkey. They’re gonna, they’re gonna start peddlin’ that to ya. I got two. If he tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem.”

Whoops, I do beg your pardon.  That quotation is from the current vice-president, not my wild uncle.  I'm sure he's anything but a nutcase, especially since the VP will be in charge of determining what the new government gun policy will look like.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yes. Next Question.

Has Rock and Roll lost its poetry?

I Love This Guy

"Who are you to judge me, I ask you Mr Ayrault, prime minister of Mr Hollande? Despite my excesses, my appetite and my love of life, I remain a free man," Depardieu wrote.

4 Awful Reactions to Sandy Hook School Shooting - And Thoughts on a Better Response

Horrific events such as the mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School are terrible enough in showcasing the evil that men do.  But they also regularly bring out the worst in observers, commentators, and pundits who will never let a lack of knowledge or expertise stand in the way of making grand pronouncements.

A note to the grotesque opportunist, Michael Moore: "Bushmaster" is the name of the manufacturer, not the weapon.  I appreciate that it gave you an opportunity to ridicule a former president whom you loathe [and could make you an honorary Episcopal clergyperson, were there such a thing; maybe there will be soon], but you have put on the chasuble of "truth-teller", so a little accuracy would be necessary for that to be realistic.

Also, Rupert Murdoch's statement rankled because it pointed out how sloppy contemporary journalists are with words.  Murdoch wants "automatic weapons" banned, which is odd since not only did the killer not use "automatic weapons", but they're already "banned" and have been for some time.  When the meaning of the words used by journalists is different from that in common English usage, I would think that would somewhat limit their ability to communicate effectively.

The other night, Howard Kurtz on CNN made reference to "high-magazine clips".  There is no such thing, the term is gibberish.  I think I know what he was trying to say [high capacity magazines], but when the public has to guess what a journalist is trying to say, that defeats the nature of his profession.

Also, Murdoch, like the odd mayor of New York, has a security team with him 24 hours a day.  What are they armed with?  I and others have asked them on Twitter but, for some reason, our questions keep getting deleted.  It appears that they are practicing a ban on "automatic" questions.  [I'm particularly curious since I have no security team, live in a town with no police department, with only one state trooper, and an average law enforcement response time of 30 minutes.]

Polydactyl News

Cat fight pits government against Hemingway museum

The soul in Dave Brubeck’s jazz

Through the decades, Brubeck has struggled to talk about the private journey that has defined his faith. In the program booklet for that 1968 cantata, he explained that he was “reared as a Presbyterian by a Christian Scientist mother who attended a Methodist Church.” He also stressed that three Jewish teachers shaped his life — philosopher Irving Goleman, composer Darius Milhaud and Jesus.

Who’s feeding the starving people?

“More poor eat all three meals at church soup kitchens.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What We Need Is Strict Drone Control

Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders

Why I No Longer Work In Higher Education

The age of dispassionate logic ended some time ago, as I'm reminded by this gormless fellow in Rhode Island.  [Warning: the lines you are to read from his Twitter account at the link were written by a young college professor in full command of the English language.  In other words, he can only express himself through the use of vulgarities.]

Rhode Island prof demands NRA chief’s “head on a stick”

As a libertarian UT/Knoxville law professor notes, the common syllogism of campus debate, especially about certain issues, seems to follow the same pattern, namely "(1) Something bad happened; (2) I hate you; so (3) It’s your fault."

Wait. What?

New coffin features in-built sound system

Solomon's Temple

This is a photo of what archaeologists think was the appearance of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem:


Tuesday's Quotation

You have created us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You. —St. Augustine

Monday, December 17, 2012

“We've established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived... and people are sicker than ever. We cure nothing! We heal nothing!”
Paddy Chayefsky, The Hospital

Peter Jackson's Violent Betrayal of Tolkien

In the novel, of course, Bilbo saves the dwarves many times—not only through his cleverness and his magic ring, but through his greater nerve. In Jackson's story, though, the dwarves are utterly fearless and possessed of sufficient battle prowess that Bilbo's cleverness, or lack thereof, is largely beside the point. Rather desperately, the film simply falls back on making Bilbo an improbably competent swordsman who somehow, without training, holds his own against whatever infinitely superior antagonist the film decides to throw at him. The dwarves embrace Bilbo not because of his pluck or smarts, but because he turns out to be a great warrior who can stand shoulder to shoulder with them and slaughter their enemies. So much for the true courage of sparing lives.

