Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Father Oneko

Today's NYTimes has a stunning portrait of a Roman Catholic priest--Fr. Chrispin Oneko--from Kenya now serving in Kentucky. It's really inspiring to hear what some priests (Roman or otherwise) do in their parishes with simple love. But what really got my attention is when he had to reach out to his congregation after a traumatic incident back home:
One morning in January, Father Oneko received a phone call from his family in Kenya, where a disputed presidential election had just set off a wave of intertribal anger and violence.

A mob had set fire to his parents’ house because they had given shelter to a family of a rival tribe the mob was chasing. Father Oneko’s 32-year-old brother, Vincent Oloo, arrived in time to help their elderly parents escape the burning house. But the mob turned on Father Oneko’s brother, shooting him dead. He left a wife and three children.

“My parents were just crying and crying,” Father Oneko said. “My father is crying and saying, ‘Now I’m losing all the children, who will bury me?’ ”

Father Oneko phoned his friend the Rev. John Thomas and then Mrs. Lake, his faithful volunteer administrator. She was stunned at the news, and for half an hour listened to and consoled her priest — a sudden role reversal. Father Oneko was troubled to hear his mother wailing on the phone and to know that he could not go to Kenya to perform the funeral. His parents insisted it was too dangerous for him to come.

Mrs. Lake called three of the church’s Silver Angels, a club of elders. They phoned more church members, and in two hours 60 people had assembled at a special noon Mass in memory of Father Oneko’s brother.

At the end of the Mass, they lined up in the center aisle as if for communion, and Father Oneko stood at the front receiving their embraces one by one.

He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. Children in the parish school in Hopkinsville made him cards; one showed his brother with a halo, in the clouds. The bishop and priests of the diocese e-mailed and phoned their condolences. St. Michael’s and the parish in Hopkinsville took up a special collection for his family that totaled $5,600.

“It seems the whole church is praying with me,” Father Oneko said a few days later, as he read through the children’s cards. “You feel like you’re not a foreigner, just a part of the family. It makes me know how much I am to them.” (source)

This kind of touching story shows how trauma and grief can create opportunities for new kinds of healing and relationship in communities that are open to transformation. This kind of thing bonds a congregation to their pastor in a deep, deep way. Worth noting, the obvious mutual bond between priest and parish did not result in growth in numbers. When he was transferred to another post after four years, attendance was still hovering around the same numbers it had before he came. Another reason why ministry should not be judged according to Average Sunday Attendance!


Authority and Hurting Others

The "Teacher's" Station in the Original Milgram Experiment

One of the most famous psychological experiments of all time was the "Milgram" experiment performed at Yale in 1965. It was the aftermath of the war and many people were wondering how so many people could be complicit in the Holocaust. The point of Stanley Milgram's experiment was to test the relationship between authority and a person's willingness to inflict pain on a stranger.

The set-up was simple. Volunteers from New Haven were told they were participating in a study testing the effect of punishment on learning. When they arrived they were paid in advance and told the money was theirs to keep no matter what happeened. They were then paired with a shill. The shill and the participant supposedly drew lots to determine who was the "learner" and who was the "teacher." The draw was rigged so the shill always became the learner. The real participant was then placed in front on an impressive panel of switches labeled with successively highly voltages. The upper ranges of these voltages were marked with labels like "Extreme Intensity Shock," "Danger," and the last three switches, going up to 450 volts, simply had X's above them.

Switch Labels from Milgram's "Shock Generator"

The participant then watched as the "learner" was led away to an adjacent room and strapped to a chair and fitted with electrodes. The "teacher" was given a chance to feel what an electric shock feels like, then given a list of questions to ask. Each time the learner got one wrong, the participant was supposed to administer a shock. The first shock was the mildest and then the second would be one degree greater, etc.

As the test progressed, the shill-learner would deliberately get things wrong and cry out in pain when shocked. As the shocks got worse, they pretended to react even stronger. In the upper ranges they would complain of heart pain, ask to leave the test, and beg. Above 150 volts they would stop responding entirely--suggesting that they were either dead or passed out. If the "teacher" objected to the person in authority, the experimenter, he would respond with a scripted progression.

So the real test was how far would the participants go before conscience kicked in and they refused to shock further. The results: a whopping 80% of people continued delivering shocks even after the 150-volt threshold, additionally, 65% went all the way to 450 volts!

The reason this comes up now is that a researcher at Santa Clara, Jerry Burger, decided to replicate the experiment in 2008. Because of ethical rules now in place, he could only take participants to the 150-volt threshold so as not to scar them with the realization that they are capable of killing someone. Still, he found that 70% of modern participants were willing to shock to the 150-volt level.

Despite all the changes since the 1960's, the cold reality is that most people in America (and presumably in Canada, too) are willing to follow instructions even when that results in extreme pain or distress to others. Little wonder that we end up in situations like Abu Graib (Cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment) and AT&T customer service. Given the right circumstances, good people will do bad things. (As an aside, if you are unfamiliar with the Stanford Prison Experiment you will find it a fascinating example of how systemic evil operates, no one, not even people running the experiment, could escape doing terrible things.)

What to do? The article in the NY Times about Professor Burger's experiment suggests that knowledge of this effect may help promote vigilance against its affect. In fact, an instructor at West Point contacted Professor Burger to talk about how the results are being taught to military Officers.


Researchers Say Religion Grants Self Control... Duh

According to the NY Times a psychologist in Miami just published a paper concluding that people who are religious have better self control. Of course they do. I find it amusing that this was in doubt.
Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that devoutly religious people tend to do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and be generally happier.

These results have been ascribed to the rules imposed on believers and to the social support they receive from fellow worshipers, but these external factors didn’t account for all the benefits. In the new paper, the Miami psychologists surveyed the literature to test the proposition that religion gives people internal strength.

“We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control,” Dr. McCullough. “For a long time it wasn’t cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.” (source)

The more interesting question is why this would be the case:
“Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion,” he said. “The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.” (source)

Nor it is sufficient to be merely "spiritual" in the way many claim to be:
In one personality study, strongly religious people were compared with people who subscribed to more general spiritual notions, like the idea that their lives were “directed by a spiritual force greater than any human being” or that they felt “a spiritual connection to other people.” The religious people scored relatively high in conscientiousness and self-control, whereas the spiritual people tended to score relatively low.

“Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn’t seem to be related to self-control,” Dr. McCullough said. “The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors.” (source)

But there may be hope for people that are allergic to religion:
Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God’s wrath, but because they’ve absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness. He suggested that nonbelievers try a secular version of that strategy.

“People can have sacred values that aren’t religious values,” he said. “Self-reliance might be a sacred value to you that’s relevant to saving money. Concern for others might be a sacred value that’s relevant to taking time to do volunteer work. You can spend time thinking about what values are sacred to you and making New Year’s resolutions that are consistent with them.” (source)

The funny thing is that I don't feel like I have a great deal of self-control at all--but perhaps it's just that have self-control in certain areas of life and not others!


Monday, December 29, 2008

Grammar and Customer Service

Stanley Fish, something of a celebrity in Academia, has an amusing blog in the NY Times this week complaining about customer service at AT&T. Apparently, informing the operator that that her that her scripted opening line "With whom am I speaking with?" was grammatically incorrect caused her torment him mercilessly and send him through the phone system on a wild goose chase. The best part is that AT&T later had no record of his call!

