Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Harry Potter and Esoteric Spirituality

Betsy and I finished listening to the last Harry Potter book on unabridged audio book. Good stuff. I've always enjoyed the Harry Potter world--it's quirky and fun and not without poignant moments. I was moved to tears a couple of times by the deaths of characters we have learned to enjoy across seven novels.

This inspired a discussion between Betsy and myself about the value and limits of esoteric spiritual disciplines. That could mean meditation or praying with icons or lots of different things. I would take it even further and talk about the experiments and experiences I've had with psychic phenomenon and certain forms of bodywork. I once attended a very cool and extremely powerful group therapy session based on Family Constellations. It's not magical in the sense that some esoteric spiritual techniques can seem, but it is esoteric and "out there" for many people. Yet that day I saw some incredible healing take place and nobody really knows how it worked.

It's kind of like the difference between Newtonian Physics and Chemistry. The Newtonian stuff is useful and powerful so far as it goes, but with chemistry you can subtly manipulate the underlying nature of the universe in way that makes it possible to poison or heal with even a mere gram of powder. If you understand the invisible rules behind the dynamics of the world, you can have incredible power to do good.

There was a time in my spiritual life where I got to experiment and learn from lots of cool techniques. I used to have fascinating conversations with spiritual adepts coming from all kinds of traditions. I haven't been able to do that much since I came up to Toronto, but I think that I'll have the chance at Messiah to really explore my spiritual creativity. Even better, I'll be able to work with a whole community of people to do that work.

In the movie My Dinner with Andre two actors (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory--acting as themselves?!) discuss this issue at length. One of them has spent many years exploring the most esoteric reaches of the human experience through his vocation of acting. The other chose, by comparison, the straight and deep path. It's not that either is better, but they are different. I'm obviously in Andre's camp. But the really important insight to notice is that the growth comes when Andre and Wallace meet. Something about the spiritual voltage created by the differentiation of paths creates incredible potential.

On a smaller scale, this dynamic is manifest in the preaching relationship. The preacher goes off on a quest for knowledge on behalf of the congregation. She journeys off to encounter the text in a distant land (the pastor's study) and then returns with the golden fleece of insight to share with the community. Interestingly, the myth says that the hero's quest is to restore something that has been lost. This is why it is necessary that preachers be set apart in some way. The degree of the differentiation varies in character and degree from community to community.

Precisely for this reason, preachers/ministers/priests must be a bit odd or geeky. It's not just that a certain personality is drawn to pastoral ministry--it's also the case that pastoral ministry requires or creates a certain personality. I'm precisely most priest when I'm skirting some edge between the mundane and the esoteric. Interestingly, all Christians all called to be priests in this sense, as well, as they partake in the "Pascal Mysteries" and bring that bit of heaven back into the world.

It will be fascinating to see what kind of edge play I end up doing at Messiah. I can hardly wait.


Denise's Grand Escape

Denise, our cat, made a mischievous discovery yesterday. We had her in a harness with a 20 foot lead tied to a fence in the back yard. Betsy was back there with her, when suddenly Denise just bolted across the lawn until the lead ran out and the safety harness gave way under the force. Free at last, our little kitty climbed a nearby tree. Betsy came and got me out of the shower with her concern that our furry child was in jeopardy.

I told her that I was pretty sure that Denise would be able to climb down from any tree she could manage to climb up. She is, after all, an experienced climber. I saw her slip once while climbing a folded up wooden step ladder. She ended up hanging on under a rung upside down--and she still managed to climb back onto the right side of the step and climb the rest of the way down. So I thought she would probably be okay.

Sure enough, there was Denise a good 25 feet in the air crawling out onto a limb having a grand old time. Once she had enough she made her way back down with some impressive and creative moves. At one point she shimmied down the trunk backwards. I took her off a low branch despite her complaints and took her inside.

Hard to know how to balance giving creatures freedom to explore and take risks versus protecting them from making costly mistakes. It's the classic parental dilemma, I suppose, but it also comes up a lot in any kind of teaching or care-giving or pastoral situation.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cassocks and such

During mass today I thought up some very interesting reflections for this blog, but this is the first moment I've had at my computer since before the 8 o'clock Mass. Now I have just a couple of minutes before I rush off to meet with a Realtor to look at possible "rectories." We saw a great place yesterday that may work well for us. The whole thing makes us feel like kids in a candy store--the sense that whatever we choose is going to make us very happy.

