Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas 1

This morning's service went just fine. Kind of low-key at church--lots of people out of town this weekend. Descent sermon--I'll post the recording when I get a chance. After church we took Betsy's cousin to see a play downtown. We saw "Funny Business," a musical comedy held over from the Fringe Theater Festival. It's an earnest production, rough around the edges but with lots of energy. Betsy and I don't see nearly enough theater anymore, so this was a nice change.

Anybody see that Patriot's vs. Giant's game last night? Very exciting. I was rooting for the Pats all the way--hard to go against a winner.


The Bug

Even before Christmas I had some kind of bug that kept me feeling less that 100%. Of course, I didn't let it keep me home much and generally ignored it with a few exceptions, but now that Christmas is over I can rest and get over it. Yet despite a few days of rest and plenty of fluids and all that, it remains. Right now it chooses to manifest as a sore throat, transient nausea, and general ickiness. It's not bad enough to keep me away from church this morning, but it is enough to annoy me enough to mention it in my blog.

Two of my gurus, Mary Gates and Bede Mudge, are big believers in the idea that physical illness is connected to spiritual processes. I know, that seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people still refuse to believe it. And so they both taught me that when you are dealing with some kind of distress like this, it is a sign from within that needs attention. Every part of the endeavor after that is very difficult work, partly because most of us are entirely out of touch with our bodies.

In my own case, I wonder whether this bug is the manifestation of some kind of acedia--a spiritual malaise that can settle in like a fog. It probably comes from the same place as the stuff that prevents me from going up to SSJE to pray with the Sisters like I ought. Bede and Mary and I have gone to this place of fog and swampy ground a couple of times to explore, but without resolution. So much of the spiritually engage life is about encountering yourself in this way. You come to something deep or important and then you sit there wondering, "ok, now what?" It's not much different in pastoral care situations when an important disclosure is made. It comes out and everyone present is thinking the same thing, "ok, now what?" But when it's someone else's stuff I usually can answer that question. For yourself, it's a whole different thing: everyone knows you can't be your own therapist.

Nor is it a coincidence that my spiritual "growing edges" would appear now. In my experience it's exactly those moments where everything is going great that these things make themselves known. I suspect this is because our subterranean selves really want to find healing and resolution and yet want to protect us when the going is tough. Thus, it's precisely when we have the most resources to do internal work that the work bubbles up ready to be done.

On a theological level, I think this reveals something very important about the role of human existence in the created order: we are the place where matter is transformed into spirit. That is, the whole universe is slowly being transfigured and reunited with God, and we are the place where that reconciliation is occurring. This is one of Karl Rahner's ideas, and sometime I'll explore it a few steps further. But right now I need to continue to get ready to preach and lead worship.


Friday, December 28, 2007

About the Church's Decline...

One of my parishioners called this article to my attention from the December 22nd Globe and Mail. In it the author, Michael Valpy, explores the phenomenal decline in Canadian Church membership that began in the 1960's. He thinks the most compelling theory about why this happened has to do with shifting conceptions of gender and the church's inability to adapt to them. Here's my favorite quote:
That turbulent decade, says Prof. Macdonald, illustrated "the incredible unreliability of the clergy's insights into the faith of the average person."

Christianity in Canada won't die, of course, although Canadian Christendom is destined for history's sunset. And while it remains unclear how much the rebellion of the past 40 years has been against Christianity and how much has been against the church, many of the clergy's insights have radically changed and the churches today have a pretty clear idea of what congregations must do to survive. In fact, Michael Higgins, the Catholic scholar at St. Thomas, believes the decline is bottoming out and the congregations that survive, though smaller, will be more committed. (source)

I'm interested in this idea about the "unreliablity of the clergy's insights into the faith of the average person" that Prof. Stuart Macdonald (from Knox College) talked about. I think I agree with him, most clergy are probably out of touch with the spiritual currents of mainline society, even if they are pretty aware of what's happening with their own parishioners. Partly I think this is because most of us don't know how to listen to and interpret the spiritual language of post-Christians.

For example, take the recent resurgence in Tattoos. If you listen to the stories of people who have them, you quickly realize that getting a Tattoo is a ritual about transformation, growth, and meaning. People get Tattoos because there is something happening in their lives that needs this sort of ritual to integrate it. Often they commemorate deaths, births, and important commitments. But when is the last time you heard this discussed or mentioned in church?

The work of the church is about declaring the love of God in whatever language people can understand. Maybe I should give a sermon sometime about the marks on Jesus' body as being tattoos about his love for us? I have a suspicion that this kind of preaching is important for the world right now...


Year's End

I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things at church. The church bookkeeper comes in on Fridays, so today has been about the end-of-year financial picture at COTM. It's better than expected, which is good news. December giving is disproportionately generous at most churches thanks to high-attendance, Christmas bonuses, and people wanting a 2007 tax receipt. It's not a bad thing, just a fact of church life. When we present the actual numbers to the annual Vestry Meeting of the church I think people will be pleased.

One of the things that has me feeling really good about things right now is that I feel that the congregation and I have bonded. I can't point to a particular moment when I knew this to be true, but there have been many signs and conversations in the last few weeks that have cemented this observation. Like any relationship, I'm sure this feeling will change and evolve, but it feels like the right thing for today, and I'm happy about that.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Recap

Today I'm coming up for air after having spent most of today and yesterday recovering from the Christmas rush. In the end things worked out marvelously well. We had family staying with us--Betsy's parents, her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. I think they had a nice time staying with us. We were certainly pleased to be able to host people at our place--shear space to host people is the greatest benefit of having a real house for a Rectory! They all left Wednesday morning and Betsy and I have been taking it easy ever since.

Services at the church went extremely well. I was particularly pleased with my sermon at the Christmas Eve midnight Eucharist. I really felt like I was in my groove and preaching like I want to be preaching. Anyway, here it is.

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2007

This is also a chance for me to show off some new tech. I got a digital audio recorder similar to the one I bought for SMM and used it to record the sermon. I still have a few bugs to work out (like that annoying hum in the back ground) but it's progress. Before long I hope to get video up and also a website, of course. These are things for the new year--part of "media rich church" concept. But I also have to get the Centre For Children's Faith Formation going in the new year. It's going to be a busy time.

But for the moment I'm going to enjoy some more time off. Everything will be here for me when I come back tomorrow!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Services this evening went extremely well. The Pageant was as chaotic and fun as these things should be, and the midnight service was just gorgeous. I was especially pleased that my sermon at the candlelight service was among my best in the last few months. I tried to record it with a little digital recorder, so maybe I'll be able to post it here soon.

One more service to go (in the morning) and then I hope to have a few light days.

Ah, the bliss of having executed good liturgy!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Megan's Farewell

Church today went very, very well. The whole service had such a nice and loving feel about it that several commented afterwards how much they appreciated it. Of course, the biggest task in today's worship was giving Megan a proper farewell. I was very proud of the way everyone said goodbye to her. If Friedman were here, I think he would appreciate our healthy way of wishing her well, also.

Time to go home and recover a bit of energy!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Self Care

Our Hip-Hop Pageant rehearsal went well, and now I've got a little downtime before I make a pastoral visit this afternoon.

Something that a colleague said to me at a diocesan event weeks ago is on my mind: "They don't pay us for what we do; they pay us for who we are." This in an interesting way to look at clerical leadership--the notion that it is the particular character and role of the priest that is their chief value to the community. Simplistically, this could be taken to mean that we are supposed to lead exemplary spiritual and moral lives--and that is true. But at a deeper level it means that our first vocational task is to pay attention to ourselves and our relationships MORE than we pay attention to program and strategic growth and all that good stuff. I know, this is obvious to everyone, but I find that this simple principle is ignored more than I would like.

An important corollary to this idea is that when priests become either over- or under-preforming, or become egomaniacs or alcoholics, it's usually related to their loss of self in the face of the task of ministry. People want so much out of their clergy that it's easy to become stressed out and anxious about those expectations, and it's easy to become unhealthy by either "working" too much or to disengage with alcohol or some other drug.

