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.