She's Got That Right

For Camille Paglia, the Spiritual Quest Defines All Great Art

This Is Either Mean Or Cruel. Maybe It's Both.

School Plays Bieber's 'Baby' As Fundraiser: Students Pay To Make It Stop

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

For the second week in a row, there are no lesser feasts on the calendar.  This has to do with keeping the season uncluttered in preparation for the Incarnation, of course.  There will be one next week, though.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Then Again, Maybe I'm Just Tired

I received two e-mails from my diocese, both sounding rather breathless to me, announcing that all of our bishops would be visiting the site of our state's atrocity.  One of my parishioners rolled her eyes and said, "Whatever that's worth."

Actually, I kind of agreed.  In a post-Christian age, three ecclesial bureaucrats wandering around exercising rusty parish-level pastoral skills while swathed in the apparel of authority would seem dwarfed by the circumstances they were attempting to address.  I appreciate their good intentions, though; it's just two things occur to me.

One, it's interesting that we've reached a time when the most of the laity are indifferent to the presence of bishops [the last official parish visit by a bishop produced the worst May attendance I've had since becoming rector of my current parish; and that was for a Confirmation liturgy, too] and two, diocesan officials still seem to think that kind of gesture is important to us.

Thus the gulf between a diocesan house and a parish house is seen in relief.  I know that everyone is trying to come up with some pastoral address that works, but outside of simple prayer, much of what the church does seems, well, a little empty and perhaps even a little self-serving.

The morning after the atrocity I attended an ordination.  It was a grand occasion, as these things usually are and should be.  To me, though, and only to me, it seemed like we were all dressing up and putting on a play.  Maybe it's because the day before I had caught a glimpse of a room full of dead children; maybe it's because of some other things that happened recently in my parish, but I'm beginning to think that there are better avenues for the spiritual address of our culture's troubling issues than to spend one's days struggling to keep a small parish open and full.

I don't think I'm going to be able to play "dress-up" for very much longer.

Since The Blaming Has Begun, With The Inevitable Calls For More Laws, Here's Something From 1999

Boston Globe editorialist John Ellis wrote, “Ours is a culture that glorifies violence, profits from it, sells it with the most advanced technology known to mankind. Violence bounces off satellites in outer space and beams into every American home, every hour of every day, every month of every year.”

You have probably heard that the average preschool or elementary school child spends twelve hundred minutes per week watching television and only forty minutes talking with parents. The average teenager spends nine hundred hours in school per year and fifteen hundred hours watching television. These hours do not include the time kids may spend listening to heavy metal or “gangsta” rap, which glorifies killing cops and raping women, or playing computer games both violent and occultic, or watching violent movies on video or in theaters.

According to researchers, during prime time viewing hours, at least fifty people are killed, shot, maimed, or raped on broadcast and cable television. Eight out of ten television producers say there is a link between television violence and real-life violence.

Wrote Ellis, “In the 1980s, evangelical groups tried to lead boycotts against entertainment and media companies that produced and broadcast gratuitously violent fare. Their efforts met with some success at the grass roots and nothing but scorn from media elites. Hollywood’s contempt for public concern about the ceaseless stream of violent media was perfectly captured in a quote from Ted Field, co-founder of Interscope. ‘You can tell the people who want to stop us from releasing controversial rap music one thing,’ said Field: ‘Kiss my ‘[snip].’”

Is it any better thirteen years later?
So, on Twitter people are arguing about gun control (in a state like Connecticut, which has closed three of its four mental hospitals in recent years; yeah, no mention of that), on Facebook people are engaging in "mourn porn" by creating, posting, and re-posting intended memorials; clergy are sending out mass e-mails protesting their relevance. I'm going off-line for awhile. As I said to some folks earlier, I don't want to play "dress-up" anymore.