It's a tough job--but I think we need to look at self-care as more than just insurance against burnout. Self-care is about the ongoing process of sanctification that is a work of Grace and the Holy Spirit. We should never have to apologize for going on retreat or closing the office door to pray and read or anything else like that. Of course our congregations understand all that, so why do continue to feel guilty? It's something internal in the mindset of clergy that we pass along to future generations.

It's a tough job--but it's a deeply satisfying job. Rarely have I felt so alive with the shear possibilities of the moment. So much to do; so much to learn. Where to start? In this moment, I suppose. But I'm waiting for the roofer. Should I close my office door and not worry about the roofer (who was supposed to arrives hours ago and hasn't called)? Ah, the quintessential challenge of ministry: maintaining self while caring for other.


My Horoscope

I don't believe in Horoscopes, but I did find this one that appeared under my sign (Cancer) in Now Magazine amusing:
You worked your ass off in 2007. Am I right, my fellow Cancerian? In fact, you threw yourself into your hard labours with so much dutiful fervour that you sometimes lost sight of the fact that they were mostly just preparation for bigger and better assignments. Luckily for you, I’m here to snap you out of your amnesia. Please begin immediately to formulate a vision of how you will make the transition to those bigger and better assignments.
Bigger and better assignments, heh? I wonder if that means spending the first few months of 2008 getting the Centre for Children's Faith Formation up and running? It's an ambitious project that could really put us on the map if I do it right. I have in mind the sort of thing done by The Children’s Mission of St. Paul & St. James, New Haven. From their website:
Founded in 1995 as a ministry of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul and St. James, the Children's Mission reaches out to city children and their families with hope and help. In our varied programs we seek to enrich children's lives through books and stories, art and music, liturgical worship, cooperative learning, loving adult attention, and table fellowship, and to make available to them and their families the parish's resources of faith, celebration, pastoral care, support and love.
    We offer four major programs to city children, focusing on ages 3-10:
  • Mustardseed Club: a secular story hour that meets in the sanctuary during the Saturday Loaves and Fishes food pantry
  • Light and Peace: a simple Compline (evening worship) service for children followed by craft time and supper
  • Light and Peace Summer Program: three week afternoon summer program of friendship, crafts, singing, games, stories, worship and food
  • Mustardseed Afternoon Club: an after-school enrichment program providing academic enrichment in a safe and structured environment five days a week

Of course I don't want to reproduce this at COTM--but it does give me the sense that something like this possible, even for a pastoral-sized congregation. All it really needs is some ambition and good Christian leadership.

And yet God knows there's plenty of other stuff for me to address. Today I've got the roofer coming to look at a minor leak we are having. And then there are the Christmas services to do. And of course I have barely begun planning for Lent! Ahhgg!


Friday, December 21, 2007

St. Bart's in the NYT

St. Bart's, NYC, is one of these parishes that people talk about a lot as an example of how to renew/rebuild an urban church. Today the Rector, Bill Tully, was profiled in the NY Times. From the article:
His very first Sunday sermon at St. Bart’s was, in a word, lonely. In a space designed to accommodate 1,300 worshipers, there were perhaps 200. Extinction not only seemed a real possibility; in a sad way it seemed to make sense, even to him. “I didn’t want to be known for being the rector of a fancy landmark and nothing more.” Mr. Tully came to the instant revelation that if reinvention was in the cards, putting new people in the pews was paramount. “A theology of radical welcome was what we needed,” he says. “Because there is no parish here in the traditional sense of a residential neighborhood, we had to become a destination church. We are loose around the edges, but solid at the core. This is a thinking person’s church.”

Now that he has grown the numbers and has a good corp of people, he has started to raise the money to repair the facilities--that will take about $100 Million. His first phase is only $30 Million, but still inconceivable by the standards of most Canadian Anglican churches. And yet he's already well on his way.

One of the comments that my Canadian colleagues always make when discussing St. Bart's is something like, "Americans aren't afraid to ask for money." And I think they may be pointing to one difference between American and Canadian Church culture, but at the heart of it I think a more profound difference is evident: American churches are more entrepreneurial in character. "Radical" initiatives of the type that made St. Bart's successful are simply more common and better accepted in the ECUSA than the ACC.

This pattern is shifting. There is a lot of talk in ministry circles about being being more entrepreneurial. That means taking risks and being creative and spending resources without a guaranteed return. I know of only a few churches in this diocese that seem to be doing that (I'd rather not name them here). And it also requires a very new kind of pastoral leader:
Only an outside-the-steeple thinker whose idea of a religious experience is donning cycling Spandex for a full-throttle 12-mile bike ride through Central Park at daybreak could be unfazed about raising $30 million — in phase one — in the current fiscal climate. So far, his parish has come up with $15 million; corporate donations, led by a $1 million gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, have yielded just over $2 million. Progress.

This is not your grandfather's parish priest--nor am I. Pastoral leadership that is capable of this kind of transformation requires a certain amount of edgy gumption. I'm sure that means that people like Billy Tully are weak in other areas. And I'm sure there are lots of faithful disciples out there who won't gain much from his leadership--but he sure has done a remarkable thing at St. Bart's.

I think it's a mistake when looking at examples of good clerical leadership to focus too much on what was done or even how it was done. The more fruitful question to ask is about the character of someone like Billy Tully. What sort of person is he? How does he live? What does he care about. Where does he spend his time? And so forth. Alas, a short profile in the New York Times won't help me much in this regard.

Another church that gets talked about a lot is St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. I see that they are hosting a conference on leadership in late January. I'm tempted to go--it seems right where I am. As usual, though, much will depend on the timing of things.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

Here's an image of an ad spotted by the author of the Alive and Young blog.


Louis Weill on Signs and Sacraments

Those of you interested in liturgy may find this talk by Louis Weill interesting. It's available as an audio file and as a transcript. It's a very academic discussion about the relationship between sign, signification, and efficacy. Here's a quote:
It was my great privilege in the 60s, to study sacramental theology with Marie-Dominique Chenu, the distinguished Dominican theologian, and one of the great lights of Vatican II. One day in class, Father Chenu startled us by saying that "in their celebration, the sacraments must border on the vulgar.” He then explained that what he meant by this is that their signification should be made abundantly clear by the manner in which a rite is celebrated. One should not have to explain that Baptism is a spiritual bath, or that the Eucharist is a sacred meal at which people actually eat and drink.
The problem Weill is addressing is Western over-emphasis on the validity of the sacraments that ignores their efficacy on a more human level. In other words, it is possible to have a sort of diminished sacrament when the sign is too far removed from what is being signified. He's absolutely right. One of the more troubling examples of this problem is the way baptismal promises are made:
The problem which Batchelder's article points to is the same one that we heard about in the words of Gregory of Nyssa. Batchelder writes, "I worry that our communities have learned to practice a way of speaking ritually that not only permits false witness at the font, but establishes it as a norm. We make claims concerning sin and evil, but often live as if we have not really considered the implications. Sometimes I wonder whether the church believes there are any serious implications at all. Ritual practice can give the appearance that accountability is fulfilled simply by one's participation in the rites with the moral weight residing in the rhetoric.”

Batchelder continues his passionate cry of the heart with these words, "The ethical responsibility of baptismal vows seems more associated with using strong language that, paradoxically, absolves the community from the cross rather than obligates it to the cross. As a result, ritual performance at the font is in danger of becoming a scandal of saying what we do not really mean.”
Strong stuff, heh? Very interesting analysis.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Baby Jesus and Red Bull

Here's an amusing ad that ran in Italy for Red Bull.


The New Conspirators

My cousin a few times removed sent me a link to The New Conspirators conference happening is Seattle in late February. This looks to be a very interesting event to explore the Emerging Church and other efforts to find a new and authentic gospel expression in our age. And it's in Seattle, which is where I was born and have visited many times. I'm sure I'd come away pretty excited by the possibilities.