Apparently he hit a nerve, because within a few hours of posting the blog entry he had 465 comments and the NY Times capped them at that! I'll be curious to hear if the company replies. I checked the press release section of the corporate site and found nothing. Even better, I tried to find an e-mail address to write to and didn't have luck that way, either.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rick Bobby Praying to the Baby Jesus

One of the funniest and most interesting prayer scenes in a movie in recent years was from the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The theology of this satire is worth more than a few sermons. Naturally, I used it today on one of the most baby-Jesus days of the whole lectionary cycle.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sermon - Christmas Eve 2008

This is my sermon from the Christmas Eve candlelight service at 10pm. I had a strong feeling going into the service that I had a sermon welling up from deep within. So this time I didn't even bother with notes, I simply stood up and preached what was in my heart. So much so that I actually came close to tears at one point. It was a powerful sermon as much for me to give as anyone else to hear.

Perhaps it helped to have such an intimate group of people (it was far from crowded) whom I know so well. Or maybe it was a pastoral visit I had made the day before. Or maybe it was the unfolding of all the pre-Christmas and Christmas stuff. Regardless, it was one of those sermons that makes me feel like I do, in fact, have something to preach about.

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sermon - Advent 4 2008

This sermon was preached by Mr. Brendan Caldwell on the 4th Sunday of Advent (December 21st) 2008 at the Church of The Messiah. I think he did a great job--I'm very proud of my Warden!


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone.

The von Trapp Family

Remember the von Trapp family from The Sound of Music? For sometime the family has run a ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont, near where my Uncle lives. The New York Times is running an article today profiling the handover of the business to the next generation.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Toronto Star Op Ed

Okay, okay, without further ado--

Enough with the Santa-bashing

There is still something simple and joyful about a holiday in which we give each other presents
The Rev. W. Tay Moss

Here is how Santa Claus was crucified.

A story began circulating in the 1990s that a Japanese department store chain attempted to lure shoppers to adopt Christmas with a comically wrong poster: They crucified Santa.

There he was, the jolly red-suited man, dying on a cross. The mistake was understandable, but also probably apocryphal. No one has ever proved that this actually happened in Japan.

It did, however, happen in the United States. A Washington state man, Art Conrad, crucified a life-sized Santa Claus mannequin in his front yard in 2007 to protest the commercialization of Christmas.

CTV News reported him saying, "Santa has been perverted from who he started out to be. Now he's the person being used by corporations to get us to buy more stuff."

He's right. The 4th-century St. Nicholas of Myra – remembered for saving three sisters from a life of slavery or prostitution by giving them money for dowries – bears little resemblance to the iconic shopping-mall Santa with his squirm-inducing lap.

Considering that the average American owes nearly $9,000 in credit-card debt, there is good reason to organize a mob south of the 49th parallel.

This is the new wave of anti-Santa, let's-save-Christmas sentiment. Forget the stuff about how Christmas lost Christ – the new front in the war on St. Nick is about overconsumption fed by credit-card debt.

No one captures the spirit of this new anti-corporation mood better than Rev. Billy of The Church of Stop Shopping. Rev. Billy (a persona created by actor and performance artist Billy Talen) has been on a crusade against the likes of Wal-Mart, Disney and Starbucks. He wants to put the "odd" back in God.

With his Elvis-like hair, white suits and televangelist voice, he has tried to exorcise the demons of greed from cash registers at Starbucks (which got him arrested) and staged other protests designed to prevent the "Shopocalypse." It's the best sort of spoof, as funny as it is relevant.

There are many reasons why Canadians might have qualms about Santa, too. Perhaps his little North Pole kingdom violates Canadian Arctic sovereignty?

And has anyone checked whether his elfin toy sweatshops violate Labour Canada policies? And what's up with the naughty-and-nice list?

Yet the most compelling argument against Christmas in Canada is simply this: Can we claim that this essentially Christian holiday (even its most tamed, Santa-ized version) is relevant to non-Christians?

Consider that Statistics Canada reports that most of the population growth in Canada is due to immigration – a record-setting 89,100 in the third quarter of this year alone. Most of these newcomers (83.9 per cent in 2006) were from non-European countries.

Even putting questions of immigration aside, it's clear that Canada is rapidly becoming less and less Christian.

StatsCan reports that the number of Canadians who identify as being Christian has steadily declined over the years, from 82.8 per cent in 1991 to 76.6 per cent in 2001.

Meanwhile, the number of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs have all either doubled in number or come close.

Given the increasingly multicultural, secular character of Canadian society, what does Christmas have to offer? My answer is that Santa represents the best spirit of generosity and pure fun the Great White North can muster.

For all the justified hand-wringing about consumerism or Canada becoming a post-Christian nation, there is still something simple and joyful about a holiday in which we give each other presents. It's winter; it's cold and snowy. What else is there to do except show our love with a little generosity?

For Christians, this is a small imitation of the grand goodness of a loving God that gave us the gift of himself in Jesus.

We celebrate because God did a very good thing for us, but that doesn't mean that we have exclusive rights to a season of joy and giving.

So, let's share Santa with the malls and the corporations and everyone else who wants to celebrate generosity and joy, because at the end of the day, it's really all about the love.

The Rev. W. Tay Moss is the incumbent minister at The Church of the Messiah at Avenue Rd. and Dupont. (source)

Incidentally for all the professional editors in my family--the title and the subtitle as well as the paragraph divisions were all paper's choices. My original title was "The Accidental Crucifixion of Santa Clause or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Yuletide"--but I suppose that was too long for them. I understand!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Flight Delays

Betsy's parents arrived by car today from Pennsylvania with few difficulties except an hour delay at the border crossing. Her sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, however, have had to deal with airport delays. Luckily, I found a very cool website for tracking virtually real-time flight information. FlightAware.com uses real-time data from the ATC (Air Traffic Control) network to provide very detailed flight information. You can even see a track on a map based on transponder and Radar plots made every 60-90 seconds. As I write this I know that USAir flight 1782 is flying at 424 knots climbing through 23900 ft. At least, that's what the airplane's transponder is telling Air Traffic Control. They even overlay weather radar data on the track, so I'm curious to see whether they actually fly around some of the nasty weather in the region.

Today was a long day. Did some stuff at work, then came home to help Betsy get the house ready for family. Some of the finishing touches include hanging pictures that hadn't been hung since we moved in, installing a toddler gate to help keep our nephew managed, hauling in firewood, hauling out garbage, fixing the legs on the sofa, assembling some Ikea furniture Betsy bought today, installing a child seat in our car, etc., etc. Good thing we got so much done yesterday.

Did I mention that I had to adjust the tension for one of the belts in the engine of the car to stop it from squeaking? Doing it as the sun set in the cold was no fun at all--especially when a certain beautiful lady who shall remain nameless managed to drop the socket into an out-of-reach part of the engine compartment. Of course, she redeemed herself by making a tool to retrieve it. In the mean time, the next door neighbor lent me his socket set to complete the fix.

On mind, the Toronto Star article. Should be in tomorrow's paper. Today they asked me for a headshot. I retrieved one. I hope people like it. I worry that some people will feel that I either didn't do enough to defend Christmas from the creeping tide of secularism or just the opposite, that I failed to relate Christianity to the concerns of the wider culture. Actually, I tried to avoid both Scylla and Charybdis on this one by pulling a Hegel: two extremes always give rise to a synthesis that is both and neither. In other words, I tried to abide above the fray. "The Dude abides.. I take great comfort in that" (The Big Lebowski).