Oh, Swell

Newtown church evacuated during Christmas pageant rehearsal after death threat

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ministering To Children After A Disaster

Dear Lord, be with us today and always. Give us strength to face all challenges with love and with courage. Be with us as we heal in a hurting world.

In Christ’s name, Amen.
Even those not directly affected by the disaster will face images of devastation in the media and wonder what they might do to help.
Children and young people are not immune from the effects of a disaster. While some children may lose their homes or experience disruption of their lives, many other children will see or hear about the effects of the event .
If a child wants to talk about experiences or something he or she has seen on television, take time to listen to the story the child wants to tell or emotions or thoughts the child needs to express.
Take Prayer Requests
If you are working with children in Sunday School, youth group, or other church gatherings, ask children whom or what they would like to pray about. Take their prayer requests seriously; some children may need to share concerns for family, friends, pets, and places affected by the disaster.
Listen attentively to each prayer request. You might repeat the request by saying, for example, “I pray that Will’s family is able to replace their roof soon.”
If a child does NOT have a prayer request, do not in any way force the child to make a request. You may, however, respond by saying, for example, “we pray for Catherine and her family.” If the child later indicates that he or she would like to make a prayer request, please return to that child when appropriate.
Acknowledge Emotions
Appreciate that anger at God and even doubt is normal in times like these. For now, focus on assuring the child that he or she is safe and that you will get through any crisis together. Don’t try to “fix” children’s emotions. Simply provide a safe place for children to express their emotions.
Be honest. Do not sugar-coat a situation or tell a child “everything will be fine” unless you can realistically say this. Give your child age-appropriate information about what has happened without overdramatizing the situation.
Practice patience. Children who have experienced disaster-related stress often regress in their development. Small children may even regress in their potty training. Outbursts or tantrums may occur. These are normal reactions. Be understanding and stay calm.
Encourage teens and older children to check in with their friends. Social interaction with friends will help teens find comfort and stay connected with their peer group.
Expressive Outlets
Encourage children to draw or write as a means of expressing themselves.
Help Kids Help
Children often feel empowered and more confident if they can “do” something. Consider making cards of encouragement for those affected by disaster or for first responders and relief workers. Youth groups or older children might organize a fundraiser for those in need.
Turn Off the News
Limit exposure to media reports of the disaster.
Provide Quite Space
Provide a quiet and calm place for children to play. Teach self-soothing techniques such as taking deep breaths and spending time in silence.

A Prayer From Scotland

Ever since the very first Bishop of Connecticut, who was also the very first bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, was ordained in the cathedral in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1784 [the Church of England would not ordain one of us because we were at war with King George III at the time], the Diocese of Connecticut has had a "companion relationship" with the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.  The current Scottish bishop has written a prayer today for the people of Connecticut:

Sustaining and redeeming God,

In sadness and in the tragedy of awful loss, we offer before you those young lives lost as a consequence of human violence this past week.

We raise in the distress of this time the families of whose children are no longer to share life and joy with them.

We mourn those other families also fractured by the needless killings of that day.

As Jesus first came to his people and lives of the young and innocent were lost in the cruelty of one individual upon others, so now 2000 years on we stand alongside those whose similar grief is beyond our imagining.

Holy and loving God bring all consolation that can be brought to those most in need of your presence today, and never cease to make your presence real in this their hour of need.

To you we voice this prayer, Amen.

Also, if you would, this comes from our own diocese concerning one of the departed, who was, with his family, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown:

Please pray for young Ben Wheeler who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School and for his family, father David, mother Francine, and brother.
Christ Church will be open today for prayer and solace. There is much going on at church today, in preparation for the coming season and in celebration of the 1st birthday of a parishioner, but the sanctuary will always be a place of quiet.

Friday, December 14, 2012

O God, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and
blessed them: Give us grace to entrust them to your never-
failing care and love, and bring us all to your heavenly
kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
ever. Amen.