Anyway, I was going to make a note about Cassocks and how great they are. I have two: a lightweight and a heavyweight. Both were gifts from the Order of the Holy Cross (they had a closet full that they used to wear when traveling). They are several decades old, but have held up great. Well made cassocks should never really wear out.

The great thing about cassocks is that they are extremely flexible. They can be warm or cool depending on what you wear under them. And you can have anything on underneath, which means that I can wear what I want to church in the morning and then change into my cassock when I have to do a service. Easy as pie. And they are much more comfortable than pretty much anything else you might attempt to wear.

And black is slimming.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Shadow days

In sailing there is the concept of a "wind shadow" that is created by a sail. Basically, it's simply where the wind is blocked and must flow around. It becomes extremely important in close-quarters racing situations because you can try to block your opponents' wind.

A similar phenomenon is created in karate, for example, when your opponent makes any kind of move whatsoever. Simultaneously an opening is created proportional to how much the move has extended the person. This is why learning how to counter-punch is an absolutely essential skill, because it means you're learning how to take advantage of the special wake created just behind the leading edge your opponent's evil intentions.

Another application of this principle is in preaching. Just behind every phrase or movement is a beat or two of silence that is filled with potential. When I'm really on a roll preaching, that shadow space is essential because it's the beat in which I hear the voice of the congregation and my own inner voice of inspiration. When I see people try to preach without notes and fail, it is often because they don't know how to create and preserve this interior shadow space in the midst of the preaching act. They are all about giving and don't know how to switch into a receiving mode for those crucial few seconds.

I've also come to realize that it takes a courage to trust that something will come in that moment when you take a breath and listen. The truth is usually something does come. And when it doesn't, that's okay, too. If you really throw yourself on the mercy of the Holy Spirit and she doesn't deliver, you have to be okay with Her decision. When that happens to me, I'll often simply repeat my last phrase or summarize what I've been saying, or perhaps just begin the next section of stuff I want to talk about.

An even more ultimate application of this shadow phenomenon is the space created in the wake of psycho-spiritual shifts. It's very common that when something shakes loose in our minds/souls we'll feel tired and quiet in the next moment. It's a mistake as a caregiver to confuse this moment of quietness for backsliding or as an opportunity to push the work further than it has already gone. Even when things seem unresolved, it's often better to let them sit in that place of unsettledness. Attempting to achieve artificial closure is evidence that the caregiver is uncomfortable holding the tension of the scene. Much better to respect the integrity of the spiritual sabbath created by the work.

That period of sabbath can be quite long--lasting minutes, hours, days, or even years. Bede sometimes quotes a Zen teacher who calls it "sheet practice" to spend time simply sleeping and resting. Differentiating this from depression is complicated, and they are certainly related etymologically (having a common origin or process). Anyway, the point I want to make is that this kind of fallow period between moments of growth is a good thing. The fact is that some very important work is often happening under the surface.

I remember a priest friend telling me that the back pews are holy because the people that sit there and disappear before you can speak to them after the service are really engaging important internal work. Forcing them to talk to you is often not helpful.

So this is a relatively long post to explore what should be an intuitive reality. But what often appears intuitive to me is not to others, so I thought I'd talk about it. This shadow business is an incredibly powerful and useful phenomenon to explore in all aspects of life. As key psycho-spiritual dynamics go, it's right up there with the stimulus-response and transcendent-immanent dynamics. Understood dialectically, I guess you would call it movement-stillness? Anyway, these are things I think about when I am trying to analyze what the hell God is doing in the world!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Music Meetings...

Today Matthew Tran-Admas, the Director of Music and Liturgical Arts at the Church of the Messiah, and I had lunch at my favorite pub. It was a 3 1/2 hour conversation that ranged over all kids of ground. The upshot is that we are going to get along great and found all kinds of opportunities to pursue. Like many other aspects of the Church of the Messiah, the music program is wide open for adaptation and growth. It's time for some "blue sky" planning projects, which are tremendous fun. It's great to just dream about what is possible. It's all very exciting!


Brin's work

Here's a picture of the veil and burse Brin Conrad created for me to match an existing chasuble and stole. The original pieces were created by Colleen Hintz on behalf of my parents. Brin had to work very hard to match the fabrics and learn the techniques to match Colleen's work. I'm very proud of her work...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dreams and Psychosis

Lately I've been having more clergy anxiety dreams. Last night a person I don't recognize came to me in my dreams and accused me of having broken confidentiality by telling a story about him in a sermon without permission and without having changed identifying details. I felt regretful and ashamed in the dream and woke up relieved to realize that I had done no such thing. I've also had had dreams in which I have had to make difficult decisions that would make at least some people angry. And then there was the dream I had recently in which I wrecked my father's rare sports car. Or the one in which I was falling from a great height and woke myself up before I hit the ground. These kinds of dreams are common to ministers, and I've been told they happen to people in other stressful professions, as well. What meaning, though?