The Concert

The Concert on Sunday night was a complete success. We had 88 people there, which was many more than we expected considering the blizzard that had been raging most of the day. Even better, many were people we had never seen before. The whole point, after-all, was to provide something for the neighborhood community.

The music program itself was excellent and a lot of a fun. I was incredibly proud of Matthew and the choir. I was so pleased with how everything turned out.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent III

Well, the horrendous snow kept most people away from church this morning. I think we were lucky to get the 31 brave souls who did manage the trip. Such a small crowd produced a very intimate feeling liturgy, but I was disappointed by my sermon.

It's weird. I prepared well. I read the scriptures and then the commentaries and even five or six sermons written by others. Then I ruminated on those ideas for several days and came up with some decent nuggets. This morning I rounded all that work out with a long (at least an hour) meditation in the shower. I felt like I had a decent sermon by the time I walked down the hill to COTM. And yet somehow in the delivery I failed to find the sweet spot where my gospel-passion meets the pastoral relationship. Bummer. I blame myself. I think it's a symptom of my own failure to live on my spiritual edge. That is, I'm not really pushing myself to the places where my most vital spiritual growth will happen. It's very hard to preach my style of sermon when you're not living a spiritually adventurous lifestyle, if that makes sense.

I know what I need to do. I need to make time to go up to the Convent for Offices. I need to pray with the nuns. I need to let the rhythm of the Daily Offices take over for a while. Sr. Anitra, after hearing me pour my heart out about my need to find that spiritual edge again, said simply, "Come to the Convent for the Offices. Expect nothing." It was that second part--"Expect nothing"--that really rang the bell. As soon as the words escaped her mouth I knew them to be true.

I regularly thank the Holy Spirit for giving us these kinds of encounters....

The Dead

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The last paragraph of James Joyce's "The Dead." It's been on my mind since the weather turned.



It's snowing like crazy here in Toronto. They are predicting 8 - 12 inches to accumulate today. The worst part for me was walking down the Avenue Road hill and getting a nice blast of icy pellets in my face. All I could do was close my eyes and keep walking. This does not bode well for attendance at either church or the concert this evening. Sigh.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas Decorating

BTW, today was the "Greening of the Church" in preparation for Christmas. It went extremely well. Lots of people and good cheer. I was glad that there was such good fellowship, and also the work got done, which is important. I was especially pleased that several relatively new members of the congregation participated.

There was also much climbing of ladders. Although my parishioners objected, I did managed to sneak up the aluminum rails a few times!


AA Christmas

COTM hosts an a very Active AA group that holds several meetings here in the course a week. They are good guests of the place, and we are pleased to be able to help so many in recovery. Every year they have a Christmas dinner and every year they invite the Rector. So I stood up and opened with my predecessor's quip, "Hello, my name is Tay, and I'm a priest," and then I promptly gave him credit.

Although I've never suffered from addiction, I've certainly known many who have. My first real introduction to AA came back in Los Angeles when I rented a room from a recovering alcoholic. He had many years of sobriety and was very active in the program. He would talk a lot about it and I learned much from him. In the years since then I've bumped up against the program in various other personal and professional contexts and have to say that it is certainly a good thing that has helped millions of people.

I also note that the whole thing is really the application of a theology with clear Christian roots. Yes, the higher power can be anything/one, but the AA way of understanding things like the human person, freedom, sin and redemption, and so on clearly (to my mind, at least) reveal Judeo-Christian roots. I hope that's nothing to be apologetic about!

The AA folks at tonight's meeting were a very kind, generous, and hopeful bunch. They laughed politely at my jokes and had many nice and welcoming things to say to me individually. And they cook a mean turkey!


Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow at Holy Cross

The snow fell extra hard at Holy Cross in West Park. Br. Randy made a slide show. The snow can be inconvenient, even in relatively self-contained monastery, but it sure is gorgeous. I've been at Holy Cross during both scorching summer heat and terrible snow storms, and must say that I prefer the snow! I remember one summer when there were days I'd leave my super-hot room on the fourth floor of the guest house for the couch in one of the air conditioned parlors. I hate trying to sleep in hot rooms.

The "Corporation" meeting this morning went well. The Wardens at COTM are a very competent bunch. That's a good thing considering how much work there is do right now.

The annual Christmas party for the Daycare is tonight. I'm looking forward to that!


Thursday, December 13, 2007


Here's some good clean church humor--some actual church signs...


Le Paradis

Yesterday I surprised Betsy with her birthday gift--an afternoon of luxury including spa treatments for two (massage and pedicures) and supper at Le Paradis, a great little French restaurant just around the corner from the church. This place is a real gem and is quite popular; I can understand now why people have been recommending it to me since we moved to Toronto. Here's half of the menu--they print a new one up everyday based on what's fresh.

I enjoyed a delicious Saumon Grillé à l'Osielle (Grilled Atlantic salmon with a sorrel cream sauce) while my bride had Tajine de Volaille (Chricken braised with North African sprices, almonds, dried fruit and couscous). I've really come to appreciate French cuisine more since my sister married a Frenchman! Lately I've been trying various French sauces from the Joy of Cooking. I'll report back on the results.

Much craziness at church today: services at Belmont House and then the Work Place Bible Study downtown. Meanwhile I'm fielding calls about a problem with the old Rectory and then a complication about the utilities to that place. I'm afraid they don't teach us enough about property management in seminary.

Now I've got to prepare for tomorrow's Wardens' meeting. Yet last night's salmon is still on my mind. I just love it when food is so profoundly good as to be instantly spiritual. I mean, how else to enjoy God's good creation than to have a killer cream sauce on fresh fish?


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


When I first started doing Social Work in Los Angeles after graduating College, I was not terribly surprised to discover that most of my clients showed evidence of having gone through psychological trauma. At the time I thought, "well, this population is disproportionately affected by violence and abuse." But when I started doing pastoral care in seminary and beyond I discovered that I was wrong--it's not just "the population" of people I was seeing in Los Angeles that show such prevalent signs of psychological trauma, it's rampant across all sectors of society. Now I'm not sure if this is an increase from historic levels, but I am positive that our methods of healing psychological trauma have vastly improved. I also think that another difference of our age is that people have an expectation that they will be reasonably healthy and happy.

So it is that many of us who want to help people have learned first hand about how to help those who have experienced trauma of one kind or another. This kind of work is hard and hazardous, but also incredibly rewarding. It's amazing to be able to work with someone to achieve the wholeness God has intended for them.

If any of you reading this blog are interested in learning more about helping people affected by trauma, I highly recommend this book: Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, M.D.

It's a ground-breaking work that shifted much of my thinking on the subject to a new level. It's particularly good at explaining the dynamics of Borderline Personality Disorder and why therapists have such trouble treating it. It was assigned reading for a course of Pastoral Care and Violence that I took at YDS with Kristen Leslie. I have a lot of respect for Kristen--she's the real deal. As an aside, she does a great version of "Simple Gifts" on the Hammer Dulcimer. I also learned a lot about this subject from Bede Mudge and Mary Gates. Yet learning about trauma is a whole different thing from learning how to treat trauma in a care-giving scenario. That, I'm afraid, only comes from encountering people in need, listening to their stories, and allowing oneself to be changed by them. I'm fortunate to have been able to refine some of those skills under the supervision of some masterful practitioners. And yet I'm still a newbie at this.

The key seems to be self control in the midst of disturbing revelations. In other words, maintaining a relaxed but firm grip on oneself even as you see and hear things that are quite disturbing. Yet it's not enough just to sit there like a stone--you have to know when to give back some of the things swirling around inside of you, the care-giver. It's about figuring out the right balance between receiving the revelation and responding to it. Respond too much or too quickly and you shut down the disclosure and impose your own interpretation. Give too little and the client feels isolated and unheard. Worse, you miss the chance to transform their story by adding to it.