Christ Church's doors are open for anyone who wishes a place of quiet, solace, and prayer.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As you probably know by now, there has been a school shooting in nearby Newtown. I don't know what the latest report is, but from what I've been told it is almost beyond imagination. I have been called and asked to stand-by as part of my work as a fire and PTSD chaplain. If you know of anyone touched by this, feel free to let me know at either the parish office or rectory.

Sun Ra

"I hereby declare myself another order of being.  Will you give up your destiny?"

Legally, I was too young to be in a nightclub; by about three years.  I had a tendency to take advantage of my older appearance to get into places where musicians I wanted to see were performing.  Sometimes it would be to places like the Smiling Dog Saloon on Cleveland's West 25th St., where a sixty year old man dressed in gold lame with a pharoah's headpiece was leaning over me, while he conga-lined across the floor, bidding me to repeat after him and declare myself another order of being.

I did so, if just to appease his intergalactic majesty, Sun Ra.  Also, I was concerned that if I didn't go along the bouncer would notice me and notice that I was only eighteen years old.

Still, sneaking into a nightclub was a chance I was willing to take to see one of the most unique, if not the most unique, jazz composers, performers, and orchestra leaders of the 20th century. 

Every performer needs his or her "hook", the gimmick that marks them as particular and causes them to pleasantly lodge in the memory and regard of the public.  We all know, if we're old enough, that Jack Benny was cheap, that Rodney Dangerfield did not get no respect, that Pete Townsend would bust his guitar on stage at the conclusion of a performance [oh, to have had that guitar repair contract].  Duke Ellington was elegant; Count Basie wore a yachting cap; Dizzy Gillespie's cheeks blew out like a puffer fish's.

Although Herman Poole Blount originally had no stage gimmick, he did have enough talent to play any type of jazz, even the kind that was heard only within his head.  As a young man, he played piano with both jazz groups and rhythm and blues bands.  He loved all kinds of music and was able to, after listening once to a musical selection, render it on paper in correctly transposed notation. 

In the mid-1930's he formed his own band, The Sonny Blount Orchestra.  They toured a lot of small towns and were critically acclaimed, which meant they were flat broke and out of business within a year.  He then found a lot of work with all sorts of bands in Birmingham, Alabama; enough to keep him from starvation, anyway.

To understand Blount's transformation, one must have an appreciation for the particulars of Birmingham jazz.  Each city has a style, of course, some are obvious and well-known: the raucous, joyful noise of Chicago, the jangly energy of Detroit, the earthiness of St. Louis, the low-down bluesy-ness of Memphis, the antique slide and jump of New Orleans.  The jazz of Cleveland is always marked by the use of the organ.  To this day, I cannot hear a Hammond B3 and not find my senses transported to Euclid Avenue at night.

Birmingham nightclubs favored the exotic in their stage design, with dramatic lighting and murals depicting scenes of far-away dreamscapes.  The sound they produced was tight and big, with full orchestras inviting people, both black and white, to the dance floors.  Because it was a small city, B-Town musicians saw themselves as a community, always well-dressed and, in public, well-behaved.  Their camaraderie was obvious both in their mutual regard and in the remarkable music they produced.  It was once said that one B-Town jazz man could read the mind of another, knowing when an extemporaneous key change was coming or whose turn it would be to offer the next solo without having to rely on any obvious form of intramural communication.

It was in this milieu that Blount really learned his craft; and it was in Birmingham that he had a moment of, well, let's just call it a form of interplanetary psycho-sacred epiphany.  We'll let him describe it:

"… my whole body changed into something else. I could see through myself.... I wasn't in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn … they teleported me and I was down on stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop [attending college] because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That's what they told me."

While it took a few years, and service in the US Army during WWII, to realize, it appears that Sonny Blount never really returned from Saturn.  He was replaced by Sun Ra, the persona and the name that he adopted in the early 1950's.  Although they would bear slightly variant names during the next forty years, from that time forward, Sun Ra would always be the leader of his "Arkestra".