Anyway, enough philosophy for tonight. If people like the article I'll be pleased. If they don't, I'll try to be pleased with that, too.


Adam, OHC, Reflects on the O Antiphons

Some of you may have heard of the "O Antiphons" which date to the 7th or 8th Century are became part of the Offices in late Advent. If not, at least you probably know the hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"--which is a hymn version of those antiphons. (The version of this hymn in the Canadian Hymnal (Common Praise) was arranged by Healey Willan, BTW.) It's a very traditional feature of the Daily Office and is very popular among high-church Anglicans.

Adam McCoy, OHC, has a series of reflections on his blog based on the Antiphons. Here is part of his introduction to them for you liturgy lovers...
These antiphons are called "Great O's" because each begins with the exclamation "O", which when chanted in plainsong is a rather long musical phrase. They seem to date back to the seventh or eighth centuries and were written to adorn the sung monastic office in Advent. There are seven Great O's in the continental liturgical tradition, eight in the English rite. The eighth is a meditation on the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The seven first antiphons each begins with a title from the Old Testament tradition which describes a saving aspect of God: Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations, Emmanuel. The saving action of each of these is briefly characterized, followed by a brief prayer which begins: Veni, Come, and accomplish that great work in our time. The eighth does not follow this threefold format, but is a brief dialogue between Mary and the daughters of Jerusalem on the mystery of the Incarnation. (source)

Here is a list of the Antiphons (based on Anglican usage) with links to Adam's reflections...


Celebrate Hanukkah with Hip Hop

The NY Times is reporting on Matisyahu, a Jewish Hip-Hop artist who sings about God and Orthodox Jewish identity. He's holding a series of Hanukkah concerts in NY.
Matisyahu has built a career on analogies between Rastafarian roots reggae and Hasidic songs. Both are concerned with faith and survival struggles and have lyrics phrased in Biblical allusions; both draw on modal scales and melismatic vocal lines that can sound Middle Eastern. Near the end of the concert Matisyahu sang long, cantorial phrases while rocking back and forth, as if davening, or praying. Yet if his lyrics weren’t so clear about their references to Jewish history and the majesty of God, most of the time Matisyahu would simply be one more reggae-loving rocker. (source)

Photo by Rahav Segev for the NY Times

Check out his huge mirrored, rotating dreidel! How cool is that?!


Robin Williams on Obama

Robin Williams--a good Anglican boy--did this hilarious routine recently.


How the Moss's Got Into Fish House Punch

My Dad just finished his 7th round of Coffee picking this season on the farm. That makes for about 3,500 lbs. of cherry--he expects to set a new production record. Interesting to me how a farmer can radically improve the yield of even a well established orchard with good practices. At first the yield declined as he pruned and weeded, but then it started producing more than twice what it when he first inherited the farm from my grandparents.

BTW, my father has a weather station at the farm that logs the data online. Those of us shoveling snow can just look on data like this and be jealous:

Sick--just sick.

Anyway--about Fish House Punch. Our version this year substituted Apricot Brandy for Peach Brandy (which is hard to find in the LCBO, for some reason). It turned out really well, but I think I should experiment more with the recipe. Different rums, for example.

So my mom decided to share the story of how we got into making this deadly brew:
Fish House Punch--from my memory---the very first time that I heard of it was when we tasted some at Tay and Chris' home in Ohio. They had made some for a party they had hosted. We started to make it the first sunday in Advent after we moved to Wichita and we had the lvingroom furniture rehopolstered and custom drapes made at the Ethan Allen store for the livingroom picture window. The reason I remember this is because I had gone to a presentation at the store about colonial christmas traditions and was given a handout with recipes. I had watched a film that day that showed an old New England village and in one of the homes, the family had made Fish House Punch and was serving it to people who stopped by to visit. One of the recipes on the handout was for Fish House Punch. We decided to try making it and when I checked in my Williamsburg Cookbook (which I think Lynne now has) the recipe matched the one from the handout from the store. It became a tradition quickly to make Fish House Punch the first sunday of Advent. We learned early on that it is very potent and people can get easily plastered!! Anyway, that is the story as I remember it.

By "Tay" above she means my Aunt Tay, not me. Yes, Tay has been both a man and woman's name in family (which I think is pretty cool).


Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Really Short Post

Busy days--Christmas almost done. Family coming into town tomorrow. House is coming together. Chop chop.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Quick Update

Despite the second big snow fall in the last three days, a fairly good turnout in church today. Brendan Caldwell did a good job preaching. I'll post video of it soon.

Right now I'm tired and hungry, and there is snow shoveling to do, too!


Friday, December 19, 2008

The DSM, Revisited

My post a few days ago that was critical of the DSM generated an interesting off-blog discussion with a psychiatrist in the states who reads my blog. I quote it below with her permission.

I read your blog with pleasure, but don't comment because, well, I have too many passwords to remember already. But I would like to comment on your view about DSM and mental illness.

I don't think DSM is perfect, it's not always even very good. It does help us think clearly and non-etiologically about what we see in our patients. If we don't know etiology (and Lord knows, we don't), then phenomenology is not a bad way to go. Some assurance that when I say my patient has major depression that my colleagues in California, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Wyoming, and even Toronto will agree, means that we can talk about what works and what doesn't. That we can say, "this group of patients are enough alike in how they think, say they feel, behave, and the course of what's going on if we don't treat it", that we can look for commonalities in the biology and physiology and all and keep looking for etiology. Well, we can look for the biological what, we are never any good at why. Neither is any other field of medicine. We like to think we leave that to the church and the philosophers, but they are different mostly in being willing to tackle it.

As to illness being defined by interference with function: that's an idea very basic to medicine. A broken bone interferes with the normal function of bone, so it's "pathology", fancy word for illness. Measles or even a bad viral upper respiratory illness (=head cold) interferes with the function of a school child in learning and playing well with others at school--and so they are illnesses. Major depression means you can't concentrate, can't think, can't decide which shoe to put on first, and see no chance of change. It's not the sin of despair, at least, not if you go seek help. And those are things that an observer can see: you can't function in your usual roles. That's a striking one, but even the more subtle ones we don't depend solely on the say-so of the sufferer. We observe, we ask questions, we see whether the whole pattern fits one of the paradigms of "this is a cluster of signs [what's objectively observed] and symptoms [what the patient complains of] which occur together often enough that we recognize the pattern, have called it X, and here's our best stab at alleviating it".

Which is not always with medication.
On the other hand, no quarrel that we've gotten far too dependent on Pharma (the medical equivalent of the military-industrial complex) for too long. We can't do our job without (some of) their products, but we need to take control back.

So please reconsider the question of the use of diagnostic manuals, of the definition of illness.

And keep up the blog, which I enjoy. I have one (down at the moment, but will reappear when my daughter fixes it: Called Judithio,
Mostly but not entirely my journaling aloud about street ministry and discernment towards diaconate. I was confirmed in 1969 in Toronto--a grad student at UofT then, attending Grace Church on the Hill; we were confirmed at a small inner-city parish (I don't remember where now) where the Bishop was when we were in town (it gets complicated). Anyway, clearly being an Episcopalian has stuck. Thank you for your work in Toronto.

