Friday, October 31, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend.

You Know I Had To Post This. I Confess, It Made Me A Little Homesick. And A Little Misty.

"Holy" Grail

These are my recruits....I will demand of them, and demonstrate by my own example, the highest standards of personal conduct, morality, and professional skill.
- from the Drill Instructors' Creed

This blogger has been educated by a variety of teachers, some formal, some decidedly not so.  I've been a theology student in the small classroom of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, been taught chant and the manual acts of the sacrament while a novitiate in a monastery, sailed blue water with champions, about broken my fool neck trying to master The Wedge in Newport Beach, California with a motley collection of surf bums, been taught proper brush technique for cleaning pot shards by an eminent archaeologist, learned how to shape wood by a craftsman in a small shop in the middle of Ohio, and to re-build a carburetor by a master mechanic with an I.Q. of 162 ["It's been tested."]

All in all, my life's been closer to a fictional bildungsroman than I ever thought it would be.  In addition to these lessons, there are some other things I know because of one of the more specialized teachers in whose presence I suffered.  You see, in addition to the knowledge required for a teacher, priest, shade tree mechanic, and luthier, there is also that not spoken of in the polite company in which I now abide.

Namely, I know how to field and detail strip an M-16 military rifle, even blindfolded, and then use it to put a bullet through a target outline at 500 yards; I can, if required, dig a slit trench in an afternoon using only a trenching tool, make bedding so tight that the trenching tool would bounce off of it; I know how to dislocate a human throat and the fastest way to deploy a Ka-Bar in silent combat.  I even know how to use a mattress to create the perfect crease in a pair of uniform trousers overnight.

However, the most universally applicable skill that I've learned is how to remain calm when being yelled at by a lunatic.  Believe me, that has been the most useful talent in my clergy career, whether the screamer is a street drunk, bilious priest, entitled vagrant looking for a handout, or self-important vestry member.  As much of my career in the church has been spent aiding congregations that have suffered some sort of clergy misconduct, and the offending clergy too long gone to receive the full brunt of congregational fury, it was common for me to be treated angrily for something I did not do.  21st century Christians, honestly.

This calm in the face of anger is known as "bearing" and it is a terribly important quality to perfect.  In fact, once upon a time it was the very first thing we learned.

I credit my tutelage in bearing and these other skills to Staff Sergeant Grail, whose first name I was too lowly to be permitted to know.  As he was in charge of my early education, and as he had been the tutor of many, many other young men, he was known around the recruit depot as "Holy" Grail.  His realm, like that of the Knights of the Round Table, was the ultimate goal of every true warrior.

Showing emotion is strictly forbidden though — Marines call this 'bearing,' and they are regularly graded on it.
A master class in "bearing".  That's what we're talking about.

In Grail's world, one always knew when bearing had been lost, either through the cardinal sin of looking directly at a drill instructor or, worse, the mortal sin of grinning, when one would receive the dreaded "knife hand".  Even though it is not used for physical contact, it is the worst gesture ever invented in the entire history of the human race to denote shame before the community.

See what I mean?  It still makes me shudder.

Grail was the smallest member of the platoon yet the one who carried the most ribbons on his chest. He had been to Vietnam at least three times, had first been deployed during the Suez Crisis, and could still outrun recruits twenty years younger.  He did everything in double-time and expected us to do the same. Judging from the pristine appearance of his khaki uniform in the humid air, we suspected his sweat glands had been removed.  He was introduced to us that first day by the junior sergeant as "the finest man to ever wear the blood stripe on his tunic" [that's what the red piping on a dress uniform is called]. If that wasn't impressive enough, the junior d.i. stared in my direction [I swear it!] and added, "He knows more ways to kill you than you know how to die."

Definitely not something one would hear of the senior instructor in a seminary or grad school.  Maybe the monastery....

Over the weeks it became our understanding that everything we did would be judged by Holy Grail and that nothing, absolutely nothing would miss his terrifying gaze.  None of us, it seemed, were capable of mastering even the simplest duties to his expectations.  Once, because I found it an uncomfortable fit, I left the chin strap on my helmet unsnapped.  For that nearly invisible transgression, I received a royal chewing out from no less than three drill instructors with knife hands freely deployed.  In all of the cacophony, though, the worst part of it was the silent and very direct scowl from Holy Grail, especially as he was a mere twelve inches from me.

Yet, despite his fearsome appearance and reputation, I never knew an educator of any sort to be so totally involved in the development of his pupils.  He did everything that he asked us to do, displaying vigor, verve, and total commitment.  For as many times as we were met by the scowl, the knife hand, or the vicarious challenges to our bearing, we were also recognized in those moments when, in Grail's words, we "weren't a total embarrassment before God, the US Constitution, and the Marine Corps". That's in ascending order of importance, you realize.

I've been complimented by headmasters, politicians, bishops and even an archbishop, and like the men and women themselves, their words were pleasant and transient.  The best achievement was not to have embarrassed the things Holy Grail held dear.  That made all the difference.

By the third week we were more and more often not a total embarrassment to Grail's trinity; by the sixth we rated our first "squared away".  In retrospect, that achievement ties in importance with my ordination to the priesthood and the conferring of my doctoral degree in the massive chapel at Princeton University. Although it occurred nearly forty years ago, I know my life would not have been as rich, nor I quite as brave in my professional choices, if not for having faced the scowl, the correction, the recognition and, eventually, the praise of Holy Grail.

On that penultimate day, when we fitted ourselves into the scratchy olive wool of our Class A service uniforms and marched in perfect formation for some brass, Grail could be seen with his face twisted in a macabre grimace as we passed in review.  Said the junior drill instructor, "Man, I always love to see Holy Grail's smile."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yeah, That'll Happen

I'm Sensing A Disconnection

Ebola doctor "lied" about his NYC travels


Ebola nurse says she won't follow quarantine rules

Ordinarily, I don't care about this issue, except that the medical establishment and the CDC, which employs the "Ebola nurse", actively and regularly engage in social engineering projects to control what we eat, practice as a hobby, use to fuel our cars, how far we walk, etc.  We are expected to abide by their directions but they prefer not to do so themselves.

This double-set of rules and expectations destroys trust in institutions and what they issue forth.  As anyone sentient has noted, public questions about our Ebola protocols are not a "panic" on the part of the citizenry but an expression of how little trust remains for these once vaunted professions and institutions.

Oh, jeez; it just gets better, doesn't it?

The investigator who led the internal inquiry into the 2012 Secret Service prostitution scandal resigned in August after he was implicated in his own incident involving a prostitute, according to a report from the New York Times.

Again, trust in a once respected institution is shattered.

Hang on, this is questionable, too.  Soldiers must abide, even those not exposed to the disease, but physicians and nurses need not?

A Preventable Tragedy

This was complete ethical and educational lapse by one of the nation’s great public universities. Consider the irresponsibility and cynicism on display: as usual it is the most vulnerable students who are victimized by a scam (go to college for four years, play your heart out risking injury for zero pay, don’t get an education, and in the overwhelming majority of cases don’t make the pros) that makes powerful administrators and coaches look good.