So it was in the winter of 1974 that I found myself, after discovering his music in the dusty back wall of the record library of the radio station where I served as a part-time, late night DJ, experiencing the magic and mystery of Sun Ra and his Intergalactic Space Arkestra.  While some of it was truly weird, most of the music was a recognizable collision of bebop, Miles Davis-style laments, orchestral jazz, and improvisation on an early synthesizer.  It was both classic and spacey at the same time.  One moment, after one of Ra's jaunts around the room bidding us all to repeat after his bizarre intergalactic creed, and at the end of a particularly dis-harmonic moment of space jazz, without a word he and the Arkestra smoothly jumped into Ellington's "Take the A Train" and played it flawlessly.  In fact, it may have been the best live version I've ever heard. 

Sun Ra died in 1993.  No one was really sure of his age as he was always secretive about his past, but he was believed to have been around 75.  He left a very large fan base, as one might expect from a cult music figure, but was also a great influence to some of the more flamboyant of the funk and hip-hop acts that would mark the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Why use words when we can use music, though:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday's Verses

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.    - from the hymn "Nettleton"

Author offers politically correct version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’

“I think these edits outweigh other considerations,” McColl told the Guardian in a different interview. “If this text is to survive another 200 years, it needs to modernize and reflect today’s realities.”

Yes, people have been attempting that with The Holy Bible for the past one hundred years or so.  Really works out well, doesn't it?

For the record, the original, "un-edited" poem is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, whose estate in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan became The General Theological Seminary, once the flagship institution for clergy education in the Episcopal Church.  To this day, each December the seminary's dean reads the poem to the children of seminarians.  It's very charming, actually.

The Problem With Boycotts

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday's Quotation

The Christian life is the true Jacob’s ladder on which the angels ascend and descend. Meanwhile, the Lord stands above, holding out His hand to those who slip, sustaining by His vision the weary steps of those who ascend. - St. Jerome

Monday, December 10, 2012

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

Actually, there aren't any this week.  We'll visit the calendar again next Monday.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Truth Be Told, I Never Liked Teaching Catcher In The Rye

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

It was just too remote from the lives of my students.  Let's face it, Holden Caulfield had nothing in common with kids from the steel-manufacturing valley of Cleveland.  They were more likely to want to punch the privileged, whiny sissy than relate to him.  By the time I was teaching in private schools, Salinger's novel was too historically distant to be of any interest to my students.

On the other hand, Harper Lee's classic will be missed, as it spoke to a much broader range of adolescent experience.

[To be fair, Salinger's short story, "The Laughing Man", I think to be one of the great works in that genre of American fiction.]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cliff Young

When she visits on the weekends, my niece goes to the gym with me.  [Yes, I still call it that, rather than "health club", "sports club" or any of the other terms that are probably more precise and certainly more contemporary.  In my earlier life, before the advent of the health club craze, I would attend either "the Y", which had a pool but no true weight room, or "the gym", which was Rocky Graziano's on West 25th St., which had a weight room but no true pool, unless you counted the accumulated rain water on the building's roof.  While my current gym has a pool, it is certainly way beyond what our small YMCA had in the 1960's.  But, I digress.]

Because of her interest in marathons, I've come to know something of that very particular world of athletic pursuit.  Mostly, it's because I get stung with her bills for running shoes, portable running computers, and some God-awful muck called Gu that marathoners "eat" while in the midst of a race.

This lead me to learn that there is a type of footrace that originated in Australia called the "ultra-marathon".   As it sounds, ultra-marathons cover over 550 miles of rough terrain for, well, for however many days or weeks it takes for the contestants to finish.  If they do.  It's the rough equivalent of 21 combined marathons.

Naturally, this pursuit attracts every sort of extreme sportsman or sportswoman, including, I'm sure, the standard collection of nutters, who desire to prove something by completing this grueling trial.  They are fit, trim, and appropriately muscled.  If you saw them, there would be no mistaking an ultra-marathoner for one of the usual gym rats.

Well, except for one, who was originally thought to be just another nutter.  And why not, considering that he had never competed in even a standard marathon, was already past his 60th birthday, was a farmer from the middle of nowhere, showed up to run in gardening boots, and was in rather desperate need of dental prosthesis?  