Cordially, faithfully, wishing you joyous Advent and Christmas,

Judith Crossett

Judith H. W. Crossett, MD
Director, Geriatric Psychiatry
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

I'll just add that I do have a copy of the DSM-IV TR on my office book shelf alongside some other reference books that I occasionally use to look up one thing or other. So I'm not actually as anti-DSM as my previous post might have suggested, I guess I go back and forth on these issues. So a big thanks to Judith for calling me to explain myself better.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 Fish House Punch

I made Fish House Punch last night. It's a tasty, alcoholic brew that my family enjoys this time of year. Any recipe that begins with a pound of brown sugar and a dozen lemons has to be good.

It tastes best a few days after it's made, so it should be reaching perfection around the time that my in-laws come to visit. They enjoyed it last year, as I recall!



The process has begun to update the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The DSM, currently in version IV (Aka, "The DSM-IV"), defines what constitutes mental illness for treatment and insurance purposes. The question, however, of what gets included or excluded is controversial because what is considered a mental illness has been changing so quickly in our culture.

You see, unlike in fields like Cardiology or Oncology, the fundamental disease processes of mental illness are still known. Thus, grouping illnesses by common origin (etiologically) is impossible. The approach was abandoned as the grand psycho-theories of people like Freud collapsed. Instead, the editors of the DSM take a taxonomic approach, grouping symptoms together into common clusters. A certain cluster of problems has been identified as "Major Depression" and another "Schizoaffective Disorder."

This becomes a huge problem in something called "differential diagnosis." How do you know, for instance, whether someone has a "Panic Disorder" (Code 300.01) or "Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder" (300.3) or even "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" (309.81). The symptoms can be virtually identical, and it ultimately becomes a clinician's judgment call about where the person fits best.

Even more interesting, to me, is the multiple categories where one of the criteria is something like "...behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning." In other words, if the patient thinks is a big problem, it's a big problem, otherwise, it's not. This criteria is especially common in the sections on sexual dysfunction and seem, to me, to be a cop-out. Essentially anything you might do or desire is considered okay until it impairs "function" or causes "distress." Am I the only one that thinks that's a strange way to define illness?

So they are revising the big book of badness. No doubt the number of diagnosable illness will continue to increase (as it has with every version of the book). The big winner will be the drug companies.

One of the therapist friends told me that she found the DSM-IV to be utterly useless. She she didn't get reimbursed by insurance she never even opened it anymore. There is wisdom there!


Father Founder

The other day I was looking for a photo of Br. James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross. Eventually I found one that had a Creative Commons License (free to use with ascription) uploaded by Br. Randy (OHC).

Most of the images I see of Blessed James are painted portraits--so this picture is special to me. Like in the portraits, the photograph shows a man with intense eyes. I get the feeling that when people talked with him they felt like he really saw them.

Probably one of my favorite stories about him goes like this. He was on a train traveling, as he often was, to some mission or parish. He was quietly writing letters on the train (he had tons of correspondence) when a man asked him if he was a monk. He said that he was and the man started chewing him out about how evil Christianity is, etc., etc. Father Founder calmly returned to his writing but the man kept talking and talking. After many minutes of this harangue Blessed James calmly turned to the man and said, "Would you please go to hell quietly?"

At the time of his death he was one of the most well-known figures in the Episcopal Church. His funeral was attended by thousands of people.

I know I'm just an Associate of the Order, but I do feel a strong, strong connection to this guy. I remember Bede giving a talk about him to a retreat group once with tears in his eyes saying, "You never get over your Father."


Rick Warren Selected by Obama

Rick Warren, the leader of the new-wave of American Evangelicals, was selected by Barack Obama to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, a role previously occupied by Billy Graham. This is a big deal because it signifies a huge culture shift in American Protestantism. For instance, before Warren Evangelicals were pro-business at the expense of the environment and wouldn't touch HIV/AIDS with a ten-foot pole. Warren and his generation, however, believe that protecting the environment is a biblical imperative (cf. creation, the flood story, etc.). Even more striking, Warren has raised millions and millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS work in Africa, which would have been an unthinkable thing for an evangelical preacher just a few years ago.

Another shift has to do with the ascendancy of a new church structure. His mega church, and the ones based on it, are really a collection of small cell groups that meet frequently. It's in these small groups where personal accountability, spiritual encounter and growth, and intimacy develop. In other words, going to his church you don't get lost in the mega-church crowd but instead experience fulfilling, intimate relationships with peers.

So this represents an important passing-of-the-torch in American religious life.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The "Walking Sisters" Leaving Their Home

The Roman Catholic Order of nuns known as the Sisters of Mercy (RSM) are closing their 146-year-old convent in Brooklyn. The leadership of the Order decided that the $20 million price of fixing the structural and accessibility issues wasn't worth it for the 38 nuns living there.

One of the major ministries of the Convent had been an orphanage.
Thousands of children came to live with the sisters over the decades. Rather than fend for themselves as ragamuffins, they lived in tidy dormitories, supervised by two nuns and a helper. In the chapel, an ornate sanctuary of stained glass and gleaming marble, the youngest had a place of honor at the front, sitting in pews that were smaller than the rest. ...

The order’s leadership realized in the last few years that the old building presented too many obstacles for older women. An engineering study in February recommended extensive exterior renovations, removal of asbestos and rebuilding the foundation. Sister Christine McCann, the president for the region that includes the convent, said the millions of dollars needed for repairs could be better used to finance social and educational work by the order, which still has about 4,000 nuns in the United States. (source)

I've run into this order a few times over the years and always been impressed with them. These are some tough, religious ladies!

They've been leaving one-by-one or in small groups as they've been stationed in new houses or nursing homes. They've developed an interesting ritual for their departures.
By midafternoon, the remaining nuns and their guests had gathered in a circle to say goodbye to Sister Marguerite Relihan, who was moving the next day to Hartsdale, in Westchester County. The mood was subdued, with a gentle sadness in the air. They prayed for one another, and for those outside their convent who had neither home nor hope. At the end, Sister McCann dabbed holy water on Sister Marguerite’s forehead, whispered into her ear and hugged her.

“Dwell secure in his love in your new home,” the group intoned.

And out of the gathering, a voice arose.

“Marguerite!” someone said with a chuckle. “Hold on to my room until I get there.” (source)

God bless 'em. 146 years is a ripe old age for any human endeavor to reach.


The Heretic

Ever heard of Reverend Carlton Pearson? He is a fundamentalist, pentecostal preacher who rose to public fame and then was engulfed in a huge controversy. He didn't embezzle money or have an affair. He simply stopped believing in hell. He decided that Jesus' death and resurrection secure the salvation of everyone, not just those who are baptized or who confess certain beliefs. Naturally, this was considered heresy (Universalism) in his denomination. Soon he lost everything--his congregation, his church, his denominational affiliation--everything.

But then a strange thing happened--he founded a new church that aimed to be "The Friendliest, Trendiest, Most Radically Inclusive Worship Experience." He calls in the "Gospel of Inclusion." He's doing quite well with a church he founded that aims to be the most loving church imaginable.

Whatever you think of this theology, Pearson's story is fascinating. You can hear about it on This American Life.


Sermon - Advent 3 2008

This sermon was given by me on December 14 (Advent 3), 2008, at The Church of The Messiah. We were having a (full immersion) Baptism of an infant that day, so I was pretty focused on that.

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Few Pics From Thanksgiving

Here are a few quick pics from our Francis and Ally's visit a few weeks ago...

Good times. Good times.