The truth about evil

Our leaders talk a great deal about vanquishing the forces of evil. But their rhetoric reveals a failure to accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits

Headline Of The Week

Man Fights Off Bear With Old Computer in Siberia

How the bear got a computer, I'll never know.

Monday, October 27, 2014

“God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from...If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth – only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”   C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I'm Not Surprised Which Side Of The Issue Is Favored, Just By How Much

For Fans Of Scottish Dialect. [Caution: A Little Rude Language.]

[With thanks to Carol for sending this along.]

For $10,000, I Can Give Your Child A College Education That's More Rigorous And Takes Far Less Time Than The Overpriced Drivel Taught Nowadays

College prepares students for the U.S., circa 1985.  I can do much better than that.  Well, some friends of mine will help.  I'm willing to back this offer up, too.  Is a college?

The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself

And related to the topic:

The University of Michigan is now on course to become one of the first public higher education institutions to offer a degree that can be achieved not through credit hours but on demonstrated proficiency in the subjects studied. According to Inside Higher Ed, Michigan’s regional accreditor has just approved a competency-based Master’s of Health Professions Education. The program is designed to give health professionals training in “carry[ing] out the full range of responsibilities of a scholarly educator-leader.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

I've Selected This As My Theme Song For Diocesan Convention, Which Begins Today. Have A Nice Weekend, Everyone. We'll See You In Church.

Bernard Moitessier

"My intention is to continue the voyage, still nonstop, toward the Pacific Islands, where there is plenty of sun and more peace than in Europe. Please do not think I am trying to break a record. 'Record' is a very stupid word at sea. I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul."

In 1968, the owners of the Sunday Times of London had the brilliant idea, what they would have called a "brain wave", to sponsor a solo round-the-world sailboat race.  Naturally, it would attract a hearty collection of solitary and salty types on which the Times could lavish gallons of newspaper ink publishing thrilling yarns of their adventures in circumnavigation and use the paper's considerable resources to highlight with their advertisers the ability fully to cover stories anywhere in the world.  It really was a marvelous idea.  On paper, anyway.  Little did they realize what stories they would engender.

The thing is, while sailors who prefer to sail solo do so for a variety of reasons, they are almost universal in their discomfort and suspicion about the remainder of the human race.  In fact, some of them are just plain daft.  Circumnavigators are not going to behave in a manner appeasing to corporate officers and their accountants.  They tend to be unpredictable.

Nevertheless, on June 1, 1968, the race began.  Well, for some, anyway.  Over the next couple of months they would depart in a decidedly piecemeal manner, directed only by the lunar pull of the tides and the very different drummer they heard in their heads.  The word "motley" really does not do them justice.  Only nine responded to the challenge, with four of them not even making it beyond the Atlantic.

The first to leave did so from Inishmore, Ireland; John Ridgway in his boat English Rose IV, which was really designed for simple weekend coastal cruising.  Ridgway would eventually make it to Recife, Brazil before his boat began to reach a point of dangerous disrepair and he would abandon the race.

Chay Blyth, who was such a novice that he didn't know how to rig his own sails, followed shortly in his yacht, Dytiscus.  Despite having no previous experience sailing, he would make it as far as the southern tip of Africa before ending his quest.

[Interesting note: Two years earlier, Ridgway and Blyth had rowed across the Atlantic together in an open boat named English Rose III.]

Robin Knox-Johnston of Suhali, a tiny, 32-footer [Trust me, 32 feet in the middle of a lonely ocean is tiny], would leave from Falmouth in mid-June and, despite suffering some damage early in the competition, would be the race's eventual winner and the only competitor to complete the circumnavigation.  He was probably the most surprised of all of them at that.

Nigel Tetley of the Victress which, when not competing in this singular race, also served as his home, would be leading and make it to within 1200 nautical miles of the finish before the Victress would break apart and sink.  Tetley would be rescued within a day and almost immediately begin the quest to fund a second attempt at circumnavigation, only to succumb to demons never to be determined when he was found hanging from a tree in Dover in 1972.

Speaking of demons, perhaps the most infamous of the competitors was Donald Crowhurst of the Teignmouth Electron, a trimaran of his own design and construction.  According to his radio transmissions, Crowhurst was in the lead for much of the race.  In reality, he was sending out false signals as to his position to obscure the fact that neither he nor his boat were ready for the ardor of such a voyage.  Crowhurst sailed about the Atlantic basin, apparently planning on rejoining the race on its return leg, and forging a false log book to obscure his deception.  His mental state deteriorated during that time and the abandoned Teignmouth Electron would be found drifting near Jamaica by a merchant freighter in July of 1969, with Crowhurst the apparent victim of suicide.

The final competitor was also the favorite upon the start of the race.  In 1968, Bernard Moitessier was considered second only to Sir Francis Chichester as the world's most accomplished solo sailor.  Part of the reason for his success was that, while he was a French citizen his entire life, he grew up by the sea in French Indo-China [later known as Vietnam], a culture that not only supplied him with an appreciation of boats and water, but also with a decidedly non-Western view towards nature.

Instead of seeing the ocean as something to conquer, Moitessier viewed in a more Buddhist light.  While Robin Knox-Johnson would openly state that his reason for competing in the round-the-world race was because it was the last achievement still to be claimed, Moitessier had to be cajoled into doing so.  His response is what makes him a memorable icon to sailors of all types.

While still a young man, Moitessier had to begin his tutelage as a long-distance solo sailor in the manner traditional to such people.  Mainly, he had to attempt something foolhardy, nearly lose his life, and fail in a spectacularly gradual manner.  There really is no other way.

In the early 1950's, the 27-year-old Moitessier bought a small Vietnamese junk, a vessel better suited to coastal cruising, named her Marie-Therese after the patron saint of missions [aka impossibly optimistic actions], and set off from Indo-China to France.  It did not go swimmingly; perhaps I should say it went too swimmingly.

A leak required Moitessier, alone and in the middle of the Indian Ocean, to dive beneath his hull to repair it; a small typhoon blew him into the shores of Diego Garcia, an island that is also a U.S. Air Force base and, hence, off limits to non-military, especially non-American, personnel.  This meant that Moitessier had to be deported to the nearest French outpost, which happened to be on the island of Mauritius.

After three years in exile, he saved some money, built a new and more seaworthy boat, and set out for...well, that's a little hard to understand, frankly.  While his stated goal was St. Helena, the island where Napoleon was once exiled, he found himself again aground, this time in St. Lucia.  Clearly, celestial navigation and the notion that sailboats move both forwards and sideways were things he would have to take into consideration in the future.

[Note: This writer has been to St. Lucia many times, although only once in a sailboat.  It has very pleasant seas and a local delicacy known as banana ketchup.  While managing to be shipwrecked there is an accomplishment, there are worse places for that to happen.]