Oh, he had arthritis in his legs, too.

Apparently, in order to be a successful farmer from the middle of Nowhere, Australia, where vehicles cannot handle the terrain, one needs to be able to herd the sheep on foot, mainly by chasing after them.  For days on end.  Hence, Cliff Young figured a race like this wouldn't be any different than what he had been doing on the farm his entire life.  Well, except for the chasing sheep part.

You can maybe guess the rest.  At the start of the race all of the ultra-marathoners took off leaving Cliff the Nutter in their considerable wake.  After 17 hours, the runners retired for the evening.  The next morning, much to their surprise, Cliff Young was in the lead.  Perhaps I should have mentioned that when Young was herding his sheep, it was not unusual for him to run all over his 2000 acres for days at a time without stopping to sleep or eat.  Is there an adjective more extreme than "extreme"?

To make a long story short, Young won the race.  In fact, he broke the record by two whole days.  When he was presented with the prize check, he revealed that he hadn't realized that there was money involved.  He just did it for a lark.  In a moment of pure Australian-ness, he divided the prize money between the other contestants, as he felt they had worked just as hard as he had.  That's right, LeBron, this is what grown-ups do.

He would set six more long-distance running records before his career ended.  He would also compete again in the Ultramarathon when in his 79th year, while battling cancer.  He finished the race, of course.

I should add that along the way he changed the running style of long-distance runners.  Suddenly, every extreme athlete in the world was running like a mildly deranged Aussie farmer.  It turns out that physiologists realized that Young's natural running style was the most efficient for that type of foot-racing. 

He died in 2003 at the age of 81.  All of the prize money that he had won over the years he gave to charities or friends and family in need.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Our Advent Series Begins Tonight

"You Are What You Hymn" will be offered in the parish house at 7pm. 

Tonight, a brief history of hymnody and the introduction of the Clements Incarnational Theology Index, or CITI.  Think about your favorite hymns and be prepared to share.

Thursday's Prayer

Know, O beautiful soul, that you are the image of God.  Know that you are the glory of God.  Know then, O man, your greatness and be vigilant.  - St. Jerome

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Notes From The Secular World

NHS health and safety chiefs ban 'dangerous' metal paper clips

For Some, Government Is God

Of course, this is making the rounds, approvingly, of Episcopal Church clergy.  If we live in a post-Christian age, it was the clergy who moved it to that status.

Plus, this interesting bit that I read in the Orange County [California] Register this past weekend [it was on the back page of the surf report]:

In that sense, the federal debt might be better understood as an American Self-Delusion Index, measuring the ever-widening gap between the national mythology (a republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens) and the reality (a 21st century cradle-to-grave nanny state in which... "government is the only thing we do together.").

We used to be people of faith together, but there seems to be a new god in town, a two-party government that promises everything we could ever want in the temporal domain.  Not a whole lot different from 1st century Palestine sometimes.

Not A Candy Bar I'd Want

Canada’s last asbestos mine may have future as Mars stand-in

Another Sign Of The Apocalypse

Fireman Ed Has Led His Last J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets! Chant

What, Again?

U.N. to Seek Control of the Internet

This Is Really No Surprise

Female Teachers Give Male Pupils Lower Marks, Claims Study

The most common sexism practiced in the academy is that of female educators vs. male students.  This was a problem twenty years ago when I attempted to address it from my administrator's position in a private co-ed boarding school, where ideas and perspectives from male students were very often dismissed by female teachers as being "regressive" or "morally retarded".  This was in the classrooms of Spanish and physics teachers, mind you, not ethics or philosophy. 

One day, a first year English teacher came to me in some distress because "the boys aren't thinking the right way."  "About what?" I asked.  "About the world", she replied.  "I can't make them think correctly about how the world works."

"How about if you just teach them how to diagram sentences?" was my rather shocking response, given the gob-smacked reaction I got.