Concert Snapshots

The COTM Choir with Guests

Molly preparing for her big solo

The Bold Steps Dance Studio

Matthew and Band

Where was I? I was pacing like an anxious parent in the wings! Really there was no need--everything went off without a hitch. A great success. We had around 137 people all told and raised more than $700 for Moorelands Community Services.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Good Sunday

Some 16 hours ago I began today. Now I'm just finishing from the Christmas Concert and man am I wiped! But the Baptism was a success and the concert was a success and all is right with the world. Now I can go home--I'll do a full recap in the next day or two...



Kurious Farm

All Saint's Episcopal Church, Smyrna, Tennessee, was on the verge of selling some of the 22 Acres of land next to the church until a recently arrived group of immigrants from Myanmar showed up. These Anglicans, part of an ethnic minority known as the Karen, as a group moved into the neighborhood and immediately began worshiping, in their own language, at All Saint's. Although they soon found jobs in the community to support their families, they asked the church if they could farm some of the parcel of unused land next to the church.

You see, the Karen are an agricultural people, and growing things is something they do well. "They derive a measure of dignity by being able to do what they are best at," said the vicar. "That allows the church to extend to them the grace of helping them (but not) keeping them dependent on a handout ministry" (source).

Kurios Farm provides food for the Karen and also provides extra income for the church's ministries. They've only be open for one season and have had tremendous success.

I'm not aware of many programs in the Diocese of Toronto like this, but it makes a lot of sense. I do know that St. Thomas' has a garden that grows fresh veggies for the Out of The Cold Program. As for others--let me know if you've heard of anything.

Unfortunately we don't have the room at COTM to do much. Perhaps if ever do a major renovation we could make the flat roof into a green roof. But I am looking forward to putting down a nice garden out back when the spring comes!


Friday, December 12, 2008

Blagojevich's Desperation

Check out this line from a NYTimes article about Governor Blagojevich's impending removal from office on corruption charges:

"Before heading to his office on Friday, Mr. Blagojevich met and prayed with several ministers, according to The Associated Press, telling them he had done nothing illegal." (source)

How awkward must that have been? "Hello, Rev'd Tay? I'm calling on behalf of (cough) Governor Blagojevich. He would like to meet with you so that you car pray for him. And would it okay if the press watched? He also wants to assure you that despite what you heard on the tapes of the wire taps, he has done nothing illegal..."


RIP Bettie Page

Bettie Page, the famous pin-up model, passed away at age 85. For good or ill, this most popular of post WWII models had an enormous impact on fashion, the sexual revolution, and how women are perceived in society.

Part of what makes Bettie's story so interesting is that near the height of her fame, in 1957, she disappeared from public and spent the next three decades living a relatively normal life with its ups and downs including a few failed marriages and a struggle with depression. She only reemerged as a pop icon in the 1980's and 90's, but was extremely reluctant to appear in public.

In fact, for most of those post-modeling years Bettie lived in poverty. The odd pair that rescued her were Hugh Hefner (of Playboy fame) and Billy Graham. Heffner gave her money and, I'm guessing, Hollywood connections to finally make money on her royalties. The Billy Graham crusade gave her a purpose, redemption, and even a job (she apparently worked as one of Billy Graham's advisers).

Despite being born-again Christian, Bettie never denounced her past or said that she regretted it. In fact, she said in interviews that she was proud of her role in shifting the lines of decency in American culture.

Photos of Bettie post-modeling career are extremely rare. The only one I know of was taken with her friend, Hugh Hefner, at the 50-Anniversary Party of Playboy. When asked about her reluctance to be photographed, she said, "I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times. I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form."


Vatican Pronounces on Bio Ethics

The Vatican just released a new set of guidelines for Bio-Ethics. No real surprises from what I can see so far: in vitro fertilization, human cloning, genetic testing on embryos before implantation and embryonic stem cell research are all out.

I don't know if they've made any changes to end-of-life issues or birth control, Condoms, etc.

Here's a short article about it.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Betsy' Birthday

Today is Betsy's birthday. All together now....

Happy birthday to you...


Prayer of the Week - Advent III

Beloved Parishioners,

A lot of eating happens around Christmas, and I know I am very much looking forward to another dose of Turkey! The holidays are a time to celebrate the birth of Christ with gift-giving and much love expressed in time together and lots and lots of food!

Usually we don't think very much about where our food comes from. We simply go to the grocery store or sit down at a table and there it is! Gone are the days when we had to actually see our food when it was still growing in the ground or walking around in a pasture. Not many of us have the experience of picking lead shot, like fish bones, from the pheasant we are enjoying. Yet part of our call as Christians is to be good stewards of the earth God has given into our hands. We are supposed to use it wisely and in a way that treats those who work it on our behalf fairly.

I want to encourage us in this season of eating to think about the choices we make with regards to food. It is possible, with little effort, to be part of the solution when it comes to improving our health, our environment, and even our economy. Buy locally grown food. Eat fresh food. And don't overdo it!

Today I saw a picture of a local farmer who lives just north of Port Stanley. She was kneeling in the snow harvesting carrots! What really struck me was her smile--she was enjoying her work! I thought of how she is clearly getting something that most of us are just learning: that when we ground ourselves in what is real (real food, real love, real God) we find joy and contentment.
I pray that all of us might be similarly grounded this season heading into Christmas.
God of all abundance, we thank you for preparing the earth to receive your glorious Son. We ask you to bless all those whose labor feeds us and whose work sustains the earth. Give us our daily bread that sustained in body and mind we may bring your new kingdom to earth. Help us, who eagerly long for your kingdom, to prepare Your Way. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, Amen.


Food - Still on my mind...

I'm still thinking about the issues around food policy in the U.S. and Canada. An Op-Ed. piece in the NYT continues to keep up the pressure on the Obama Administration to shift agricultural policy away from subsidizing factory farms that make unhealthy calories like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil and towards small farmers growing vegetables in a sustainable manner.

One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year you, the American taxpayer, send me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That’s right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon. (source)

And that's just the beginning. The fact is that the problems in the agricultural system are connected to the problems in the economy, health care, climate change, and energy. In that sense, a Christian stewardship mandate quickly arises. Part of the Noahic Covenant is God's placing the care of the earth in human hands. It's our responsibility to live in harmony with creation, and we are not doing a good job of that at the moment.

Feel like doing something? A small step would be to sign the petition asking President-Elect Obama to change USDA policy to "revitalize our rural economies, protecting our nation’s food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future" (source). North of the 49th Parallel take a look at the Slow Food Canada website.

Why does this issue resonate with me? Perhaps it has something to do with my childhood memories in Kansas. Once we ate mostly homegrown vegetables. Our chickens laid more eggs than we could handle, so my dad would give them away at work. I remember my mom taking me to a local dairy to refill glass containers straight from the farm. I never realized how progressive my parents were on food issues until now (though they probably didn't think of it that way).

I still have an agricultural connection: my dad and his wife have a farm in Hawai'i that grows Kona Coffee and a few cattle. They also have a guest house, in case any of you readers are looking for a vacation in a warm place! In that connection, I've learned how the small Kona Coffee growers have been fighting state labeling laws that allow Coffee to be sold as "Kona" Coffee even though it is mostly just a blend of real Kona Coffee with cheap stuff. It degrades the "brand" and cheats the farmers of the true value of their product. You can learn more about the issues the Kona Coffee farmers face here.