Bishop Frederick Borsch -- whom I first met when he was Bishop of Los Angeles and then again when we lived together in the Berkeley House at Yale and he was my Dean -- gives a famous sermon about these. He calls it simply "Clergy Anxiety Dreams" and has a version in his book The Magic Word. His point in that sermon/essay seems to be simply that these things happen in dreams but not in real life, because in real life liturgies come to end, eventually, whether or not we find the right page in the prayerbook or our sermon notes or whatever. It's a sign of God's grace that we don't have to perfect or always find our sermon notes or our vestments or whatever.

But I think that these sorts of dreams also function as an outlet for the anxiety of change. Bede once told me that dreams of death are good because they presage renewal and transformation. I'd go ever further to say that the anxiety surrounding change is not only a by-product, but also a necessary ingredient of change.

One of the key skills one learns in pastoral care training is the ability to regulate the anxiety of the person(s) you are with. If they are too anxious you have to relax them, and if they are not anxious enough than you need to provoke their anxiety a bit. The appropriate level of anxiety depends on the circumstances. But often caregivers betray their own anxiety when they attempt to eliminate that of their clients. Anxiety is often a perfectly natural and appropriate response to life's troubles. And often that's the place where we have to do our work.

I'm reflecting on this partly because I just got through a long visit with a mentally ill person I sometimes see. It's hard work to be with someone who is truly psychotic because you spend so much energy controlling yourself. What I can offer to this person is unconditional positive regard, empathy, and appropriate emotionally intimacy. In order to give that I have to suspend a lot of my normal reactivity. Not easy to do, and I greatly admire the people that do this sort of work all day, everyday. When you are talking to someone and they are going up and down the emotional ladder and swaying from side to side in delusional thinking, it's not helpful to be dragged up and down and back and forth.

So now I'm coming out of that and just needed to do a bit of grounding--and that's the kind of thing blogs are good for.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Betsy's Back

Betsy, my wife, has returned from her studies in Ireland. Having her home is great. Funny how in some ways it seems like she was never gone. But in other ways it seems like everything has changed since she left. Maybe I inhaled too many fumes while furiously cleaning the place for two days.

Denise is particularly happy to have Betsy back. She demonstrates this by jumping around and being more talkative than she was a few days ago. She also follows us around from room to room, eager to keep the pack together. Our cat got lonely with me gone most of the day and no one at home to play with.

Last night we celebrated my appointment with a Taco Casserole and very nice bottle of champaign. After we finished it, I put it on a bookshelf next to the bottle that we used to celebrate Betsy's admission to the U of T more than two years ago. Hard to believe it's been that long since we left New Haven to come to Canada.

We've been listening to the new Harry Potter book on Audiobook. This is our tradition when it comes to the Harry Potter books--I've never actually sat down with the actual printed books. It's a good story with plenty of potential as sermon material. Lots of spiritual themes like sacrifice and love and providence.

A couple of pieces of my preparation to go to Messiah are starting to form up. One is to review as much print material as I can handle. Soon I'll be pouring over Vestry Reports and Histories of the parish. I've also got a meeting coming up with the Music Director. I'm thinking of burning a CD for him of some of my favorite songs--we need to familiarize each other with our musical tastes and styles. But I expect to spend much of our first conversation simply talking about church music and what it means to us. In particular, I want to know what makes him really excited about Church music.

I remember when Stephanie Martin first came to SMM and I spent a good deal of time learning about her vision of Church music simply by talking about what we each liked and disliked. We also looked over various hymnals and other resources for ideas. That kind of blue-sky dreaming and musing is a critical kind of exercise to do in collaborative projects like this, I believe, especially when the goal is to create something fresh, exciting, and new. I did something similar with an artist named Jennifer Mitchell whom I've commissioned twice. First she created an Advent-themed Raredos for our side chapel. The second time it was to make a Lent-themed one for the same space. Both were a success and really helped to pull those seasons out of Ordinary Time. Just for kicks, I'll end with pictures of those two pieces...