The other disturbing issue is how medicated boys are as compared to girls. Boys acting like boys was so alarming to some of the faculty that they advised medication to "correct" the problem. Want to know what I had to keep track of as an administrator? Check this, as reconstructed mostly from memory:

Adderal amphetamine
Adderall X R amphetamine
Concerta methylphenidate
Daytrana methylphenidate patch
Desoxyn methamphetamine hydrochloride
Dexedrine dextroamphetamine
Dextrostat dextroamphetamine
Focalin dexmethylphenidate
Focalin XR dexmethylphenidate
Metadate ER methylphenidate
Metadate CD methylphenidate
Methylin methylphenidate
Ritalin methylphenidate
Ritalin SR methylphenidate
Ritalin LA methylphenidate
Strattera atomoxetine
Vyvanselis dexamfetamine dimesylate

Yep, that's post-modern education for you.  Some of the boys would come to sports so soaked in Ritalin that they were able to do little more than play home plate.  I mean, the actual home plate, not the position of catcher.

And now, ironic Episcopal PR from South Florida

The journalistic question: Why did the mainstream news report adopt a more blatant form of advocacy journalism than the denominational voice?

I Guess Things Are Getting Back To Normal

Business gives free spray tans to victims of Hurricane Sandy

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Parents Increasingly Goofy

Parents Increasingly Naming Children Apple, Mac and Siri

The Gravy? The Gov Is A Former Parishioner

This performance has its origins in a public embarrassment last December, after the governor of Rhode Island decreed that the majestic blue spruce standing in the State House rotunda would be referred to as a "holiday tree"—on the grounds that calling it by its obvious name would be an affront to diversity. Alas, a flash mob of carolers showed up at the lighting ceremony and delivered themselves of a rousing rendition of "O Christmas Tree."

To avoid a repeat, this year Gov. Chafee announced the tree lighting ceremony only 30 minutes before it happened. In short, Mr. Chafee has proffered the traditional gift of the enlightened class.

A joyous ceremony was transformed into an occasion of acrimony and division. The decision was justified with an addled reference to religious liberty. And the American people were again reminded of the apparent inability of so many of our bluest bloods to distinguish between upholding religious pluralism and enforcing anti-religion.

Tuesday's Quotation

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." -- Albert Einstein

Monday, December 3, 2012

This Week's Lesser Feasts: Four Great Beards And Two Unusual Calls To Be Bishop

[Please pardon the brevity of the listings this week, but other aspects of my life, both personal and professional, claimed much of my preparation time.  A visit to any of the offered links will give you ample information about this week's feast day personalities, though.]

December 4:  John of Damascus

Raised in a Muslim court, John is recognized as the last of the early church "fathers", those theologians and spiritual artists who established the foundation of established Christianity. 

As he stated: "I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God."

Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

December 5: Clement of Alexandria

Clement was one of the major Greek-speaking thinkers of the early church. He came from a pagan background at Athens and his Christian theology was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. Clement taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was succeeded by another great teacher, Origen of Alexandria.

O God of unsearchable wisdom, you gave your servant Clement grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, the source of all truth: Grant to your church the same grace to discern your Word wherever truth is found; through Jesus Christ our unfailing light, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

December 6: Nicholas of Myra

Nicholas' selection to be a bishop was unusual. After the former bishop's death, other bishops gathered to select the next bishop for the See of Myra. During the conclave, the wisest bishop heard a voice in the night telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning at matins. The first person to enter named "Nicholas" was to be the new bishop. The wise one told the others, counseling them to be at prayer while he waited at the doors. When the hour came, the first to arrive was a young man. When asked his name, he replied, "I am Nicholas." The bishop addressed him, "Nicholas, servant and friend of God, for your holiness you shall be bishop of this place." They brought him into the church and placed him in the bishop's seat where he was to be consecrated the new Bishop of Myra.

Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

December 7: Ambrose of Milan

"When we speak of wisdom, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking about Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking about Christ. When we are speaking about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking about Christ." So wrote Ambrose, bishop of Milan, biblical exegete, political theorist, master of Latin eloquence, musician, and teacher; in all these roles, he was speaking about Christ.

O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.