For those of you living in Toronto, consider buying shares in a local CSA Farm. CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) is a system where people buy "shares" in a local farm and get in-season fresh vegetables in return.
The consumer subscribes to a share of the year’s harvest (i.e. pays a flat fee up front) from a local farm in early spring, and in return, the shareholder receives a box of fresh produce weekly during the growing season. The share subscription provides the farmers with the capital to purchase seeds and farming supplies, and the shareholder gets an amazing supply of farm fresh produce weekly.

The size and variety of the shares depend on the farm you purchase from. Generally speaking, the farms offer at least a large and small size share. Some farms also offer a fruit box in addition to the veggie option. At Everdale Organic Farm, shareholders also have free access to the culinary herb garden, the flower garden for fresh cut flowers, and all the beans and peas you can pick when they are in season. (source)

This is a brilliant idea that benefits farmers, consumers, and the earth itself. Here is a list of some other Ontario CSA's that I know about. (If you want to nominate some others, just let me know.)

There is also a searchable database that includes Farms, CSA's, Markets, Stores, and even Restaurants. With a minimum amount of effort it is possible to get healthy, cheap, local fresh food!


A Restored Boing 40C

My dad pointed out a Boeing 40C recently restored by Addison Pemberton and his team after 8 years, 18,000 hours of work, and 62 volunteers. It's the oldest flyable Boeing airplane in existence (originally built in 1928). Neat story.

It reminds me of an article I read in the latest New Yorker about the near-obsessive level of commitment that John Coster-Mullen has used to learn the details of how the first nuclear weapons were built. Now, the mechanics of these bombs are relatively simple compared to the difficulty of obtaining weapon-grade material, so there isn't much danger in Coster-Mullen's publications. Further, he is working off of declassified photos and documents that are presumably available to any evildoer with a library card, but nonetheless he has had to work in an incredibly painstaking manner to discover all kinds of new things. Hard not to admire the focus of individuals like this.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Next Farmer in Chief

There has been a lot of chatter lately about the need to change food policy in the United States. For years the policies of the government have been designed to subsidize the production of certain kinds of crops (notably corn and soy) which has resulted in cheap calories (why is a burger often cheaper than a salad?) Besides the obvious ill-effects on the health care system, the other problem has been ecological:
Subsidized monocultures of grain also led directly to monocultures of animals: since factory farms could buy grain for less than it cost farmers to grow it, they could now fatten animals more cheaply than farmers could. So America’s meat and dairy animals migrated from farm to feedlot, driving down the price of animal protein to the point where an American can enjoy eating, on average, 190 pounds of meat a year — a half pound every day.

But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant — factory farms are now one of America’s biggest sources of pollution. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all. (source)

That's from an article by Michael Pollan in the NY Times, but I've been hearing these kinds of discussions elsewhere. We really need to change food policy in North America to encourage a return to local food, less reliance on oil-based fertilizers, and healthier eating. It's getting absurd, but if Pollan is right, the current economic crisis may bring an important correction.

Most intriguing of his ideas, to me, is the notion of turning part of the White House lawn into a model farm.
I don’t need to tell you that ripping out even a section of the White House lawn will be controversial: Americans love their lawns, and the South Lawn is one of the most beautiful in the country. But imagine all the energy, water and petrochemicals it takes to make it that way. (Even for the purposes of this memo, the White House would not disclose its lawn-care regimen.) Yet as deeply as Americans feel about their lawns, the agrarian ideal runs deeper still, and making this particular plot of American land productive, especially if the First Family gets out there and pulls weeds now and again, will provide an image even more stirring than that of a pretty lawn: the image of stewardship of the land, of self-reliance and of making the most of local sunlight to feed one’s family and community. The fact that surplus produce from the South Lawn Victory Garden (and there will be literally tons of it) will be offered to regional food banks will make its own eloquent statement.

He points out that something similar was done by Eleanor Roosevelt to promote the Victory Garden movement in World War II. It would, indeed, be a powerful message about the priority that food should take in our lives.


Ummm... Lobster...

Thanks to successful efforts to repopulate lobster fisheries and declining demand for luxury items, the price of lobster has now hit a 25-year low. Dinner for two may still cost you $30, but that's better than the $45 it was last year. I know, it's not exactly "local food," but at least it's a sustainable resource! The New York Times has a full story complete with recipe.

Lobster a la NYTimes
After freezing and slicing up my lobsters, I ran them under the broiler. My plan was to serve them with garlic oil. But their scarlet hue reminded me of blackened redfish. Making a vibrant, spicy Cajun butter to souse the lobster seemed like a good idea.

As Mr. Corson promised, the lobster meat cooked up tender yet firm, and the spicy butter gave it a fiery kick without diminishing its sweetness.

The mushroom sautĂ© was my next foray. My local market didn’t have lobster mushrooms, but it did have oyster mushrooms, which were at least thematically the same, and maitakes.

Seasoned with sesame oil, ginger root and soy sauce, this lobster variation was bright and boldly flavored, with the mushrooms adding a woodsy earthiness to what’s now my favorite version of surf and turf.

Last, I indulged in a luscious lobster pasta topped with a savory sherry sabayon. It was slightly more labor-intensive than the usual cream sauce, but more ethereal, too.

As an extravagant, final touch, I crowned the pasta with glowing beads of salmon caviar. True, this wasn’t on sale. But I couldn’t resist celebrating how much money I saved on the lobster.

Sounds fantastic. The last time I had lobster was when Ally and Francis were in town. We tried BBQ and it was a huge success. I suspect the next time I'll get my favorite fish will be my birthday this summer! In my family we had a tradition of eating lobster on birthdays. Yum.


More Writing

I'm very excited to say that I've been invited to write an op-ed piece for the Toronto Star Newspaper. The article will appear in the Christmas Eve edition. This is a huge deal and an enormous honor. Consider that this is the most read newspaper in the entire country, with a circulation of about 500,000 in the Greater Toronto area alone. It's by far the largest audience I've ever had for a sermon or article. Huge. Simply huge.

But the article itself will be fairly small: 600 words. So not much chance for a meandering treatise! So far they've asked me to write about why Christmas should matter to Jews, Muslims, etc.

So I'm elated, naturally. But now I have to come up with a really compelling thing to write about! But, hey, if I don't have something to say about Christmas than perhaps I'm in the wrong gig!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Recall last week when I had all those writing projects to do? Most of those are now done, but I still have three remaing: a blog piece for Episcopal Cafe, a column for the February Anglican, and the Christmas Pageant. The Pageant is actually the easiest of those, since we are simplifying the parts that don't involve rapping and dancing to make room for those that do!

I've also been asked about another article that would potentially appear in an even larger venue. Big, big deal if it happens, and I'm deeply honored that they are considering me. Apparently I'm getting a reputation as a writer on matters of faith!