Another note worth mentioning: trauma is very much about the story. The client's account is the absolute most important artifact of their experience. In some ways maladaptive responses to trauma can be said to be misinterpretations of the person's own story. Therefore, healing can come in the re-articulation of history when that re-speaking leads to better integration and adaptive response. Efforts to achieve psychological healing through litigation often fall short because they bring out a story, but it's not necessarily the client's and it's not done in a way that necessarily encourages new responses within the client. This is why it is a huge mistake to force a new interpretation of events onto a client ("maybe he didn't mean it like that..." "in her culture it's okay to do that..." "I'm sure that will never happen to you again...").

Notice, BTW, that Trauma is central to the Christian Story. The moment of Christian Salvation is affected by God's reinterpretation of the story of Christ's death. And therefore we keep telling that new story that brings healing to the world.

Good stuff.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Folding Metal Chairs

I had lunch with the good people at the Parkdale Deanery Clericus today. The clergy from the Parkdale Deanery go out for a lunch to celebrate Christmas every year, and they invited me along this time to say goodbye and wish me well at COTM. I always enjoy getting together with colleagues to talk about our respective parishes and brainstorm common problems. I felt some nostalgia going back to College Street, so near the parish where I spent two years. It's a great neighborhood. Not quite as edgy as Queen Street, nor as hoity toity as Avenue Road can be. There are lots of funky little restaurants and shops down there.

Today is Betsy's birthday. I have a special surprise for her tomorrow. She knows something is planned, just not what. I love surprises--both giving and receiving.

Looks like I'm going to get another chance to preach about John the Baptist. He sits brooding in his prison as I write this, eager to hear what I'll say about him on Sunday. The Theolog has this nugget:
The proof Jesus offers that the kingdom of God has drawn near is the healing of our bodies, the restoration of our senses. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. The poor hear good news. Unfortunately for John, the only glaring absence in this list of fulfillment from the prophet Isaiah is the release of the captives! John never will go free. But just in case people use John’s imprisonment to question significance of John’s life, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks them, “When you went out into the wilderness to see John, what did you go out to look at?” Three times he tests the crowd’s ability to perceive through their senses the activity of God in the person of John. Finally, in the echoes of Isaiah once again, Jesus says, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” John is more than a prophet; he is the preparer of the way.

Preparer of the way.... I like the sound of that. I think a lot of clergy probably resonate with that aspect of John's mission. I don't know how many countless hours I've spent preparing my communities for the coming of God in one way or another. I remember when I was in College and thinking about ordination and a priest told me that I would spend more time moving metal folding chairs than I could possibly imagine. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the clerical vocation. And yet there is something very soothing about preparing a space for worship or fellowship in advance of the guests. Better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked, I suppose (....). And yet sometimes I think we clergy over-emphasize this aspect of the work. That is, we spend too much time moving chairs and patting ourselves on the back for working so hard. Hmm. Food for thought.


Seasons Greetings

Just Cheesy enough to post...


Sunday, December 9, 2007

Advent II Recap

Luckily, I didn't get too far in my sermon prep before I realized that Megan was on to preach this morning. She did a fine job. Turnout was descent, and the new space arrangement worked fine with a bit of a tweak. The spirit of worship these days is really nice--I feel that we are really dialing on what we want.

Last night I whipped up a batch of Fish House Punch. It takes a few days to reach it's peak mellowness, but I did try some of it and was delighted with warm memories. I'm looking forward to sharing this treat with the many guests we are going to have by the house this holiday season. Betsy parents and her sister and her family are coming by. We are also hosting a Chancel Guild party and maybe some other events. Rectories are really meant to be used for stuff like this.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is on my mind as I prepare to preach tomorrow. Little wonder: he is an imposing figure in his own day and ours! When I think of him I also think of John Brown, the Abolitionist.

I saw this mural of John Brown on a school trip to the Kansas State Capital Building. Very fire-and-brimstone. Very prophet-like. So much for "seldom is heard / a discouraging word" in the peaceful Midwest!

When I think of John I also think a song that one of my seminary classmates, Drew Bunting, wrote. In the song, the protagonist encounters a cave dwelling crazy-prophet type with such memorable sayings as, "The Lord is my sniper, son, you leave me alone!"

There are many kinds of prophets, and John the Baptist is clearly the ass-kicking kind, and that's clear even without my midrash. I mean, what kind of dude eats locusts and lives in the desert and screams at people about repenting of their sins? Listen to this guy froth:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:7b-10)

How can you preach about this guy without getting passionate? He stirs up my blood, for sure! I'm already getting excited about preaching tomorrow!


Visioning Workshop Number 1

Today's visioning event went extremely well. Although we didn't have a huge group (13 adults and 2 kids and 4 teachers!), we had a critical mass for the work at hand: understanding our collective past as a church. I think we all learned a few things that we didn't know, which is important, but I think we also became a bit closer by virtue of having shared our ideas and memories about COTM for 2 1/2 hours. Our Parish Administrator is going to type up the notes and we will distribute them to the congregation via e-mail. At times there has been a semi-regular e-mail to the congregation; I realize that I should revive that tradition. It's a fairly obvious application of my conception of having a media-rich church.

On Friday I stopped by the old Rectory. We let the tenants pick the paint colors and make some other decorating decisions, which was wise. They have done a marvelous job making it their home. It's amazing how much impact simple things like fresh paint and refinishing floors and replacing cabinet knobs can have. I'm also glad this all turned out well without a ton of hands-on input from me. There is nothing as satisfying as setting people loose on a project and finding that they have exceeded your expectations!


Friday, December 7, 2007

Fish House Punch

Here's the Recipe for a Moss Favorite: Fish House Punch. My parents used to make it every year, and now my sisters are making it. I made it back in New Haven at least once. This stuff is delicious but deadly: perfect for out of town guests who are staying over. It reaches peak taste after about a week of sitting in the fridge. This is my Dad's recipe, which I got a copy of from my sister Lynne.

Fish House Punch
12 lemons
1 lb brown sugar
1/2 gallon hot water
1/2 gallon dark rum
1 quart brandy
12 oz peach brandy

Squeeze lemons and put juice and rinds in crock. Boil water and dissolve sugar into water. Add to the lemons and let cool for several hours. Strain. Add rum, brandy, and peach brandy. Dad says to put only part of the peach brandy in and then add more later.

Tis the season!


Thursday, December 6, 2007

St. Nicholas Day

Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus). There is a wonderful collect written for the occasion:
Eternal God, in your great love you gave your servant Nicholas a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea. Grant 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 who are tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This sets me to thinking about love--always a worthy thing for Christians to ponder.

My Spiritual Director, Bede, has a great blog that he writes once a week. His post for this week is about Jake the Dental Dog--the very paragon of love...
Jake’s job is to love people. He obviously likes his job quite a lot. He’s not always there when I go to the office, but when he is he roams from treatment room to treatment room spreading love wherever he goes. He delights people and delights in people. He eases the tension that always goes with dental treatment. In between times of wandering through the office he lies in a corner of the reception area, napping. But he’s always glad to interrupt his nap when the call of love arises. He is a real treasure. ....

One of the people Nettie loved most was me. She looked across the street and saw the trouble that was in our house and looked at me and saw the weight of that burden in my life and how heavy it was for me to carry. She knew what to do about a small child sinking under a heavy burden, and she responded as she knew best: she loved me with all her heart. That’s what saved me. I'm not exaggerating: it really did save me, and much of what I have of balance and stability and just plain sanity is due to the love of Miss Nettie Robinson (and also to my Aunt Sarah, another great lover of people) I know how important it can be to love people.

So this Advent, can I take up this vocation? Can I love in the mold of Miss Nettie Robinson, and of my Aunt Sarah? Can I love, just because love is what I am called to as a Christian and as a monk? Couldn’t I be just a bit like Jake, in the ways it would be proper for me to be like Jake? Could I wiggle with all my heart when someone comes along? ...