After working his way to France as a merchant seaman, Moitessier spent some time as an office clerk, saving his money to buy a proper, deep water sailboat and writing the first of his books about sailing, Vagabond des Mers du Sud.  With this volume, he began to craft what these days would be called his "brand", that of the seafaring tramp who traveled wherever the wind took him.  It turned out to be a better source of boat-building revenue than office work.

By 1963, married and with step-children in boarding school, Moitessier and his wife left the south of France in his new, and rather well-equipped, 39-foot, steel-hulled boat, the Joshua; named for Joshua Slocum, the Massachusetts seaman who was the first, in the late 19th century, to circumnavigate solo.  These adventures took Moitessier and his wife, Francoise, hither and yon from North Africa to Tahiti.  Without even realizing it, Moitessier set the record for the longest non-stop sailing passage in history; a full 126 days at sea.  When he arrived back in France in 1966, he found himself the toast of the sailing community and the inspiration for the round-the-world race.

I always thought the Joshua looked designed not only for a modicum of comfort, but so that it could capsize and still remain afloat.  Comfort and buoyancy are actually the twin themes of French philosophy,too, in my opinion.

Naturally, if such a race were to be held, it would not only include Moitessier but recognize him as its "patron saint" and the favored contestant.  However, as he was now well-established in that singular community, and as he no longer needed to work in a conventional job in order to support himself, he was not all that enamored of competing in the race, especially as it would mean doing so without company and with the intention to place himself against others.  So reluctant was he that he was the last of the competitors to join the race, over two months after Ridgway's departure.

From August of 1968 to February of 1969, on a passage from Plymouth, England to Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America, Moitessier received no radio communication as to his position in the race or those of the other sailors.  By the time he entered the Pacific and was traveling north by the Galapagos, the absurdity of the race, its commercialism and newspaper-hyped ballyhoo, became onerous to a philosophically-minded Frenchman raised in the midst of Eastern religion.

During the voyage, Moitessier had begun to communicate with the Sunday Times through a singular technique, and it was in this way that he forwarded what became the most famous sentence uttered in the race and one that is still known and sometimes repeated with passion by the solo sailing community.

When passing freighters and other merchant ships, Moitessier would launch a message from his deck to the other ships' by using what continentals call a "catapult", but what is known to any kid who's grown up in America as a sling-shot.  So, in the spring of 1969, with the race still in progress, Moitessier fired off to the Sunday Times his resignation from the competition with the stirring statement, "...parce que je suis heureux en mer et peut-être pour sauver mon ame."  I still try to imagine how that message was received in the London newspaper office three weeks later.

In addition to knowing how to hand, reef, and steer, it's good to practice a little yoga.

And save his soul he did.  Now liberated from the artificial constraint of a managed race with commercial appeal and obtuse rules, Moitessier continued his circumnavigation, setting yet another record for non-stop length of time at sea when he covered over 37,000 nautical miles in 40 weeks.  What makes this of particular interest to sailors is that most of Moitessier's passage was made through the infamous "Roaring Forties", an area of strong winds and notoriously moody weather that abides along the latitude of 40 degrees on a nautical chart.  This he did not for the fame and prize money that the race would have guaranteed, but as a spiritual quest; a test of the harmony possible between a human being and the wildest of wild nature.

Just another day at the office for Bernard

When he finally decided to make landfall, after nearly a year solidly at sea, Moitessier, like his countryman Gaugain before him, settled in Tahiti.  Of course.  From there he lived an idyllic life on shore and a fulfilling life in and around the south seas, becoming a rather maladroit farmer, delving into the concerns of the early environmental movement, and writing books on his relationship with the sea and his role in what became the most famous sailboat race of the 20th century. 

Whenever I'm in a port city, whether it is one associated with sailing or with other aquatic pursuits, if there is a bookstore around [increasingly rare in U.S. territory, as we now prefer to buy books electronically], there is always a section devoted to the spiritual aspects of sailing, surfing, fishing, whatevering.  It is perhaps the most tedious set of shelves in any bookstore as it generally contains the most mundane of observations marketed to an increasingly secularized culture that still, despite resistance, desires a spiritual connection to the greater world.  While most of the volumes are nothing but literary dross, an excellent primer in this sub-genre of literature would be the works of Moitessier.  Regardless of what this niche culture has become, Moitessier's vision of the life aquatic as a spiritual quest with, rather than against, nature is compelling and true.

Moitessier would die in 1994 and be interred in a quiet graveyard in Brittany in his home country.  While the cemetery is ordinary, his grave can always be located as it is not only the frequent goal of traveling sailors wishing to pay their respects to the "vagabond des Mers du Sud", but, in a homage to his preferred medium of communication, it is decorated with slingshots.

Oh, and puka shells.  Did I mention the puka shells?

Although it did sink after a minor misadventure and had to raised in the 1980's, the Joshua is currently on display in a maritime museum in France.

Moitessier wrote many books about sailing and spirituality, the best of which is The Long Way, which recounts his experience in the round-the-world race.  Other competitors in the race have written volumes, too, notably the winner, Robin Knox-Johnston, but they tend to the technical and, when attempting to speak of the more liminal experiences of sailing, fall rather short of Moitessier's lyricism and true spirituality.

A general volume about the race itself, A Voyage for Madmen, is also still in print and recounts not only the very different adventures of Moistessier and Knox-Johnston, but also those of Crowhurst and the others, including the behind-the-scenes drama at the Sunday Times home office.

Although it has changed sponsors many times, and has attracted a decidedly non-amateur collection of sailors and boat-builders, the race is still held and is, as of this writing, currently in mid-competition.  As the prize money as considerably more than it was in 1968-69, and the competitors far less interesting, it tends to be followed only by those with a close affinity to the sport.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

You know how there's one morning each year when you awaken and, because of the date, start the day with memories of things you've enjoyed during the run of your life.  Yeah, that day.  Well, today is mine and the posts below are random things I thought about in the early morning.

[If you're wondering why cigarettes made it, it's because of what Leonard Cohen did on his 80th birthday; I thought it had some fatalistic, and pragmatic, style to it.]

My Favorite School: Royal High School, Edinburgh

The Best Board Meeting

The Best U.S. Radio Station

KJazz 88.1 in Long Beach, California.

Although I no longer listen to it, I'm sentimental about WGRP 940 AM [which is now an oldies station] as it was one of the two stations at which I first worked.  The other was WTGP 88.1 FM, which is now a Christian station.  [Wow, it really wasn't that in my day.  I used to have a jazz show on weekends from midnight to 6am that attracted an audience that was not terribly interested in that form of spirituality.]

The Best Movie

The Best Documentary

The Best Film

The Best Venue

In metro Cleveland, where else?

The Best Bishop

In a career spanning five decades, Bishop Burt dedicated himself to social reform, racial and gender justice and ways in which the world's churches could work together to effect positive social and political changes. Believing that "the world alters as we walk in it," he stood out as a leader in seeking ways in which the church could respond to the complex challenges of the 20th century.