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Church of the Messiah

Today was a big day for me. It was officially announced that I have been appointed as the new incumbent (aka Rector) of the Church of the Messiah, Avenue Road. The position starts September 1st, but my first Sunday will be the 9th of September. (I'm taking a weekend of Professional Development Time to go down to Holy Cross to meditate and spiritually regroup). It's a very exciting time for me and for the Church of the Messiah. I realize that they are trusting me with a great responsibility and are taking a big risk--the risk and the trust are mutual, of course. This is my chance to put my training/experience/formation to its full application. It's going to be a blast. I can hardly wait....

Interestingly, when I first heard that Messiah was open I was keen on the appointment, and it's strange how the timing worked so that the position stayed open long enough to coincide with my search. Even at the peak of my search when I was looking at various options, I felt really drawn to Messiah.

I'll be blogging a lot more about my initial impressions and feelings as things go on. Right now I'm a bit exhausted by the whole Sunday morning thing. Services at SMM were excellent. It's the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene and we make an appropriately big to-do about that around here. Although I didn't preach at the main service, I did give an excellent extemporaneous sermon at the 8 o'clock--the sort that made me regret not recording it! Ah well.

Now it's time to go pick up Betsy at the Buffalo airport. I probably won't be able to blog again until Tuesday.

Life is good. Life is VERY good.


More pictures from Monhegan

"Fairie House" in Cathedral Woods.
Looking across the Bay at Manna Island.
My sister Lynne, nephew Charlie, and myself.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"why not you"?

Sometime ago a person came to me for pastoral care. They spent more than hour describing all the problems in their life and in the world. They kept asking "why me," "why must I suffer in this way." This is a classic question one gets in pastoral care, and I've been asked it many times in many different circumstances. There are various answers to it, depending on the circumstances under which is asked. The most powerful answer, the answer that is most transformative is "why not you?" No one ever said that life would be easy. Nor does living "righteously" mean less suffering. Wisdom suggests quite the opposite.

So the "why not you" answer is the advanced ninja-priest answer that you only give when you think the person is ready to receive it. It can be a real bomb of a response. I can remember with crystal clarity receiving that answer for the first time when I was receiving counseling from a priest as a child. Changed my life--no kidding.

Alas, often someone who is going through their litany of problems isn't actually interested in transformation or growth. Really they just want to sympathy. Sympathy enables them to sustain their state of self-focused suffering. Sharing and having their feelings validated allows them to continue suffering the changes and chances of this mortal life without change. But as a priest/caregiver I can't always offer that kind of unconditional sympathy in good conscience. Sometimes you gotta take the risk of challenging someone to grow. This must always be done in a loving and responsible way. I rely mostly on instinct and experience to make that call about when to be congruent and when to be dissident in counseling situations.

Truly masterful therapists, in my experience on the receiving end, spend most of their time agreeing with their clients (cf. Carl Rogers' three rules of unconditional positive regard, congruence, and empathy). But then in a special moment the therapist whips out zinger of an insight. From the client's perspective this insight seems to come out of nowhere, though it's often a fairly common place notion that they may have even thought about themselves. Somehow, though, when it is said in this context it can change everything. Good stuff.

Patronal Feast (the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene) is tomorrow. It's going to be a great celebration. I'm looking forward to it.


Friday, July 20, 2007

weird day

Today was an odd day--lots of ups and downs for some reason. Started off on a great note. I had an inspirational meeting with a committee I'm working with. But by mid-morning I was feeling kind of ill. Not sick enough to go home, but definitely a little off. The rest of the day was similar, good news, and then something jarring, and then good news again.

An example of uplifting news: Brin, our Administrative Assistant (and the Church Seamstress), finished a private commission I hired her to do. She created a new burse and veil to match an existing chasuble and stole that my mother commissioned for my ordinations. She did a fabulous, fabulous job. She really did her homework not only to match the fabrics but to develop and learn new techniques to work with them. The result is a completely hand-stitched masterpiece that I am very much looking forward to using at our next green Mass. I would put up some pictures but Betsy still has our camera.

She comes Sunday PM....

More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


This is going to be a hard day, I can tell already. Last night I found out just before bed that I would be celebrating the 7.15 A.M. Mass at SMM. I didn't get to sleep until around 3 A.M., however, and my alarm woke me up in grumpy mood. When I stepped outside I was surprised by how wet, foggy, and hot it felt. Sure enough, the rain fall only accelerated by the time we were saying Mass in the church. So in my "intentions for the Mass" (said just after the offertory) I thanked God for the rain and prayed for the farmers who need this kind of thing.