Amen, brother.


Gut Check

As part of the "Fresh Start" program mandated by the Diocese for clergy beginning new cures, today I took two clergy stress inventories. I was pleased to discover that my current stress level is lower than most of my colleagues that have begun new calls. I think this is due, in equal measure, the Wardens, the staff, the congregation, and myself. I think we are simply in a good place and that this transition is going extremely well.

This feeling that things are going well occurred to me Tuesday when I had a moment of "gut check." I was walking home up the hill and was filled with a sense of pride in my congregation and enormous affection for them and for our project on Avenue Road (i.e. the church). I thought to myself, "that's it. I simply need to love them." It was a great feeling to have in the gut.

That's not to say that I don't have my moments--just that the overall picture is bright, indeed.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Thought About Leadership

Here's a thought: one of the critical dynamics in leadership is the tension between "being on top of things" and "not micromanaging." That is, the subtle space of being both engaged but not overly directive. If it were drawn out on a scale, then clearly the place to be on that scale will differ with the circumstances, etc. It takes great skill, I think, to know precisely how much involvement the leader should apply to any given initiative to achieve optimal success. I'm still pretty new at this one, but I'm learning.


Christmas Cards

Betsy and I are ordering a set of Christmas Cards to send out. In the mean time, here is an old card that my sister Meg found. We sent this out back when we lived in Kansas. It's vintage Tay, Meg, and Lynne (and our dog Muffin). This was taken in the wheat field behind our house...

Notice the piece of wheat I'm chewing on. I was such a country kid, I thought nothing of chewing on wheat or wild asparagus. I also used to take naps on the roof of the chicken shed! Oh man, does life change!


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Advent I recap...

Since Betsy's laptop was stolen it's been a little harder for me to keep my blog updated daily, but she bought a laptop yesterday so we should be back to normal before long. She also bought a external hard drive to back everything up. Of course, the really hard part will be recovering what data she can reconstruct. No word from the police.

Sunday went very, very well. I think I would even say that it was possibly my favorite liturgy since I've been at COTM. The Gathering Rite with the asperges and the great litany went fine, and George Sumner gave an excellent sermon. The Advent Layout of the chairs was received favorably. I've only had one person so far say they don't like it, but others had encouraging and helpful feedback. Positives that people mentioned: warmer, cozier, easier to hear. Negatives: ambo position needs to be rethought, and it makes it feel less "formal." Certainly there were one or two bugs I plan to correct for next Sunday, but all-in-all a real success.

Unfortunately, my grand experiment coincided with a massive snowstorm--that kept attendance lower than normal. Alas, not much I can do about the weather.

Monday was quiet. Took out the trash and helped Betsy buy a computer. The Monday Night Football Game was a nail-biter to the end.

This morning the monthly Traditional (BCP) Communion service went extremely well. In the past I've hard on myself about my preaching at this service, but this morning I was on a roll talking about prayer and Advent. It's the feast day for Nicholas Ferrar, and that is part of what set the whole sermon in motion. I ended up talking about prayer as something deeply desired by God. It was nice to finally hit the preaching sweet spot at a Traditional Communion service here.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snowy Sunday

Last night a big snow storm rolled into the GTA. I woke up to see that several inches had accumulated all around our house on Farnham. Nonetheless, I dutifully got ready for the day and did some shoveling after breakfast. It's still coming down.

Walking down the hill to the church was this side of magical. The city is quiet and dark this early on a snowy Sunday morning. It seems just right for Advent 1, though I suspect some of my parishioners will stay home.

The church is quiet, too. I took off my sneakers and put on my slippers (yes, I keep a pair of lambskin slippers in my office). Before people arrive I'll change into some nicer black shoes that I carried with me down the hill.

The church seems cozy to me, just now. The only thing that would make it more perfect is a fireplace.


Saturday, December 1, 2007


We live next to the entrance to a local private school. It's disturbing to see how many kids come to school with cups of Star Bucks Coffee. I shouldn't be surprised; caffeine is a very popular drug these days. No wonder, considering how under-slept and stressed out most of us are. Why would our kids be any different?

I drink plenty of coffee, too, but usually go without it when I'm on vacation or not working that day. For all of you caffeine addicts out there, check out this site... My favorites are the caffeine mints, soaps, and drinks.

Last night I went to bed early and slept long. I'm feeling a little under the weather, so this is probably a wise thing to do going into the weekend. Today I did one or two errands but am mostly taking it easy. Tomorrow will be a big day, but I'm mostly ready for it.


Friday, November 30, 2007


My lunch was very enjoyable. I really do like talking to people about God and church and all that stuff, apparently. We tried a restaurant I've never been to; I had a very good seared Tuna Fish Sandwich. When I think of it, I try to eat fish on Fridays in deference to ancient tradition and as a kind of mild fast.

When I got back to COTM I found a note from Susy with a second version of the mural sketch. It looks absolutely fantastic and I'm super excited about the shape it's taking. I would love to post it here, but it's not quite ready for that kind of exposure, yet. The creative process is delicate and can be ruined by too much exposure. So I just have to be patient.

The painter is finishing up the bathrooms today. The art won't be hung up in there for a while longer, but they still look so much better than before. I'm sure people will be pleased on Sunday.

I stopped by Paul Hahn today to look at another piano. They are recommending this as our permanent piano (the one we have in the nave right now is a loaner)--it's a gorgeous Heintzman with a rich walnut case. I'm eager to hear Matthew's opinion. Of course, if he doesn't love it when can be patient and wait for the next one comes along. It's nice to have the luxury of time on something like this.


Friday at COTM

Bishop Yu came to visit this morning--he likes to visit with all of his clergy at least once a year. Normally I would have gone to his office for such a meeting, but he was coming downtown for something, anyway, so we met at COTM. I'm glad we did, because it felt like I was hosting him in my home. I wanted to show the place off and tell him about the exciting things we are doing. We spent time talking about the parish as well as my personal spiritual life. He's a very sharp thinker and has wise things to say about our vocation. I enjoy these meetings very much.

I'm supposed to have lunch with a parishioner today--I'm looking forward to that. It's hard to get to know people when you only see them for short snippets of time.

I'm supposed to go to a singing lesson today--but I'm also feeling a bit under the weather and think it would be wise to not push myself too hard today....


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chicago Pictures...

Betsy and some bald dude in Lincoln Park

The Big Bean

Tay, Betsy, Ally, and Francis close up on the "bean."

The happy couple with Thanksgiving bounty
and, yes, Ally did bake those pies from scratch!

The Christmas Market downtown

It was a great trip; thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays. Thanks to Francis and Ally for hosting us!

Side Note: that "bean" is the Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. It cost $23 Million to create and has become one of the city's popular landmarks.

Random Notes from Today

It's only 3:30 and I'm already feeling exhausted. Lots going on today--but it felt productive and that's good. One needs to feel productive in their work, sometimes.

Highlights include arranging the space into it's Advent configuration. I got most of it done by myself in 35 minutes. The final touches (moving the altar off the raised Chancel area) only took another 10 or 15 minutes with the help of another guy. It looks great. Predictably, it gets faster each time I do it.

Susy Bleasby stopped by with the first sketches of our proposed mural project for the kid's room upstairs. It looks very good, and we had one of those fun conversations about what the kingdom of heaven might look like. I'm looking forward to the next round of drawings.

I noticed this article in the New York Times about a movement among Jews in the 20's and 30's. It sounds a lot like the Emerging Church movement in Christian Faith. I think these movements are really critical to understanding the future of religion and spirituality in North America.

The kitten, BTW, is doing brilliantly. It's amazing to actually watch him learn how to do the most basic cat things. He's still missing some jumps, for example, and falling off of stuff when he gets to carried away. And it was wonderful comfort to have them around after some of the bad days we've been having lately.