So now I have come up with new ideas on what to write about. Interestingly, I had a real downpour of ideas when I was walking to St. Paul's Bloor Street last week. I had to stop on the street to write them down lest I forgot. I was thinking about St. Andrew's Day and an amazing sermon given by Mark Frank in 1672. In it he used the image of St. Andrew leaving his nets when called by Christ:
And alas! what have we, the best, the richest of us, as highly as we think of ourselves and ours, more than Saint Andrew and his brother: a few broken nets? What are our honours but old nets to catch the breath of the world, where the oldest is the best, and where that which has most knots, most alliances and genealogies, is the most honourable? What are all our ways and devices of thriving but so many several nets to catch a little yellow sand and mud? And if you will have it in somewhat a finer phrase, [what are they but] a few silver scaled fishes, in which yet (God knows!) there are so many knots and difficulties, so many rents and holes for the fish to slip out of, that we may justly say they are but broken nets, and old ones too, the best of them, that will scarce hold a pull, all our new projects being but old ones new rubbed over, and no new thing under the sun. Our very life, lastly: what is is it but a few rotten threads knit together into veins and sinews? (source)

This notion of casting off "networks" of connection and entanglement is strikingly modern in sentiment. But I guess there really is no "new thing under the sun." So from this I thought of this phrase to work into one of the articles I'm writing: "Somewhere between the fierce urgency of the holy and ascetic now and the Parish Strategic Plan with its Tactical Appendix is the tippy centre of our fishing boat." I'm thinking, of course, of the paradox between Christ's call to abandoning our nets and yet also to build the Kingdom. It's a struggle I think many church leaders feel: the tug between getting necessary things done and yet cultivating the kind of detachment that seems part of Jesus' teaching. Simply going to the extreme one way or other won't do--but how to stand in the tippy centre with something like grace and joy?


Children's Mural Article

The Anglican ran a short article about the mural in the Children's Chapel. The text isn't very readable, for some reason, in the image above. So here's the copy:
Mural brightens children’s space

Sunday School at Church of the Messiah in Toronto got more colourful in October, as mural artist Susannah Bleasby finished her transformation of the walls of the children’s chapel into a whimsical vision of God’s kingdoms in heaven and on earth. The painting includes animals, children, people, angels, saints, landscapes and
an expanse of blue sky and puffy clouds, with colours and style
chosen to appeal to young eyes.

“From the moment you walk into the children’s chapel, you can feel the excitement, youthful happiness and the power of Jesus Christ to make a difference in the
lives of children,” says church warden Brendan Caldwell.

The mural is part of the church’s investment in its ministry to children and families, along with the hiring earlier this year of Kerrie Fulton, director of Children’s and Youth Ministry. “Increasingly we find that churches have to invest
the effort to have some extraordinary ministry that defines them,” says the Rev. Tay Moss, incumbent.

“One of the things we believe God is calling us to is extraordinary mission to children and families.” The church will hold a dedication service for the children’s chapel on Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. (source)

Indeed, the dedication service with the bishop went very well and I'm pleased. I think the parish feels good about having accomplished such a thing, as well.


Sermon - Advent 2 2008

This sermon was given by me on December 7 (Advent 2), 2008, at The Church of The Messiah. We had two services that day, with Bishop preaching at the afternoon one. But here I am taking on the challenging, prophetic words of Isaiah 40 and Mark 1. I really got into a groove and preached with conviction on this one. Felt great. I just wish I could learn to slow myself down when I get on a roll like that!

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sermons that "Work"

For the past few weeks I've struggled a bit in my preaching. Even when I thought I had a message, it was somehow floundering at delivery. I haven't talked much about that in this blog or elsewhere because I think it's self-indulgent and counterproductive to criticize your own preaching with your own congregation. (Talking about with peers is a different matter.) I just think it really confuses people to hear you preach and then hear you critique your own preaching.

Anyway, so I've been in a bit of a dry spell. But today was just awesome. I preached from the heart and I had something to say, by God! For some reason today I was able to connect with something very deeply felt in me and I preached from that place. It was great. I hope to post the audio file in a few days.

Now, what's interesting is that I really had no indication that I was going to have such a sermon before I stood up and preached it. I mean, I knew what I was going to preach about, but I wasn't feeling like it would be a particularly special sermon until I launched into it. This is often the case with preaching, I find, it's really birthed in the moment. The Holy Spirit has its ways...

That also means that I can make no predication about whether next Sunday's sermon will "work" or not. For that matter, I'm not entirely sure what "worked" would mean in this context. The craft of preaching is both a craft and an act of faith--the longer I do the more I appreciate the desperate prayer of the preacher: "What shall I cry, O Lord?"


Is Teasing Good For You?

The NY Times Magazine has worthwhile article defending teasing. Increasingly, children and adults are being prevent from engaging in this kind of play.
The reason teasing is viewed as inherently damaging is that it is too often confused with bullying. But bullying is something different; it’s aggression, pure and simple. Bullies steal, punch, kick, harass and humiliate. Sexual harassers grope, leer and make crude, often threatening passes. They’re pretty ineffectual flirts. By contrast, teasing is a mode of play, no doubt with a sharp edge, in which we provoke to negotiate life’s ambiguities and conflicts. And it is essential to making us fully human. (source)

The article is quite thorough and examines teasing behaviors among animals as well as humans. It seems that teasing serves a very important social purpose. Really it is a "playful provocative mode of commentary" that allows things to be said that would otherwise go unexpressed.
Teasing is just such an act of off-record communication: provocative commentary is shrouded in linguistic acts called “off-record markers” that suggest the commentary should not be taken literally. At the same time, teasing isn’t just goofing around. We tease to test bonds, and also to create them. To make it clear when we’re teasing, we use fleeting linguistic acts like alliteration, repetition, rhyming and, above all, exaggeration to signal that we don’t mean precisely what we’re saying. (source)

This has huge significance for understanding relationships, of course.
Studies find that married couples with a rich vocabulary of teasing nicknames and formulaic insults are happier and more satisfied. Romantic teasing provides a way of negotiating the conflicts that send many couples to the therapist’s couch. To explore how playful teasing shores up marital bonds, I asked couples to tease each other using the same nickname paradigm used in the fraternity study. The nicknames they invented drew on the metaphors of love documented by the Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff: they made references to each other as food objects (“apple dumpling”) or small animals (“adorable duckling”). The more satisfied the couple, the more the teasing was filled with off-record markers. And in a separate study, partners who managed to tease each other during a conflict — for example, over money or an infidelity — felt more connected after the conflict than those couples who resorted to the earnest criticism many therapists recommend. Teasing actually serves as an antidote to toxic criticism that might otherwise dissolve an intimate bond. Teasing is a battle plan for what Shakespeare called “the merry war.” (source)

Teasing not only helps communication, it actually helps establish and maintain intimacy bonds. We often tease those we wish to know better.

This causes me to reflect on the teasing that occurs between congregation and pastor. I'm always delighted when parishioners make fun of me--I think it's a very healthy way of negotiating the hierarchy that otherwise exists. I tease right back--especially during the announcements. I find that it only increases the mutual bond of affection.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Contemplative Fire part 1

I spent Thursday afternoon/evening and all day Friday at a "Contemplative Fire" retreat being held at St. Paul's, Bloor Street. Contemplative Fire is a movement that has emerged in England out of the Fresh Expressions renewal they are experiencing in the Church of England. Contemplative Fire itself is interesting is exploring the contemplative path of Christianity with people using meditation, body prayer, lectio divina, liturgy, and other techniques. It's more broad than many similar movements (like Centering Prayer) and more comprehensive. "Companions on the Way" of Contemplative Fire join small groups that meet on an on going basis for listening, prayer, and discernment. In all of this I heard the echos and synthesis of dozens of different methods and techniques that have been floating around church circles for many years. The unique thing here is that they are being taken back to the mainstream Christian experience and made more accessible by being packaged together into a whole experience.

The leader of this retreat (actually, more of a "time apart" since we all went home Thursday night and returned in the morning) was Philip Roderick. (You can read his blog here, btw.) Philip is a very gentle guy with a contemplative heart and skillful at leading these kinds of events. What I especially appreciated was his willingness to let things develop spontaneously. There was much less planning of, say, the liturgy than you might expect. This would have driven some folks I know crazy, but we had broad outlines as various pieces and it all worked out just fine. Personally, I like worshipping in that style!