Whether it was the weather, the lack of sleep and an early Mass, or some other reason, I found Mass difficult this morning. Since we celebrate Eucharist everyday here, I get lots of practice. I've probably said Mass here more than 300 times. Yet this morning I had to concentrate not to mess up. In the end the only thing the congregation is likely to have noticed was when I screwed up the Fraction Sentence: "Christ our Sacrifice is Sacrificed for us." Oops. Luckily, the vestry prayer book I created with prayers to say before and after Mass includes a prayer with the line "pardon the imperfections of our worship."

Perfection being impossible with any human endeavor, we reach and reach. And in the reaching is some kind of spiritual grace. Rahner would say that the transcendental reaching is part of the spiritual character of humanity and evidence of God's presence in the universe. What I know is that I celebrate Mass in my little way with my little gestures. I do it in a way that keeps me empty and receptive and mindful than a million other priests are doing the same thing at this or another time. But what I really hope is that one day I'll be changed totally into flame.

Here's a story from the Desert Fathers:

Abba Lot went to see abba Joseph and he said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame."


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

21st Century Evangelism

Here is a picture of our cat, Denise, for no apparent reason...

She makes our life better through her ministry of cuddles.

Last night I was an a dinner party with two other priest-couples. Lots of talk about Church politics and mutual contacts. I take these kinds of opportunities to ask priests more senior than myself about how they handle two issues: evangelism/church growth and lay leadership development.

Nothing much came out of a conversation about the evangelism issue, except all of us venting our frustration that so much of the conversation in the church these days is about shrinking and closing places.

I was interested to hear, however, that one of the priests there met with his Wardens at least once a week. "I'm lucky," he said, "they can meet in the middle of the day." This would be difficult to pull off with the schedules kept by most Wardens. They tend to be busy, working folk with tons of responsibility. But the advantage would be that they can really keep track of the daily changes and chances of church life. He also told me that he does some spiritual work with his wardens with prayer and study. Good to know. I file these kinds of reflections away for further thought. Every church requires different styles of leadership at different times. But the more options you know, the more adaptable you can be.

I began filming a tour of the church today. This is my second run at the project. I'm discovering that it's actually very difficult to talk articulately while on camera. Probably be easier if I was actually showing someone around the church for the first time. Or I could film someone who knows a lot about the place and keep them going with helpful questions and such. See--I'm learning. New wine for new wine skins! I need to write a white paper on "The Media Savvy Church" one of these days. I have little doubt that this is part of the key to "solving the evangelism problem." We have to learn the languages of our mission field....


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pictures from Monhegan

Here are a few pics from summer vacation, courtesy of my sister Lynne...

Me and Charlie on the hammock. The book I'm reading there is Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols.

This is the house we stayed at.

Charlie's introduction to lobster.

A very photogenic house next door to ours. Often a black lab would sleep in front of the door to complete the scene.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Recap

Bede just wrote a great blog entry about beauty. Creation of beauty (or perhaps it's co-creation?) has been an important task of religious folks all over the world for a very long time. Creation is a spiritual activity. We are quite used to certain kinds of creativity in church. Traditional church music, for example. But it's too bad that most churches aren't brave enough to journey with the artists that are stretching the creative envelope. I'm not totally sure why that is, but I suspect it has to do with the insider-outsider problem: we want insider art inside our churches. There are exceptions, of course. Note The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts project.

Part of my vision for a 21st century pastorate is the cultivation of my own creative abilities. Not just learning to sing "priest-chant" or collaborating in conventional church art forms like vesture and architecture--I want to push the envelope a bit. That's why my video project is important--we need to proclaim the Gospel in new tongues. Watch Father Matthew Presents to get an idea of where I'm heading...

Speaking of singing, I got some nice compliments on my singing at the 11 o'clock Mass today. Yeah!

Betsy returns in one week. I can hardly wait...


Saturday, July 14, 2007


Movie Making

This morning was a Requiem Mass for a departed member of our extended parish family. She was the daughter of a parishioner and died far too young (in her 40's.) This is the third Requiem Mass I've been a part of in as many days. Weird how deaths and themes of death seem to all come in batches. Of course, my spiritual director would probably say that it isn't weird at all, simply a phenomenon to be noticed and pondered. I suppose it shows the interconnectedness of things.

After the memorial reception I spent some time playing with Adobe Premiere. I'm new to the world of video editing, but I expect to post my first attempt a little later today on YouTube. I'll cross-post it here when I can. At the moment my computer is dutifully crunching away at the billions of calculations necessary to convert the file from one format into another more suitable for posting. From this attempt I've learned some things...