I had a very intense prayer experience this morning. Sometimes it is really nice to surrender to the liturgy and let it do what it do. zone of the nice things about belonging to a tradition that likes to take prayers from books (BCP/BAS/etc) is that we can surrender the burden of being o-so-clever with God. Why make it up fresh everytime when others have done in better in the past? So even when I'm being liturgically "creative" (as with this Sunday upcoming) I'm still basing everything on ancient and well-used rites. This Sunday we are doing aspergance, the Great Litany, and then a pretty standard modern language Eucharist after that. I'm thrilled.


Ship Sinking

Remember my friend Kim from High School (well, my family will)? Her Uncle was on the MS Explorer, the passenger ship that sank off the coast of Antarctica on Nov. 23rd. No one was hurt and the evacuation to the lifeboats went smoothly. He said that no one panicked and everyone followed crew directions exactly. He reported in an e-mail that Kim sent me that he heard the captain say, "My god; We’re sinking" when he saw the extent of the flooding on the lower decks. They were in the boats for about 6 hours before the first ship to respond arrived. Interesting to see how this stuff still happens on the wide sea...


What the Clergy Do All Week

I can't resist posting another Dave Walker Cartoon....


Where the Vicar Goes

Here's another cartoon from Dave Walker...


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Automatic Confessional

Here is an amusing clip I found on another blog. Makes me miss the days at SMM when I would hear confessions in the church.


Stuart Reid

I came across this artist, Stuart Reid, who worked with St. John's, West Toronto, on their interior repainting. His work is stunning in both the content and the shear breadth of disciplines he has covered.


A Bad Day

Yesterday was a comically bad day. After the whole theft thing and a hard day at work where the pile on my desk got larger rather than smaller, I went home. I helped Betsy make dinner by cutting up some veggies, including a jalapeño pepper. I went downstairs to tend to some laundry, and then came back upstairs to continue cooking. At that point, I stupidly rubbed my left eye. The pain from the Capsaicin was instant and severe--I totally understand why they use this stuff for mace!

I knew that water wouldn't help--Capsaicin doesn't dissolve in water--so the first thing I did was wash my hands with dish soap that was close at hand. I remembered a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a priest whose husband is a cop. She told me that after he was sprayed in the eyes with mace as part of his training, they used baby shampoo to wash off the toxic chemicals. We didn't have any of this at home, so I used the next best thing: cat shampoo. It's also a mild, tear-less soap. I made a lather with my hands and applied it to my eyes and rinsed with warm water. I repeated this procedure a few more times and it worked like gang-busters. I was back to normal in about 1/2 hour!

Undaunted by our bad day, Betsy and I decided to go to the church to use my computer, as we were leaving, my house key broke in the lock. I was able to remove it with a pair of pliers, but we decided this was not a good night to keep tempting fate. So we stayed in and went to bed early.

Slept fitfully. Many dreams about liturgy. At one point I dreamed that I was at the Moody Church in Chicago with a group of church musicians messing around on their organ. One of the organists I know cringed and said that it was obviously out of tune. To me it sounded dull, somehow. I had other dreams about liturgy and planning liturgy.

A busy day ahead--I sure hope it goes better than yesterday!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Another Theft

A very difficult day means a short post from me as I'm behind the ball on many things and struggling to catch up.

This morning Betsy's laptop and cell-phone were stolen from her office at school. The office was locked while Betsy was away, but the thief managed to force the door open and steal her stuff. It was in the morning with lots of people around, but the corridor leading to her office is out of the way.

The loss of the hardware was not insubstantial, but the worst part is the loss of the data--naturally. Betsy's life and work is in that computer, including her research, our address book, her e-mail, all her photos, etc. She did make a back up some weeks ago, but we don't know much is there, yet.

The police came but didn't find any fingerprints.

I came and gave her some comfort and dropped her off at home. Came back to church and got hard to work with many tasks.

Life is difficult.


Christmas Wish List

My family keep asking me to post my Christmas Wish List, so here goes...
  1. A light-weight robe. (Ideally I'd love a silk dressing gown, but these are very expensive unless you find one in a vintage store. One made from Chambray or cotton would be just fine.) I wear about a 44 jacket
  2. A GPS device for in-car navigation. (Ideally with blue-tooth so I can use it for hands-free cellphone, too)
  3. A Toolbox
  4. A Doctor Who Tardis USB hub
  5. Heated Towel Rack (like this)
  6. Cuff Links
  7. An HD TV (yeah, it's a stretch, but I might as well ask)
  8. One of those cool digital picture frames


Giving Good Announcement...

I forgot to mention on Sunday's recap-post that I "gave good announcement" at the service. That is, my patter where I talk about upcoming events was particularly good on Sunday, which makes up for some of the Sundays that I found disappointing. Giving the announcements is a fine art that requires a very particular mindset. It's part sales-pitch, part sermon, part scout-troop-leader. The idea is to convey what's happening and to put those events into the context of ongoing parish life in a way that conveys enthusiasm and welcome. The idea is to give people the impression that they are missing out on something grand if they don't come to whatever events are happening in the week. I was pleased.

On Monday I did some errands. At Canadian Tire I ran into Theo Ipema, who asked whether this incident would be included in my blog (so of course it had to be after he said that). So it's worth saying something about blogging. I think that people of my generation don't expect privacy, but they do value openness (that's a quote from a CSI episode). I think it's also worth noting that we also want to participate in media as producers and not just consumers. Keeping a blog is a great way for me to work out ongoing thoughts and processes in a way that often provokes discussion and greater communication, rather than less.

Of course, there are a lot of limits about what I can write here. It's the nature of my vocation that I work with people, and most of what comes out of that can't be blogged about. Yet enough happens in the course of my days and weeks that I have plenty to think and write about.

After leaving Theo (and Canadian Tire), I went to William Sonoma to get some replacement dishes for our everyday set. We go through a lot of saucers now that we have two cats. Alas, they don't carry our pattern anymore, but suggested that I could probably find it online. Then I stopped by the car rental place to pick up an item I accidentally left in a rental car back in late August. Sure enough, the book on CD was on the top of the lost and found pile.

After that I went grocery shopping for the next few weeks. While there I ran into someone else I know, a long time parishioner of COTM. I was pleased that on this trip to the store I remembered to bring my reusable bags. These things are not only better for the environment, they are also simply superior bags for hauling groceries!

My last stop on the way home was the pet food store. We had been feeding the cats with Fancy Feast, but there are other cat foods that are supposedly better for the cats and around the same price. I went with the "Wellness" brand and bought a flat. I noted that it said, "human grade ingredients" and decided to try a spoonful of the stuff before giving it to our cats. It didn't taste great, but it didn't taste bad, either. It was actually kind of bland. I have no urge to have anymore, however.

Today will be busy. I have 56 e-mail messages to read. I also have a staff meeting this afternoon and lots of ongoing projects that require my attention.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Church Chairs...

Courtesy of Dave Walker...


The Last Sunday of Pentecost

Church went well today. The service had a nice feel and did what it needed to do, spirit-wise. Megan gave a good sermon about the church calendar that nicely finished off our three-sermon pre-Advent preaching series on liturgy.

All the important players have accepted my Advent solution--so I'm pleased about that. I wonder how much the passage of a week helped lower change-related anxiety? Certainly my anxiety is now back to normal levels.

After coffee hour I had a good meeting with the Chancel Guild. Now I'm feeling like the congregation is well-prepared for Advent. Whew!

Now I'm going home to have some soup and watch some football. It's a beautiful crisp day outside and there are kittens in need of love.


Back from Chicago

We arrived back in Toronto at around 10:30 last night after an uneventful drive from Chicago. The cats were glad to see us. We went to bed early, and I woke up naturally around 6 and tossed in bed until 6:30. I was at the church by 7:45 to start the usual preparations. That includes things like putting out the communion bread to thaw and re-arranging the chairs. The cleaning crew that comes overnight aren't nearly as picky about the arrangement of chairs as I am. In the current Sunday morning configuration, I want 8 rows of 12 chairs facing forward, six chairs on a diagonal facing the altar (4 in one row, 2 in the other), and eight choir chairs arranged as they were after Thursday choir practice! There are usually some other little nit-picky things to take care of, but since I'm not preaching my morning prep isn't too panicky.