What liberals were once like in the Episcopal Church, and the fellow who signed the paper that began my official process to ordination.

The Best Square Dance

The Worst Best Cigarettes

The Best Worst Cigarettes

This Made Me Embarrassingly Hysterical In A Movie Theater Once

Really, people shushed me.  It's a comedy movie people!  You're supposed to laugh!

Best Song To Play While Crossing The Old 9th Street Bridge In Ocean City At The Beginning Of Vacation

Sorry You Weren't There, Gramps. It Was Great.

My Favorite Classical Piece

What can I say?  I have eclectic tastes.

The Best Two And One-Half Minutes In Pop Music

Seriously, I think this is my favorite recording in popular music, blending as it does funk, soul, The Memphis Horns [with Charlie Chalmers on that blistering sax solo] and the one thing that every 45 rpm single must have: a rapid 4/4 signature.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thought Leader Figures Something Out

Robert Reich: Exclusive universities with giant endowments get big handouts from the government. And public colleges? Not so much

If I were of a ruder nature than I am, I would reply, "That just occurred to you, sparky?"  Another issue yet to be addressed by our thought leaders is that most massively endowed universities don't pay local taxes.

Some Commentary About General Seminary

The author, an Episcopal priest, was one of my original dissertation advisers at Princeton.  As he now lives and works in Scotland, he has an interesting perspective on the larger issue at play in the Episcopal Church.

 Third, the administrative style on display in this tragedy coheres with the way leaders in the Episcopal Church have operated with increasing frequency over the past few decades. Everything must reflect orderly “process” when it serves power’s interests, when the outcome is assured, but if “process” would allow the possibility that the wrong people might be allowed a persuasive voice or permitted to initiate a change of direction, then executive action is required!

Speaking as one of those perennially on the outside of power in the church, he's got a point.

From a related post:

The silence in the church around this unconscionable manipulation by the Executive Committee, confirmed by the full Board of Trustees, to terminate employees without due process is what truly saddens Crusty Old Dean.  The silence around this cannot be from discretion, since the facts are all in the public domain.  Perhaps the silence is from fear: fear from people that those with the power who have manipulated processes to strip people of their due process and terminate them; fear that those who raise these concerns might find themselves subject to the same intimidation, since if the Executive Committee gets away with this it will surely embolden the church to intimidate others.  Perhaps it is cowardice.  Perhaps it is from ignorance.  Perhaps it is from avoidance of conflict, which only permits those who court conflict to run roughshod over those who avoid it.  What little comment there has been has come from without, not within, the church.  World-famous ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity School has withdrawn from the endowed lectures series, the Paddock lectures, that he was to give.  The Jesuit magazine America has run an article expressing concerns about the situation.  

Actually COD, there have been some of us speaking out about this, but we are not heeded by any of the powers that be and have not been for some time.  This is why the once vibrant, intellectually diverse church has become this pale, wan, sad thing; like some piece of flesh unnaturally preserved in a laboratory jar.

When I was a firefighter we had a code, 99, that meant the structure cannot be saved; get out quickly.  If anything, it's time for Code 99 to be called for General Seminary.

Frozen Archaeological News

Photographer’s Notebook Found in Melting Antarctic Ice

Our State Is Getting Increasingly Totalitarian

Connecticut man accused of 'mopping aggressively'

Wait, This Is Against The Law?

NJ man accused of eating raccoons

Stories Like This Just Write Themselves

A student who was born female felt perfectly comfortable identifying as a man at Wellesley College — until people said he shouldn't be class diversity officer because he is now a white male.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gee, No Kidding [Part II]

Arab Uprisings May Doom Middle East Christians

Gee, No Kidding

SANTA FE – Part celebration, part intervention, a conference on the future of the liberal arts at St. John’s College last week offered high praise and harsh advice for an embattled tradition. Speakers on Friday said that while the future of the democracy depends on a broadly educated public, advocates need to return to a less politicized, more siloed vision of the liberal arts for them to survive.

Speaking as one who majored in English before it became heavily politicized, I think it would take at least a generation for any changes in the field to be realized.  Given that only 3% of college students major in English these days, the field will not last even 20 years.

Rather like mainstream Protestantism, which also became grossly political, it is probably beyond the tipping point.  If so, it's a remarkable case of cultural suicide.

This weblog, which was originally intended as a platform for announcements for my small parish, notes a kind of milestone today.  Since only about 4 to 6 members of the parish ever bothered to read it, its mission changed to something far less easy to define.  Nevertheless, it apparently found an audience.

I say that because The Coracle has over 300 regular international readers and, today, people from every single continent in the world, including Antarctica, linked to our postings.  

Thanks, all.

It's Monday. I Felt Like Playing A Pretty Tune Today.

Archaeological News?

In a 7,000-year-old town in Bulgaria, over 100 graves have been uncovered, revealing skeletons with stakes through their hearts and mutilated bones. Meet the vampires that almost were.

Yeah, this one's a little weird.

Dear Higher Ed: When, Exactly, Did You Come To See Christians As Your Enemy?

There is an organization named The Veritas Forum that is currently presenting conversations in colleges and universities about the role of religion in our society in a manner that is open, useful, and in the spirit of honest inquiry.  While that's an uncomfortable notion in the conformism factory that is higher education in the United States, it is meeting with some success and has even been praised by those who fancy themselves as "agnostic" [which is Greek for "I want you to think I'm smart"].

At this link is a list of the forums planned for the current academic year, and they do sound very interesting.  I'm especially intrigued by those conducted by N.T. Wright, the former bishop of Durham in The Church of England and an engaging teacher and theologian.

Veritas Forums 2014-2015

[Before anyone assumes that the colleges and universities are only those often labeled by the media as reactionary Christian, the forums are being presented at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, William and Mary, and other hotbeds of Jerry Falwell-style fundamentalism.]

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend.

Harvey Pekar

"As a matter of fact, I deliberately look for the mundane, because I feel these stories are ignored. The most influential things that happen to virtually all of us are the things that happen on a daily basis. Not the traumas."

Maybe you have to be from Cleveland to understand the kind of power an underdog can have.  It certainly helps to be from a place perpetually associated with misery, bad luck, unemployment, provincialism, and really bad pro sports.  I could waste your time and mine with remedial observations such as that Cleveland has the world's greatest orchestra, one of the best art museums anywhere, and a terribly advanced collection of medical facilities; not to mention the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  But most people just reply by asking, "Isn't that where the river was so polluted that it caught fire?"

Yeah, let's just talk about what it is to be an underdog, shall we?

In the years when I was teaching English at one of Cleveland's high schools there was an artistic renaissance occurring within our modest city's bohemian community.  New voices in poetry were being heard and published in a variety of quarterly pamphlets, tactile art was being explored with never-before-seen combinations of media, independent rock music was everywhere [I mean that almost literally], my friend Stephanie had started a theater for urban youth that was becoming an established part of the city's culture, and half the people in my apartment building were writers of some sort.