1) GIGO: "Garbage In, Garbage Out" Or, you are only as good as your footage. Alas, I suck with a video camera. I need more practice, clearly. it would probably help if I had a better tripod and camcorder, too.

2) Jesus Saves. Yes, I lost my work partway through due to a computer crash.

3) This is where GHz Count. I'm realizing that I'm reaching the limits of what my computer is really capable of doing. It's still faster than most people's machines, but it's not really quite powerful enough to be a good video editing workstation.

Anyway, I should have something ready to post in a few minutes.

8 Days until Betsy returns. I don't like being a bachelor, I'm remembering.


Friday, July 13, 2007


I had a very good singing lesson today with my teacher, Hallie Fishel. My voice was tired, so my accuracy and range weren't what they could be. But one of the things that I love about Hallie's style is that she knows how to detect and respect the body's limits. And even with a tired voice I was noticing how much I've learned in only a year of lessons. Things that were once difficult are now automatic. So we are moving on to different things, such as learning to sing the Exultant from the Easter Vigil service. We are also doing more advanced ear training to ingrain chordal structure. And, of course, we are continuing to expand my range. At this point I've got good control over an octave and a half (maybe two octaves when I'm having a really good day). Beyond that is shaky. Good stuff.

I saw the new Harry Potter movie last night. Pretty good, though I prefer "Goblet of Fire." Betsy and I have listened to everyone of the books on unabridged audio CD's. The next one is on pre-order from Amazon.

9 days until Betsy comes back....


Thursday, July 12, 2007


My cat woke me up this morning at around 5:45 A.M. by digging into my ear with her tongue. She finds my ear wax tasty. De gustibus non est disputandum - There is no accounting for taste. Actually, the sensation of cat's tongue in your ear isn't as disconcerting as you might imagine. Just goes to show that I am a sick, sick man.

Today is a "Feria," meaning that no particular feast is being recognized in the Christian calendar today. So it's just a normal day in normal time. I've spent much of it chipping away at various non-urgent projects. Who doesn't enjoy crossing things off the "to-do" list?

Last night I went out with friends for Korean BBQ. It's been a long time since I've eaten this way, but we all got the hang of it pretty quickly. The basic idea is that you cook your food yourself on a grill in the middle of the table. It quickly becomes a cooperative project to flip things that need flipping, take stuff off that's done, and put more meat and fish in place. We had a real method going. Delicious and fun. Probably not a bad way to do a team building exercise!

I hear that Benedict is allowing priests to do the Latin Mass at their own discretion (they will no longer have to ask their bishop's permission). Seems to me that despite his assurances the move will undermine the authority of local bishops yet more and replace it with the authority of Rome. Also in "What are they doing?" category: Benedict restated some of the annoying things he said in Dominus Iesus a few years ago. Only the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox can properly be called "Churches" in his (infallible) view. I think these trends in the RC Church reveal deep deep problems in their communion. No doubt in a few decades they will face the same kinds of threats of schism faced by the Anglicans now, though along different fault lines. Sigh.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Feast of St Benedict

Today is the feast of St Benedict--always one of my favorite Saints since I really got to know him through the works of Kathleen Norris and then through his Rule and then from the Monks at Holy Cross. There is a distinctive Benedictine culture that I really respond to, spiritually and personally. Something about balance and gentleness and a method that is very practical and loving and yet rigorous. I miss my monk friends at Holy Cross. I really need to get to West Park soon and regroup.

I've been asked lately by more than one person for a list of possible presents. Who doesn't love presents? So here's a quick wish list...
  • iPod (available here and here)
  • Gift Certificates for NCIX (a Canadian on-line computer store)
  • A GPS unit suitable for car nav
  • Ikea gift certificates (yeah, we've gotten to that age)
  • A leather or "leatherette" edition of the BAS
  • Icons... Who doesn't need more Icons?
  • A Tascam HD-P2 Digital Recorder (It's basically a high-definition sound recorder, handy for recording sermons, concerts, or audio tracks for video, etc.)
  • Camcorder
  • Fish (Yes, living fish... I'm going to set up a small aquarium in my office)
  • Anything off of our wedding registry
So there's a nice little list for anyone curious about such things. Christmas is still a long way off, however...

I really miss my wife. Betsy is in Belfast studying Byzantine Greek. It's been three and a half weeks since I've seen her. Another week and a half to go. I know I'm definitely married because my fantasy of her return includes me cleaning the house from top to bottom before she arrives--that's a well trained husband. But as a friend married many years once told me, "A happy wife is a happy life."