Chicago... I should talk about Chicago....

My friends Francis and Ally have a good life together. Their apartment is close to Lincoln Park and various pleasures of city living. They took us to their favorite haunts such as a Tapas Restaurant, a local pub, and the park. We went to the zoo and took a long walk to work off Thanksgiving calories. The thanksgiving meal itself was the traditional affair. The gravy was particular excellent and short-lived.

All together it was too short a trip, but we were happy to been able to spend time with them. Soon they'll be heading to Bentonville, Arkansas, for the next stage of Francis' work training. Who knows where they will be after that, though we all hope to end up in the same city someday.

I only have an hour and a half until the service, so I'll go warm up my voice and prepare...


Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Chicago

We're in Chicago, enjoying a football game and sipping a nice Merlot while the turkey cooks. Francis and Ally have a nice life, here. It's great to see them. The drive was difficult (rainy and dark) but uneventful. Today we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo (a short walk from their place). It was really entertaining to see the lions and monkeys and such.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Off for Thanksgiving

Betsy and I are going to Chicago to spend American Thanksgiving with our friends Francis and Ally. We'll be back Saturday--I'm not sure I'll have time to blog down there or not!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Advent Solution Found!

As many of you who read this probably know, one of the real challenges right now is figuring out what we are going to do with Advent. In the past, it seemed like they were decorating too early for Christmas and too late for Advent (as one person puts it). I believe that we need to respect the constraints of liturgical time, and that means that we don't do Christmas until Christmas. But today in our staff meeting Matthew came up with a really good suggestion--we will decorate the church in the traditional manner, but do so in a series of steps or stages. Certain things will go up for Advent I, and then more for Advent II, etc. One of the great parts of this is that the folks who really like doing the "greening" of the church on Advent III can still do that for Advent III. Then in advance of Advent IV we'll simply add something else (perhaps the creche). Think of it an extension of the Advent Wreath becoming progressively brighter as the season progresses. So now everybody should be happy! I get my liturgically effective sense of progression through seasons and the congregation gets to decorate the place the way they've always done it. I'm greatly relieved to have a solution that ought to be workable.

We got lots of other work done in our staff meeting. I'm pleased. I'm also tired...


Power Point Sermon from Sunday

Here's the powerpoint I used on Sunday for my sermon. Yes, I have the license to use Dave Walker's Cartoons...



I had a meeting a few days back that nearly went off the rails a few times. I was chairing it, and even thought as it was unfolding, "Wow, this is the hardest thing I've done at COTM yet." I knew, going in, that this would likely be the place where I would finally run into a wall in my efforts to grow and renew the parish, and boy was that assessment right. And as things were melting down I reverted to my training. Here are some key points for those of you getting ready to chair a difficult meeting:
  • Suppress your urge to identify emotionally with your own agenda. So when your ideas start to tank, let them.
  • When stuck, just try to reformulate as clearly as possible the last thing said. "X, I hear you saying..."
  • Look for short gains. If all you can manage to do is get people to a better expression of the problems at hand, you've done a lot.

I've seen and heard of priests completely melting down in meetings because they get frustrated that the change they want to implement meets with resistance. But I think that in those situations leaders have to remind themselves that people will walk away from the meeting and meet again at some later date, and people's minds do change in the interim. So the question becomes: what do I want to leave them with?

Anyway, there is a ton to learn from a conflict like this. You really get to see what is that people care about, and it tends to be different from person to person. You also get to see how the dynamics unfold interpersonally.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Greeting

...for reflection, a still from the video installation "The Greeting" by Bill Viola, one of my favorite artists...



I'm so tired at this moment I could cry. I was insane take this day the way I did. And yet everything seemed to go extremely well. Even the things that were difficult or unpleasant went the way they needed go, if that makes sense. People liked my power point sermon--i'll post it here as soon as I can. In the mean time, I need to be kind to myself.


Episcopal Election

This is The Very Rev'd Dr Linda Nicholls, now Bishop-elect. She was chosen to succeed Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones who is set to retire. The Synod was held at St. Paul's and turned out to be a great chance to catch up with old friends. I was pleased with the results and really thrive at these things, but was glad to be leaving when I did.

My Uncle Cliff arrived last night without incident. I put him to work (along with Betsy) to put the church back into its normal configuration, then we went out to dinner at the Pour House. After a pleasant talk over tea in our living room, I got a couple hours of sleep and then came early to church to finish my powerpoint sermon for today. It turned out pretty well, I think, but the proof will be in the pudding.

I'm doing okay right now, but I'm going to be utterly useless tomorrow. I'll be watching DVR'd football and vegging, I think.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Rolling Moss Gathers No Stone

Back when I was studying Karate with great intensity (High School) one of my teachers would say "A Rolling Moss Gathers No Stone." He was encouraging me to move decisively and with speed--I think he would appreciate my current application of that principle. Even if I wanted to linger on the theft I wouldn't have time.

Much of my day today will be consumed by a Synod meeting to take care of some Diocesan business--including the election of a new bishop. Since I've been in this Diocese for a little more than 2 years, I've participated in two of these elections already! Lucky for me, this Synod is taking place at a church within walking distance of COTM. Unlucky for me, my attendance is nearly compulsory and once we enter we are virtually sequestered. That's too bad, as otherwise I would be preparing for tomorrow.

My Uncle Cliff is coming tonight. He'll come to church in the morning and then leaves to continue his trip west to see his kids on Monday. It's a short trip, but a meaningful one.

His coming on a big church day. I'm giving a powerpoint sermon on church architecture and liturgy to introduce the Advent seating arrangement. I spent a few hours on Friday arranging the space and taking some pictures to show the congregation. Here are two of them...

Now this is just going to be an experimental arrangement for Advent and possibly the Christmas season--and for the next two Sundays we will continue with the "normal" arrangement. But I have to say that it is going to break my heart to put things back the way they were this afternoon. I've got lots of good liturgical and historical and theological and even pastoral arguments for the choir-style seating arrangement, however what I find even more compelling the gut feeling this place has when arranged like that. I'm sorely tempted to leave the chairs like this for Sunday, but I realize that I'll be pushing the envelope of how much change I can get away with.

You see, there is a fundamental difference between change that is experienced as continuous vs. discontinuous is huge. In other words, gradual change where one thing flows into another is much easier for a community to handle than radical and surprising shifts. As a leader you often can't determine where a change will fall on that spectrum, but I can in this case, so I should choose to make it a change that has high-continuity with the flow of events. That means introducing it gradually and giving plenty of notice. That's why we are doing three sermons on liturgy and assuring everyone that this will be a temporary and seasonal thing.

Nonetheless, I'm hopeful that people will like it so much they will want to retain it. Several of my predecessors have done similar things with the space here, or wanted to, so I'm in good company. I'm deeply thankful that I have a congregation unafraid to experiment in this way.

Another thing happening on Sunday is a meeting of the Advent Liturgy Committee. This has continuity with the group that used to gather to decorate for Christmas--only this time they are dressing the space for Advent as a separate beat from the Christmas decorating. And that "dressing" of the space will be done with an eye towards liturgy. I expect that many of the traditional elements will be maintained (garlands here, wreaths there) but others will be completely new. My hope is that when we meet after church on Sunday there will be a lot of enthusiasm and energy generating that will propel our efforts forward and even get some new people involved in the project.

Oh, and the Christmas Pageant group is getting together to do more planning. I promised to make more progress on the script! Ahhggg!