Then there was this nebbish, this schlemiel; a homunculus who wrote reviews of obscure jazz records for equally obscure free neighborhood newspapers and supported himself as a file clerk at the Veterans Administration.  He was, without question, the walking, talking embodiment of ordinariness.  Despite his status as a quintessential underdog, he became the rallying voice for what is now called in college textbooks the "New Bohemian Movement".  Just as unlikely, the NBM began in...Cleveland, Ohio. Take that, New York and Los Angeles!

Harvey Pekar's literary efforts were aided considerably by one of the other great originals of the era. Fortunately for him and for the NBM, one of his close friends was Robert "R" Crumb, who became the most recognizable artist of the counter-culture in the late '60's and early '70's.  His characters of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural were commonly found not only in free newspapers but on t-shirts and album covers.  [An aside: At last weekend's ComicCon in New York, a four panel collection of original Crumb art sold for $65,000.]


Pekar was interested in creating stories for the cinema, but did not have the knowledge, wherewithal, sophistication or looks to mount a production. Instead, he imagined using Crumb's art to illustrate stories in the same manner that a cinematographer frames images on the screen.  With art, especially comic art, imagination could be indulged in a manner both creative and inexpensive.  This idea appealed to Crumb, as did Pekar's notion that their comic stories involve the mundane instead of the spectacular.  After all, they lived and created in Cleveland, where the mundane was splendid.  As he noted:
 When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the '40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb's work in the early '60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought 'Man, comics are where it's at'.
1976 is considered the high-water mark of the New Bohemian Movement, as that was the year the 37-year-old Pekar's comic, illustrated by R Crumb, was published.  Its title was American Splendor, subtitled "From off the streets of Cleveland".  The comic, self-published and self-distributed, became the most desired and elusive volume of literature in northeastern Ohio.  In fact, it was 1980 before I was able to secure my own copy.  In it, Pekar chronicled his magnificently ordinary life and celebrated the mundane in a way never quite seen before.

While only seventeen issues were published from 1976 to 1993, Pekar's comic book was read by the literati of both coasts, making the file clerk famous enough to be a regular guest on David Letterman's NBC show, and even more famous for reducing Letterman to a stuttering rage on what became Pekar's last appearance on the show.

It really didn't matter to Pekar as he wasn't desirous of fame, and certainly not interested in appeasing the perpetually prickly Letterman.  Underdogs don't receive their power from impressing the wealthy and powerful; quite the opposite.  Besides, Pekar's creativity maintained its very original course long after Letterman's shtick had become stale.  American Splendor continued to chart the ups and downs of his very average life, including the dorkily charming relationship with his wife and muse, Joyce, with his co-workers at the VA, and his uber-nerd friend, Toby.

The verite quality of the comic book realized its prime when Pekar wrote of his diagnosis with lymphoma and his long, touching, yet successful, battle to survive it.  In 2003, a film version of his life was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay, winning a variety of critics' awards along the way, including the Sundance Film Festival's.

Pekar would eventually retire from the VA and continue to write comic books and music reviews, occasionally appearing in public, although with some reluctance.  While he could be found on a near daily basis at the public library in Cleveland Heights, the cognoscenti knew to leave him be, and the staff was always solicitous towards him.  His last major effort was when he wrote the book for the jazz opera Leave Me Alone!, which premiered at Oberlin College's Finney Chapel in 2009.

Illnesses of various sorts began to take their toll and, while effective fodder for his stories, Pekar was often in great discomfort.  In 2010, his wife Joyce found him dead in his bed of an accidental overdose of his various medications.  In a, splendid...juxtaposition, he is buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery right next to Eliot Ness of "Untouchables" fame.  His headstone reads, "Life is about women, gigs, and bein' creative."

Harvey Pekar is now recognized as the poet laureate of Cleveland, an absurd title for a comic book writer but somehow fitting.  After all, this is Cleveland that we're talking about, and the city follows its own rules of propriety.  Two years ago this month, the Cleveland Heights Library celebrated the installation of a statue to Pekar, an act that he would have found a bit odd, I'm sure, but certainly one that would have found its place in the pages of American Splendor.

For those of us like this blogger, who spent his early twenties writing music reviews for the same free newspapers, playing bass for terrible bands in stale, smokey clubs in Pekar's neighborhood, and occasionally getting poems published in journals so crude the print would rub off on your fingers before you could read it, he enabled us to own a small shard of the New Bohemian Movement.  For that alone, he's earned his status as a laureate beyond definition.

For those interested, I offer the following:

The New American Splendor Anthology: From Off the Streets of Cleveland

American Splendor: The Movie

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This Is An Aerial Map Of Baghdad. The Red Dots Represent Every Car Bomb Since 2003.

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Yes, colleagues, please tell me again how awful the United States is.

Hello, Connecticut

Before anyone sends e-mail to me explaining, with great patience, that this isn't an emergency and we have nothing to worry about, I want to note that I agree for the most part.  What I find interesting about all of this is how it illustrates rather handily what happens when a very large government filled with agencies and agents suffers from bureaucratic hubris.

Whenever literary/philosophical themes are revealed to be based strongly on a recognizable and universal reality, it makes for an intriguing study.

Episcopal Church Continues Shedding Members

While the Episcopal Church has established a continued pattern of steady decline since the early 2000s, the unbroken trend is relatively recent: the church lost only 18,000 members in the 1990s, a plateau that dropped off about the time Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was consecrated the church’s first openly partnered gay bishop. Overall, the church has declined from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.8 million today, even as the U.S. population has more than doubled. The church has lost a quarter of its attendance since 2003.

Scottish Retiree Finds $1 Million In Viking Artifacts Using A Commercial Metal Detector

McLennan came across the artifacts last month while using a metal detector in a field belonging to the Church of Scotland (the exact location is being kept a secret, until it’s confirmed that all the artifacts have been found). At first, he didn’t think what he came across was anything more than an ordinary silver spoon. But after a closer look, he realized he was very, very wrong.

With My Luck, This Guy Would Have Out-Raced Me

Man ran part of Chicago Marathon while fleeing police

'Bout Time

A win for religious liberty: School reverses ban on Christian Club

Asked And Answered

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Another Reason Not To Write Sermons

City subpoenas pastors' sermons in equal rights ordinance case

Just a thought, but there are mosques in Houston, too, where the imams often speak out about "equal rights" matters.  I wonder why their sermons aren't being seized by the heavy hand of The Man.*

[*Sorry, but I couldn't sleep last night and stayed up watching Shaft, Superfly, and Black Belt Jones.  Hence, I picked up the lingo.]

Update: The mayor of Houston is now claiming ignorance about the subpoenas and blaming
"pro-bono" lawyers working for the city.  Oh, really?  What about this tweet from Tuesday, yer honnah?

Hmmm.  Looks like you're fair game now, too.