One of the pleasant surprises was the music. At several points in the event Philip led the group in simple chants. Sometimes this meant singing along to pre-recorded music. Other times he led us a cappella or using a Djebe (borrowed from COTM) or even with a Hang Drum.

Never heard of a Hang? Me either. It's a very rare instrument related to the steel drum. Unlike the steel drum, however, it is played with the hands and can make music in other ways than simple percussion. For example, drawing you finger along it can make it ring like a Tibetan Singing Bowl. Touching or thumping different areas produce different notes along a single scale (in this Philip's case, Dorian). Very cool. I recommend this you tube demo of this unique instrument:

So imagine your meditation leader using something like this to create contemplative worship!

Personally, my "time apart" was rewarding. Someone asked me "is it working?" I replied, "I'm not sure how I would talk about whether prayer was 'working.' But if you mean, 'are you having a good-feeling of God's presence,' I would say that I haven't had any big epiphanies, but lots of small consolations. And small consolations are all I need these days." So I'm glad I went and also glad that I took part in some of the planning and execution. I hope that there are more events like this in the future.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prayer of the Week - Advent II

Beloved Parishioners,

I'm very sad to report that Kerrie Fulton's mom, Carole Fulton, passed away last night after a long illness. Kerrie and Nick appreciate all the prayers that have been and will offered for them in this time of grief.

Death is a familiar visitor in most homes, including God's home, the church. Paradoxically, the more alive we are--that is, the more connected to other people and engaged with our world--the more we will experience death. None of us are getting out of this alive, it seems, and so as the years pass and friends and family go ahead of us into their eternal reward, we become more aware of our own impending mortality.

Spiritually wise people throughout all the traditions (not just Christian) have commended thinking about one's one death. It's a profound thing to think about how we, too, will pass away like the grass in the field. What's unique about the Christian meditation on this subject, however, is the special promise that God makes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By linking ourselves too Christ in Baptism we hope to share not only death in common with him, but resurrection as well.

The exact nature of this resurrection is still a mystery to us, but the Bible does make it clear that our resurrected selves will have a kind of fullness of life not possible now. Further, that in our resurrected bodies we will continue to know and love each other. And yet our new existence is perfected, in some sense that God knows, and made whole. The best image of this is the resurrected Body of Christ when he appeared to his disciples: his wounds were still there, only they had been made glorious.

A friend on mine, Donald Schell, recently wrote an article reflecting on the death of his father. He noted how much of what our society has to say about death misses the point. He found that the most spiritually satisfying truth evident in the death of his father was the simple finality of it. "One morning after my dad’s death, Ellen said that she was grateful that psalms said so plainly that death was death. It matched her experience of seeing my dad laid out on the floor after the paramedics had stopped CPR. He was gone. There was his body, but the life we’d known in that body, the man we’d loved was gone."

Gone. Dead and gone. That is our experience and it doesn't need to be coddled or denied. The hope we have in the resurrection is not to be found in the mortician's expertise in making the dead appear to be "sleeping." Our hope is something much grander and more difficult to imagine. It is a hope that we receive in the Gospels and know by revelation, not euphemism.

It's when we face up the reality of the certainty and finality of death in this life that we can begin to open our hearts to the promises of Christ. I know that for many people it is difficult to look at a realistically rendered crucifix. The sight of Jesus dying on the cross ought to be disturbing to us--it's purpose is to show us that suffering is real and death is real and that God can go there, too, to be with us. God died. Jesus was burried. And after three days he rose again.

So even at the grave me make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

I'll close with one of my favorite old prayers from the Prayerbook. I used it often in the hospital and still find it can move me to tears when I think of it:

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; in the name of God teh Father almighty who created you; in the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the paradise of God. Amen.


Donald Schell on Death

I would commend to you the recent article by Rev'd Donald Schell published on the Daily Episcopalian Blog. Donald is reflecting on the death of his father and how a good grief leads us to experience a certain finality in death:
One morning after my dad’s death, Ellen said that she was grateful that psalms said so plainly that death was death. It matched her experience of seeing my dad laid out on the floor after the paramedics had stopped CPR. He was gone. There was his body, but the life we’d known in that body, the man we’d loved was gone. ...

It’s not some irreducible, barely glimpsed idealized essence of my dad that escaped and flew free from the fires of the crematorium. He’s gone, what remains is ash, is dead as a doornail. And the whole of him, the hands I marveled at as a kid when he played Rachmaninoff’s B minor prelude, the face that looked so much like mine and which, in the pictures I’ve got still teaches me to smile, the courageous heart that managed to squeeze almost eighty-seven years of living from a terrifying beginning as a preemie in 1921 and scarlet fever a few years later, the whole of that good man was, is, and will be held in God’s love. I don’t know what it means or looks like but I trust it - God’s initiative, God’s creative embrace that won’t let one vibration of one atom that was him out of the old/new whole of God’s making. ...

The darkness, the abandonment, the devastation and decay and knowledge that we’re all just in remission and each of us alone faces a ‘moment of terror’ and ‘eternal dark’ must sink in, take hold, and be bitterly true. We’re none of us going to make out of this alive. None of us and nothing in us is any match for death. Nothing except the love of God. (source)

Amen, brother. We must consume it and taste its bitterness. I'm so deeply grateful for all the patients whom I helped die when I was a chaplain. I learned so much from them. There is so much wisdom in death--it's sad so few of us are willing to "go there."

I'm reminded of words from the Hagakure: "Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily." I've heard the Dalai Lama say pretty much the same thing, as does much of the Western spiritual canon. God knows the world gives us plenty of fodder for such meditations!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Buffalo Builders

The Buffalo Builders

The Buffalo Builders finished the CD they recorded at COTM a few months back. The results are excellent (samples here). Jeremy (a friend of mine, the drummer of the band, and also a PK) says recording in the church gave them a sound that would have been difficult or impossible to replicate in a studio:
In early April 2008 we carted all our gear and the contents of Eric's basement studio into the spacious confines of The Church Of The Messiah at the corner of Avenue Road and Dupont Street in Toronto, Ontario. The very kind Reverend Tay Moss was very gracious and helpful, but was probably as confused as we were about exactly what was happening. After all, what will a rock record recorded in a church sound like? Many recordings of choirs, orchestras, even quieter roots albums like The Cowboy Junkies 'Trinity Sessions' have been made in churches. But what will ours sound like? We had wanted to do something different.... whether or not this was a good idea remained to be seen as we started setting up and getting sounds.

The next two days were typical of most recording sessions: moments of elation, frustration, exhaustion, boredom, hilarity, sadness, resignation and determination were experienced by all of us, but not necessarily at the same time. There were some very key differences though between the experience of recording in the 'Messiah' and a standard studio. There was space. Lots and lots of space. This was interesting mostly for the way it influenced some musical decisions and the way things sounded, but really, it was nice to just be in such a large space. Many studios are cramped affairs, where quality and downtown location are preferred over large rooms. While these small studios are designed for the purpose of high-fidelity recording, they are not necessarily great places to hang out. If there is one thing that is common to all rock and roll recordings, it is that there is as much hanging out as recording that takes place. I think that we all felt that we could breathe a bit... it was possible to take a walk without leaving the common space. (source)

The Buffalo Builders are having a release party/concert at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern on December 27th at 9 P.M. Be there or be square!