So as I get ready to walk down to St. Paul's, Bloor St., for the Synod, I'll be thinking about the feasibility of pulling an all-nighter tonight to get all done. Caffeine is my friend.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Theft at the Rectory

Last night when Betsy and I came home from work we discovered that someone had broken into our house and stolen most of our jewelry. We called the police and began the process of cataloging how it happened and what was taken.

Apparently the perpetrator broke in through the back door. He used some kind of hand tool (probably a screwdriver) and considerable force to defeat the lock there. Although it wasn't a bolt lock, it is interesting to note that it was finally the lock plate in the door frame that broke--metal sheared clean off. The violence of the entry was enough that the door slammed open and the blinds flew off onto some plants sitting on a nearby shelf.

From there the jerk passed by our wedding silver in the dining room and our electronics in the living room and went straight to our bedroom. He went through our night tables but didn't find anything of interest--but in our dressing room he saw what he was after. He emptied a laundry bag onto the floor and filled it up again with jewelry and other valuables he could find in or on our dressers. Among the missing items are Betsy's two Jewelry boxes and their contents, plus all my cuff-links (except the ones I was wearing at the time), some American cash we keep on hand for traveling, the jar of loose coins where I deposit my change. Gone is the antique gold pocket watch dad gave me and silver cuff-links from Lynne. Gone are Betsy's ear rings and her silver charm bracelet.

We did catch one break, however, in that a few of Betsy's most precious items (the cross I gave her when we started dating, the pearl necklace I gave her for our wedding, etc.) were still in a small make-up back she uses for traveling.

Probably the strangest item to go missing was my antiperspirant stick! Perhaps we are dealing with a smelly criminal?

We had insurance, and we can replace everything that was taken. Certainly we should count our blessings as the potential for violence was real, and they didn't take our absolutely most precious stuff (The car, Betsy's laptop, the silver/china, my cameras). Still, it's hard to shake the feeling of violation. Seeing your drawers pulled out and knowing that someone put their hands through your delicates is pretty unpleasant.

Next steps involve the CSI folks trying to lift prints this morning. Then we need to get the landlord to get a locksmith over pronto. And then there is insurance to deal with.

Betsy noted, "At least we know what to ask for Christmas."


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kona Coffee Parade Video

Here's a video of a parade in Kona, Hawai'i, where my dad lives. He grows Kona Coffee and is very involved with some of the local farmers to promote the interests of the best coffee on earth. That's him driving a jeep he restored around the 2:45 mark in this video. The float he is pulling won first prize ($500) in their division.

I have some pretty deep family roots out there. My Great-Grandfather settled there back in the day and raised a family. Hawai'i is a very special and unique place that I'm privileged to be able to visit sometimes. I highly recommend it. If you are looking for a place to stay, consider my dad's guest cottage. Yes, he and his wife have a hard life out there. Sigh.


Do Pets go to Heaven?

Two events bring this question to mind right now. First, I'm working with an artist on creating a huge mural of the Kingdom of Heaven for our primary Sunday School room. Second, a friend's faithful dog is dying and so my buddies asked, joking, whether I would give him last rites.

The idea that the animal kingdom participates in the Divine life of God has never been much of a question. Like us, they are created and have their providential path here on earth. In the Bible you can find bunches of passages that reflect God's care for the animals. The Kingdom of Heaven is described in the Hebrew Bible (aka "the Old Testament") as a kind of perfected, heavenly ecology where wolves and lambs live together (Isaiah 11:6-9).

The New Testament's conception of heaven also includes notions of all created animals participating in the New Order:
"Then I heard every living creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped." (Rev. 5:13-14)

But I think some of the best arguments to be made are inspired by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who believed that heaven was kind of perfected nature in which change (i.e. growth) and even ecology/order are maintained and transformed into their perfected versions in heaven. In other words, yes, there are pets in heaven.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Absinthe Ban Lifted

BTW, Absinthe is now legal in the U.S. and Canada (has been for while, in fact) Here's an interesting article in the NY Times about it. From the article:
But once I sat down with bottles of Kübler, Lucid and some friends, the cause of absinthe’s reputation didn’t matter, nor did the absence, in these brands, of the pearly green color of legend. What I did find, along with flavors of anise, fennel, coriander, mint and other herbs, was something different in the liquid’s effect, a kind of relaxed alertness accompanying the lulling impact of alcohol. (source)

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? But what about safety? From an online FAQ about the Green Queen:
It depends on who you ask. Certainly, the original Absinthes were brewed with sub-standard safety standards. These days, the thujone content of all commercial Absinthes is low enough to cause no harm to the human body. Homemade Absinthe can be potentially fatal. Be aware that although the thujone content of modern day Absinthe may not be harmful, its high alcoholic content can be.


A Visit to SMM

One of the things that is really good about the Contemplative Eucharist is that it is worship that speaks strongly to the point that we never worship alone, but are always joined "by so great a cloud of witnesses." I remember friends from seminary for whom liturgy was reduced to a moment of lateral communion--the community gathered--and ignored the notion that liturgy is also about participating in something larger than our particular community or gathering. I think another baby sometimes thrown out with the bath water is the notion of the church as iconic of God's continuing presence. I suppose if my first point speaks to the notion of Church-as-temple, my second goes to Church-as-tabernacle--we need both.

An implication of this is that moving to chairs to be collegiate-style is all well and good, but I need to also create a sense of connection to something more transcendant. One of the parishes where I grew up, St. Alban's, Wichita, KS, created a very interesting installation that accomplishes this. I'll have to bring this up at Sunday's Advent decorations planning committee.

After celebrating the Contemplative Eucharist, I went to SMM for Edith Long's Requiem Mass. People were glad to see me and I them, but being there stirred up strong feelings. Some of those feelings are enjoyable and pleasant, but there is some sadness and pain there for me, too. I never managed to accomplish as much as I had hoped, and still feel like I let people down. I'm sure that if I told the SMM congregation that they would counter with the stuff I did which was of value, but I still can't help but think of the many different initiatives and changes that I was unable to get off the ground. Fundamentally, I thought my job was to create the change necessary for growth, but in reality my job was to maintain the status quo. I always felt caught between my call to build the kingdom and my obedience to doing what I was told. In that sense the Story of Fr. Tay at SMM probably says a great deal about this moment in that parish's history: the tension between two worlds.

Interestingly, I think this is why much of the preaching at SMM (mine and Fr. Harold's) often addressed the relationship between the Church/Christians and the world. Today Harold's sermon was tight, economic, and fat-free--six minutes that said exactly what needed to be said. And although the bulk of it was spent talking about Edith and her place in the SMM community, he did not neglect to mention how our view of death and the afterlife conflicts with that of our contemporary society. "Heaven," Harold preached, "is not sitting on a cloud eating Philadelphia Cream Cheese."

He's got a point, but I think the fact that we always seemed to be preaching about our place in post-Christian North American society shows that we never really resolved the fundamental problem that SMM faces--i.e. what do we have to say to downtown Toronto?

There is more I could say on the subject of what Anglo-Catholic evangelism could look like, but I'm afraid those ideas are echoes of a ministry fading into a mere two years of parish history. As much as I would like to offer my insight and help, it's time for me to move on. COTM is such fertile ground that, as ideas go, I could plant a pencil and it would grow. There are incredible resources here for transformative ministry--I just have to keep reminding myself that I've only been here for 2 1/2 months!

Stopped by John Hill's Church (St. Augustine of Canterbury) and dropped off the chairs we borrowed to show the congregation. I also picked up a few books from his (personal) library on church architecture. John is a local expert on liturgy and architecture, and I can foresee having many conversations about these matters soon. I knew a fair amount about this stuff before coming to COTM, but God knows I'm learning a lot more in a hurry! For instance, is the Great Litany a good choice to cover the action of asperging the congregation during the gathering rite? Answer: yes. In fact, the Lutherans suggest doing something quite similar to that in their new prayer book.

BTW, check out this cool font from The Cathedral of Our Saviour (Episcopal) in Philadelphia:

And of course they seat the people collegial style for the Liturgy of the Word.