This is turning into a total circus, now.  It's popcorn time.  Historically, politicians do rather poorly when they attempt to "correct" Christianity.

Update: Now there's an online petition.  I'm going to need more popcorn.

Update Update:  Oddly, and according to news reports to which I will link when available [they're behind a paywall right now], none of the congregations that received subpoenas were involved in the original legal action.  No one can explain as of yet why there were targeted in the investigation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Photos Of Things Never Seen Anymore: Just Two Leaders Doing A Little Shooting

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Bonus: With Omar Bradley [later board chairman of the Bulova Watch Co.] checking the action in his M1.
Mundane observation of the day: In my profession, the worst malady one could have is laryngitis.  Yeesh.  Oh, joy.  A throat culture.

Episcopal Church, Meet My Friends Science And Math

I received an adorable e-mail from one of those church organizations of which I've never heard cautioning me not to be induced into panicking over Ebola.  I honestly wasn't thinking of doing so, but I appreciate their comfort.  Well, until they started telling me that this was just an insidious plot by "conservative forces" to make me vote in the wrong manner.

Honestly, when the church becomes just another flack organization for a political party, it will probably lose members.  Oh, wait....

Anyway, I thought I would simply use some math and science, a couple of things considered strange and wondrous to most of my liberal arts trained colleagues, and came up with an interesting statistic.

At the current rate of infection, there will be 1 million people exposed to Ebola in the United States within 1 year and two months; or approximately 60 weeks. The disease does not present a 100% mortality rate, of course.  It's only 70% if untreated and 61% if treated in a hospital, so there's no need to worry inordinately.

Also, this means that 30% to 39% of us may freely vote as we see fit.  The remainder will only be allowed to vote in Chicago.

Of course, alterations in recognition, treatment, and rapidity of response can and probably will bend the curve of the disease and slow the rate of infection.

"I will show you fear in a handful of dust." - T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"

No Comment

Shhh. You're Not Allowed To Ask That.

Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?

"That is a betrayal of what's best in the liberal tradition."

Actually, I would add the qualifier "contemporary liberals", as there was once a great liberal tradition in Protestantism.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend

The Waterman

I've gotten used to "The Look".

I always get it when I speak of surfing.  Well, no, not always.  I get it in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Yes, and upstate New York, too.  "The Look" is part smirk, part bemusement, part surprise, and part alarm.  Since most people associate surfing with thin, blond, young, perpetually stoned Californians who grok and groove to the Beach Boys, and not with upper-middle aged, stocky, bespectacled preacher/schoolmasters from the Midwest who are fond of Wagnerian opera, they can't help but react.

The two places where I don't receive The Look are, firstly, California, where surfers are of all ages, body types, and backgrounds [I've shared the waves with a Marine Corps general and a sitting U.S. congressman, for example, and they were real shredders], and, secondly, the location that serves as the primordial source of all East Coast surfing: Ocean City, New Jersey, which has also been through the years my occasional second home.  So much so, that my burial instructions include having my ashes scattered off of OC's southernmost beach.

Since my family has been going to the shore since before my birth, and since I spent a portion of my very first summer of life eating the sand of the OC beach, I have many happy associations with the place.  It was here that I learned to sail, snorkel, operate a powerboat, reef and jibe, and catch offshore kings and blues.  I also learned how to ride waves in Ocean City. It was here that I first heard the term "waterman" and decided that, whatever course my life took, I would do all I could to attain that title.

Waterman is not a gender specific term.  A waterman is a person who can surf, swim, fish, dive, handle a tiller and a sheet-line, and, essentially, be proficient at any of the sports and activities that involve the sea.  While I knew proficient surfers, had a buddy whose dad owned a boat, and came from a family of anglers, I didn't know anyone who fit the total definition, least of all me.

Well, except for The Waterman.

The thing is, I didn't really know The Waterman.  I was thirteen when my buddies and I first noticed him and would have guessed he was somewhere between 25 and 40.  In other words, according to my early adolescent sensibility, he was old.  We didn't know his last name, whether or not he had a job and, if so, what it might be. We didn't even know where he was from.

We did, however, know where The Waterman lived.  That was in the water.  

Along with the rest of the east coast of the USA, I discovered surfing the summer before when I saw the documentary Endless Summer at a boardwalk theater on a rainy afternoon.  By the next year, for better or for worse, my shore friends and I were using rented boards on, and mostly under, the waves.

The Waterman was always there.  He was in the water in the morning and still there at sundown.  On the nights with a full moon, he was on the waves in the lunar light.  We would observe him in awe, as many of our contemporaries would do if in the company of Tom Seaver or Roman Gabriel.  Speaking directly to him would have been impossible to consider.  It would have been like a common Greek swineherd trying strike up a casual conversation with Poseidon.  

So we watched him on the waves and, when possible, while on the same wave.  We watched his style, his paddle out, his turns, his timing as to when to stand, his use of rip tides to carry him back to the surf with dispatch and efficiency.  We learned more from watching The Waterman than we did from the chubby guy who ran the surf school on the boardwalk.

One day we saw him on a beach further south, armed with a surfcasting rod, reeling in a fat and feisty kingfish.  Another time he was at a bayside marina renting a small sailboat which he piloted with dispatch from the east side of the Great Egg to the west and back again.  He would always end his surf sessions by swimming from one side of the beach to the other, using long, reaching strokes.  Needless to say, we tried to copy him in everything that he did, usually to worse effect.

But there was one time I remember particularly well.  We were on the beach on a day that was not particularly inviting, as we were the only people there, when The Waterman walked by us, nodded, and said, “Mornin’, watermen”.  Thus, even though it was not yet a deserved title, the holy and singular status was laid on us.  I think our collective response was one of stunned silence.  When such an event happens at an impressionable age, it lingers.

[Many, many years later I was working with a collection of wounded veterans, the eldest of whom was twenty-five years my junior.  As they were leaving the meeting, and I was holding the door for one of them, he said “Thank you, Marine”.  I hadn't been called that in thirty-five years and it gave me a moment’s pause and a similar impulse of pride.]

When I think of The Waterman and how we respected his technique on the waves and his obvious love of the water, I think of others whom I've known who have indirectly taught me, merely through my simple observation of them working their craft, how to do things with greater ability and, sometimes, sheer joy. 

There was Barbara, who showed me how to preach by owning the pulpit and one’s own story; Daniel, who served the sacrament with grace and style.  There was Donald, a bishop who displayed serenity in the face of unearned anger; Alva, who managed a classroom so that all of the students learned something regardless of their aptitude or interest; Richard, who saw literature not as a liberal arts subject but as an appreciation of the soul in all of its weakness and glory; Lew, who could shape wood as if it were an extension of himself; Harry, who challenged all previous philosophical notions, especially those that were calcified in curricula; Rod, who could re-build a V8 while blindfolded, and James, who had made his life into an art form; or, perhaps, his art into a life.