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Good News

I got some very good news today, which makes me very happy. I can't share it right now for confidentiality reasons, but suffice it to say that I am very happy.

I'm not feeling entirely well in my body for some reason. Not sure if it's a summer bug or what. Feels like the kind of thing that is very transient.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

A good Sunday

Things went nicely today. The sermon started coming together on Saturday night, and I finished in the morning. Ended up talking about the notion of spiritual humility. It was a nice chance to tie together themes of sacramental theology and spiritual development. Also took an apropos detour through the land of homiletics. I spoke of how preaching must primarily must be sacramental, not pedagogical, in character. Karl Rahner was helpful in this, though he himself thought that "even really existential" preaching would fail to be as "sacramental" as the actual Sacraments. Here is the best picture of dude I can conveniently find.
Karl Rahner


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Preaching Prep

Saturday before I have to preach I often feel like I do at this moment: a bit anxious. I spent a good part of today researching the texts. This is a necessary step, but often not all that helpful. I think you have to be disciplined by the text and the act of reinterpreting it again and again, but you always have to avoid preaching in a way that demonstrates knowledge simply to demonstrate knowledge. I've heard many sermons that were perhaps interesting and even thoughtful, but failed to effectuate much grace because they focused on the scriptures as if they were a text and not the Word of God.

Thinking of them as the Word of God means engaging them at a deeper level, and that's where you want to take a congregation when preaching. The shortcut to this place for preachers is to focus on the relationship. "How do I feel towards God and God's people, reading this?"

Anyway, I'm thinking more about Namaan and the Hebrew Bible's story about him than the Gospel lesson about Jesus sending out his disciples on their second mission trip. I do get tired of preaching about mission, you know.


BVM Saturday

SMM follows a complicated liturgical calendar to determine which lessons, collects, and other variable materials are used at the daily services. It's the same calendar used throughout the Anglican Church of Canada and overlaps with many other Christian groups, as well. There is something special about knowing that thousands (even millions) of people throughout the world are hearing the same portions of scripture and praying the same prayers.

Sometimes we have a "local practice" that causes to deviate a bit from what other Anglican Churches might be doing. For example, we commorate St. Blaise (aka St. Blasius) on February 3rd (unless that's a Sunday or a more important feast, in which case we celebrate it a few days later). Blasius was a an Armenian physician and bishop known for healing throats by his prayers. In some places bonfires are lit to celebrate his day. So naturally we follow the old way of blessing throats on Feb 3rd by crossing a pair of (unlit) candlesticks over each person's throat and saying a special prayer.

Another "local practice" that we follow is the Catholic Custom of declaring Saturdays in "Ordinary Time" (i.e. not Adent, Lent or Eastertide) to be "Saturdays of our Lady." That means using prayers and propers that commemorate the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in salvation history and ask for her continued prayers in heaven. Since we also preach at the Saturday Mass, that means that I have had many opportunities to reflect and preach on Our Lady.

In doing so, I often come back to the way that Mary functions for us as both an example of God's love (that God loves us like Mary loves Jesus), but also how we are to love and nourish others in our earthly life. Mary is the very type and example of the perfect Christian.

This morning I ended narrowing down on an aspect of motherly love that we ought to emulate. It's that persistent, gentle love that manifests most clearly in the spirit of hospitality. It's that emotion I sometimes feel when I'm cooking dinner for Betsy. If she isn't home yet I can really focus on the task of cooking and be aware of how I feel. In hospitality-love there is an element of making room for the Beloved. Precisely as Mary did when said "Yes" to God's invitation to be the God-bearer.


Friday, July 6, 2007


I had a dream last night that I was at Holy Cross Monastery. I remember in part of the dream I was making a service leaflet for some upcoming event. later in the dream, Bede and Mary Gates and I were up late in the night talking in one our bedrooms. It felt good to be with them. I always appreciate dreams that bring me into the company of old friends.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Baby Kunselman!

My sister-in-law (Molly) and her husband (David) just had a baby boy. They haven't decided on a name yet, but the little guy was delivered by C-Section at around 10:30 p.m. on July 4th: 7 lbs. 7 oz., 20 inches. Everyone is doing fine. I spoke to Molly today and she is doing well, though justifiably exhausted.

Birth is one of those experiences that changes the people who witness it. The same can be said of death or sex or war. They are initiatory experiences--baptism by knowledge. I certainly will never forget the first time I watched someone die (my Grandmother Johnson) or the time I saw an autopsy or did any of these other things that initiated me into the adult world of experience.