That list goes on and on, of course, as I hope it would for any normal person.  I think of them in the stimulating moments standing before a congregation, the quiet moments in a workshop shaping a guitar body, and those serene moments when the wave has been timed just right and the rider, the rhythm of the surf, and the pull of the tides all combine in a God-given one-ness.

If the abiding essence of watermen, in or out of the water, is to manifest so complete a love for something that the enthusiasm, the passion, and the care in accomplishment becomes accessible and compelling to others, then in their own fields they were watermen all.


A couple of years ago, when thinking of my newborn granddaughter and the people she would never learn about in her government approved school curricula, I put together a list of 50 people whom I either found interesting or had some influence on my life.  Some are known and some terribly obscure. However, many of those names receive more "hits" on the Internet than most of the other postings on The Coracle.

Since I enjoyed the discipline of writing about them each Friday, and since the first batch of fifty names will be published next year in an expanded e-book collection [a great gift for birthdays and religious holidays], I decided to begin a new collection of fifty people starting this Friday.

Like the initial collection, some of these people have names and some, like today's first subject, are known only by a nickname or some obtuse identifier.  In each case I'll try to give some description, some history, and, if they are artists or writers or historical figures, list some references to their works or works about them.

They are in no particular order, either than that of stray whim.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

These People Are Insane

'Gender inclusive' school district says drop 'boys and girls,' call kids 'purple penguins'


Schools ban swings because everything is dangerous

For The First Time In 29 Years, I Was Actually Going To Attend An Alumni Lecture


Stanley Hauerwas drops out of General Theological Seminary lecture series after controversy

Hauerwas is considered by many to be the most effective practical theologian of our era.  He's always interesting.

“I was looking forward to going because I've known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I've gotten caught in it.”

While a number of religious scholars have refused to lecture at General because of the controversy, none of them has actually been invited to do so and, frankly, a lot of them are of little relevance to the contemporary church.  Not Hauerwas, however.

The World Is A Little Less Interesting Today

Professor Fred Sommers has died.  No, you've never heard of him, but those in my congregation often hear portions of his world view, even though they don't realize it.

Pastoral Communication 101

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Story, Like A Virus, Seems To Be Evolving

On Sept. 30:
There is little risk of the disease spreading widely in the U.S., Frieden said. Unlike highly contagious airborne pathogens like influenza, the Ebola virus requires contact with bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, feces, vomit, or semen to be transmitted. The risk is highest for people in direct contact with patients—typically healthcare workers and family members.

On Oct. 7:
The Ebola virus becoming airborne is a possible but unlikely outcome in the current epidemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden said Tuesday. 

Then there's this bit of weirdness:

The Advantage Of Devolution: People Of Courage Are Easier To Spot

PAKISTANI-BORN ANGLICAN BISHOP defends Western civilization in Britain.

The Center Did Not Hold. This Isn't A "New Reformation", It's The Devolution.

The 2018 Lambeth Conference has been cancelled. The precarious state of the Anglican Communion has led the Archbishop of Canterbury to postpone indefinitely the every ten year meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.*

[*The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of the bishops of the entire world-wide Anglican Communion every ten years.  It has always been an important event in the strengthening of our global mission as it permits face-to-face conversation and communal worship to occur between representatives and to honor the diverse cultures and perspectives found in Anglicanism.]

No Surprise To Clergy

Red States Outpace Blue States In Charitable Giving

Maybe She Should Start In Hartford

Conn. Health Commissioner Granted Quarantine Power

I May Have To Amend My Will


Coast Guard allows WWII vet have the Viking funeral he always wanted

This Has Been Making The Rounds And Causing Some Discussion

6 Reasons I'm Happier Because I Went to War

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Serenity That Once Was

I’m an adult. Stop nudging me.

Building on yesterday's posting, it appears the same phenomena is occurring in Toronto [one of my favorite cities; you should visit it sometime, just not in the winter].
Nudge theory is the offspring of behavioural economics, which explains why people don’t always act like rational animals, and it’s hot, hot, hot. Governments all over are figuring out how to nudge us into being better people. Prof. Sunstein has advised Barack Obama’s government. Prof. Thaler has advised British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has has set up a behavioural insights team, also known as the Nudge Unit. This team has been busy figuring out how to get people to sign up for organ donation, to pay their taxes on time and to insulate their attics, among other worthy efforts. In a TED talk shortly before he took office, Mr. Cameron explained how knowledge of human behaviour was part of his vision for a “new age of government.”
Maybe you think all this is a great breakthrough in social policy-making. Or maybe you think there’s something faintly creepy about a behavioural insights team. If it’s the latter, I’m with you.

Real Vs. Manufactured

Warning:  The following quotation is taken from a website with a strong ideological preference.  I refer to it as I thought some of the observations about the "messiness" of religion, science, and intelligence were interesting.  After all, this weblog exists to provoke thought and not just to help find Jesus' face in a pirogi.  There are plenty of websites, and churches, schools, and cable news channels, that will leave you unchallenged and artificially affirmed.

The real ocean is complicated and messy. So is real intelligence. Manufactured intelligence is the fashion model playing a genius in a movie. Real intelligence is an awkward man obsessing over a handful of ideas, some of them ridiculously wrong, but one of which will change the world. 

This May Be The Most Moronic Thing I've Read This Year

Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?

Monday, October 6, 2014

This Is Actually One Of The Largest...Um...Most Challenging Problems Facing The Industry These Days

Oversized body causes fire at Henrico crematory

Body fat burns at a very high temperature, so high that a crematorium has to process the remains of the morbidly obese in stages.  Mainly this is done so that the temperature inside the apparatus doesn't do what's described in the story.  As more and more people are of generous proportions, fewer and fewer crematoriums are capable of completing their services.

Rich People Exercise, Poor People Take Diet Pills

Poor people—and poor women in particular—are more likely to be overweight and obese. But what makes the obesity epidemic such a tough problem to solve is that the poorest Americans are also less likely to use proven weight-loss strategies, relying instead on quick fixes like diet pills.

Middle-class people just get one of these:

Popular New Exercise App Just Tells Users They Ran 5 Miles A Day No Matter What

The Coasties Don't Get Paid Enough

Coast Guard Rescues Man Running Across Ocean in Bubble

These People Are Insane

Teacher’s Plastic Sword On ‘Talk Like A Pirate Day’ Caused FOUR-SCHOOL LOCKDOWN

A Stray Morning Thought


Is it just me, or does it seem that we have entered an age where we are often being told what we ought to be thinking?  Not only has this become acute in the political sphere, but the proliferation of "lifestyle" websites seem to strive to promote a transient affluent urban ethos for every single person in the United States.

The only way to be fully evolved as a human is to ape the attitude of a childless thirty-something who lives in a small apartment and, preferably, does not own a car.  Those of us who don't share that style of life, either due to circumstance or, horrors!, free choice, are to be disregarded.  Often the language used to express this disregard contains the most remarkable vulgarities this side of a Marine barracks [or Episcopal monastery, take your pick].  Seriously, read the website "Gawker" sometime.

I loved living in New York City and, when I had to find a parish, found myself discomfited at life in rural western Pennsylvania.  Gradually, when I began to realize that what I paid for a month in the city would cover 3+ months in the country, that I could walk to a small lake to go fishing or rent a pontoon boat, that I could afford to own a car and use it to accessorize my new-found freedom, and that I could sleep at night in fresh air that was free from the city's noise pollution, I had a distinct change of heart.

Was I privy to the latest trends?  Heck, no, and that seemed healthier, too.  Chasing trends is superficial, wasteful, and, I think, damaging to one's spiritual life.  I was far less of a snob in Pennsylvania than I could afford to be in Manhattan.

This is why I'm surprised that the most common issue that Millennials have with "organized religion" is that they perceive it as dictatorial and Puritan in its moral regard.  However, their literature, entertainment, and political choices would seem to indicate that they really desire a life tightly constrained by outside authority.

Unfortunately True

Bloomberg News:
Apparently it’s not enough to watch out for the welfare of drunken young women. You have to do so without suggesting that they, rather than the diabolical forces of fraternity life, have any responsibility for their intoxication — even if they arrive at a party plastered. Judging, or even acknowledging, the risky behavior of female college students has become a cultural taboo.

An interesting observation from Glenn Reynolds of the law school at UT:
"Campus sex hysteria is an engineered moral panic. Its purpose is to justify targeting, punishing, and isolating the people the panic-engineers don’t like. Nothing that counters the chosen narrative, however sensible, can be tolerated. Because it’s not about helping women. It’s about demonizing and marginalizing men."

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's Friday. See You In Church This Weekend

Is The Reformation Dead?

Driving across the county yesterday, I was surprised to see how many non-sacramental churches are holding some sort of "blessing" for animals on Saturday.  [I put "blessing" in quotes not to be snarky, but because non-sacramental churches don't bless in the ecclesial sense of the word].

I appreciate that it's tough times for Protestant churches and that everyone is trying to be innovative to one degree or another, but has it reached such a level of desperation that Congregational and other non-sacramental churches are now venerating the catholic St. Francis?

[Reminder: The Episcopal Church is considered a catholic church.  We're from the Celtic tradition that's contemporary with the Roman Catholic Church.]

The witness of the martyrs of the Reformation seems to be inconvenient in the contemporary age.  Next, they'll be embracing Holy Week, walking the Stations of the Cross, anointing with healing oil, and baptizing with water in the name of the Holy Spirit.

Some of these non-sacramental churches even impose ashes on Ash Wednesday!  They don't hand out palms on Palm Sunday or even recognize that holy day, so I'm not sure where the ashes come from. Perhaps a catalog.

They seem to be flailing about for a theology, as the Reform Tradition is no longer adequate or has been surrendered to transient whims.

Thank God for Anglican tradition, eh?

Here's Our Headline Of The Week

Australian man tries to rob gas station with boomerang, flees when it fails to return

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Archaeological News

3,000-year-old mummy stuck at airport after being stopped at Customs

"If I could separate what's real from what I've been dreaming, I could live to fight another day."

The Gyre Continues To Widen

This time, I think, the center will not hold.  A tale of two seminaries:

The current crisis at General Seminary


Episcopal Divinity School teaches wrong lesson on conflict

From the latter article, a statement with which I could not agree more:
"...if we wonder why two successive generations of young adults have shunned our churches, we need only look at a conflict like this. Bitter feelings, toxic attitudes, strong accusations, people talking past each other, idolatry of right opinion, and a determination to win — not to serve a “sinful and broken world,” as our Prayer Book puts it, not to grapple with new realities affecting congregations, rather a determination to win."
General Seminary, my alma mater in the Episcopal Church, has been shaky for some time; the fissures were becoming visible thirty years ago.  Given that it's a shadow of its former self, with most of the buildings having been sold and its original vision as a "monastic-style" community now long evaporated, along with its persistent financial issues, makes me think its days are now concluded. About the only action I would support as an alumnus would be for its closure.

Update: I've had some interesting conversations about this with old friends and classmates over the last two or three days.  A lot of thoughtful commentary, of course.  When asked about it, though, I have responded in a way that could be mistaken for insouciance or carelessness, but it is neither.

I recognize that in the 2000+ years of Christianity there have been massive challenges and the worst thing we can do is deny the inevitability of change and be afraid of it.  The standard of seminary education was changing when I was a divinity student at General and what was offered by the curriculum was barely adequate for a church that was already beginning to alter.  There were no courses in small business management, finances, or human resource management.  There were courses on pastoral theory, though; all taught by clergy who had never served as rectors of parishes.  In other words, a curriculum more useful for budding seminary professors than for parish clergy.

[An aside: When I first started as a doctoral candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, eleven years after graduating from General, I saw a first-year student reading a volume on business management and realized that Princeton was serious in a way that General wasn't.]

Anyway, this is an overlong preamble.  When I look at my seminary and see a dean and board of trustees who think eliminating the daily chapel liturgy is a good idea, and when 80% of the faculty think nothing of leaving their students in the lurch and refusing to worship with those with whom they disagree, then it is a system that is irredeemable.

Let it burn.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Special Notice

Since I have a wedding at which to officiate on Saturday afternoon, which is the feast of St. Francis, we will not be holding the annual blessing of the animals on the usual day. 

However, in order to expand on the occasion and recognize our roots in agricultural spirituality, I am spending the octave of St. Francis [Oct. 5-11] traveling about Roxbury blessing livestock and farms, with a blessing of small animals to take the place of Quiet Vespers on the 11th at 4pm. 

Oh, and farms, in this context, includes gardens.

Besides, every little church seems to pretend to venerate St. Francis these days, even those of the so-called reform tradition.  So, let's be particularly Anglican in our practice this year.

"Brutal Afghan Winter"

The Hindu Kush in December

Government spokespeople and media sometimes fall into the unfortunate habit of repeating an odd expression over and over again.  For example, during the Watergate hearings, the expression "at that point in time" was said so often [rather than the simpler and more accurate "at that time"] that it still haunts our language.

Similarly, about thirteen years ago, "brutal Afghan winter" became both the rationale and the expression of choice by those who questioned any U.S. involvement in attacking the Taliban in their home country.  In reality, winter in Afghanistan is no more brutal than winter in Connecticut, but the expression gave the unaware the impression that the Hindu Kush was an extension of the North Pole.

The latest example is "boots on the ground", which is a laborious way of saying "ground troops".  So common is its use by politicians and the media, that a simple Google search reveals over 87,000 examples just in the last few weeks.  Since the expression is nonsensical, but carries a Protean definition, it gives the unaware the impression that there will be no ground troops reinstated anywhere in the more troubled parts of the world.

Then we read this, hidden away in an obscure, but highly accurate, publication:

The 1st Infantry Division headquarters will deploy to Iraq in the coming weeks as the U.S. expands its war against the Islamic State, officials announced Thursday.