There are equivalents in the spiritual realm. You begin to see it when you speak frankly with people about their spiritual lives. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen nearly enough in our current church culture. Because spirituality is an aspect of human growth like anything else, people have spiritual lives whether they intentionally develop them or not. This is shows when you ask an atheistic about what gives their life meaning. They may say "Truth," or "Beauty" or "Compassion," but be reluctant to concede that those are all spiritual terms of reference. In this sense philosophy and religion overlap in their goals, language, and even methods (to some degree).

Alas, most philosophy makes a blunt instrument for spiritual development. So does most theology, I'm afraid. Thankfully post-modernism gives us permission to return to essentially phenomenological approaches. That, in turn, leads to the rediscovery of the medievals (as well as to the appreciation of Far Eastern approaches). Turns out that post-modernism isn't so scary after all.

I gave a sermon about post-modernism a few months ago. It was one of my favorites, though I had to be careful to walk the edge between teaching and confusing the congregation. I think I probably don't take enough risks in my preaching. Anyway, the best compliment I got on that sermon was from a graduate student of theology who said I had really opened up some possibilities for him that he hadn't seen before.

Great to give sermons that give people "ah-ha" moments, but as I mature as a preacher I become less and less concerned with preaching-towards-insight. Why? Because insight alone isn't enough to change us. It's helpful, but isn't enough. What is required, actually, is relationship. The goal of preaching is not to educate, or even inspire, but to RELATE to people in a way that transmits God's grace.

Anyway, this rant started because Molly and David had a baby. Good for them! Every blessing and joy...


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Flight of the Conchords

I know this kind of humor doesn't appeal to everyone, but I certainly do enjoy it...


Bede's blog

My friend and spiritual director Bede has a great blog. In his entry this morning he talks about an experience of piercing insight. I love those moments--the Holy Spirit smacking us on the back of the head. Really "insight" is a little too cerebral to catch the meaning of this experience. Something about the Eternal coming into contact with the temporal. It's the true meaning of "sacramental." Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols is also called "How to Philosophize With a Hammer." Someone should write a Zen equivalent, "How to Meditate With a Rattan Cane Smacking Your Spine." Perhaps the Christian version would be, "How to Read the Bible While It's on Fire."

I sense good times ahead in my spiritual life. Some things are shifting around into an exciting configuration. Lighter, harder. Like jumping into a pool for the first time.

God be praised!


Vacation Recap

Sorry it's been so long since I've blogged. Things got crazy busy just before my vacation. Now I'm easing myself back into work.

Unfortunately, this year Betsy and I are not taking our vacations together. Her Ph.D. Mentor--Linda Safran--thought she should go study Byzantine Greek in Belfast. It's a great opportunity for Betsy, she has Ancient Greek before, but the Byzantine dialect is it's own species. Belfast is one of the very few places where one can study it.

I traveled by myself down to New Jersey to start my vacation--beginning the longest period my wife and I have been apart since we've been married. Five weeks! Man am I missing her now! I'm still reflexively reaching out for her in the course of the day.

So I flew down to New Jersey to my mom's place and then we drove north after picking up my sister Lynne and nephew Charlie. It's a long drive to Monhegan Island, Maine, so we stopped halfway up and then did the rest of the drive the following morning. Monhegan is tiny: about a square mile in total land area! My mom rented this cottage for a week for the four of us. We had a great time feeding the ducks on the pond and walking the rough trails to the ocean cliffs. Ate lobster, of course.

We had limited electricity and instead relied on gas for light and cooking. When it got cold and wet I started a fire in the wood stove. It was charming and simple and the kind of place where one can experience real country dark. I forgot how much I'm missed the nice things about living in the country.

No TV, of course, so besides the local talent show we had to make our own entertainment. I read a ton of books. And I kept reading after the week on the Island was through and I came back to Toronto. Here's a list:

I also saw a bunch of movies including...

That is a lot of literature and film, even if it was over three weeks! But with my wife out of town there isn't much else to do! Wish I had time and space to describe each of these, but there isn't. I'll just highlight Stranger Than Fiction as being a really terrific movie--funny and poignant and TRUE. It brought me tears, which few movies do.

Yesterday I had another church interview. It's the place I really want, though now we'll have to see if they want me! There is a lot I could say about this particular interview, but unfortunately it's the kind of thing that I can't be very open about at this moment. I just hope I gave them a sense of how much love I have to give the church.

Anyway, now I'm slowly getting back into the swing of church. In particular I have to get ready to preach on Sunday! It will be difficult to NOT talk about Evangelism with these texts.