Friday, May 30, 2008


The season finale for "Lost" was last night. It was satisfyingly opaque. The show catches part of the modern spiritual zeitgeist: a group of strangers stuck in a bewildering environment that is both physically and spiritually threatening.

“Lost” is, in some sense, in the dark business of exploring just how futile the modern search for peace, knowledge, recovery or profit really is. The failure of people to combat their most debilitating weaknesses is one of the show’s most compelling themes. In the recent flash-forwards to the survivors’ post-marooned lives, we see Jack drinking; his girlfriend, Kate, living a lie; Hurley lost to bizarre superstition. At the same time, Sayid, a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard, is avenging his wife’s death as a killer for hire and, so we must assume, failing to find redemption. (source)

But it doesn't collapse into nihilism--on the contrary, actions in the world of "Lost" have moral weight and meaning. In fact, the show's fascination with meaning and consequence is what drives the drama.

There is a theology undergirding "Lost" that deserves some Christian critique. Redemption does happen on the island, but it is usually earned rather than a gift of free grace. Yet this world is highly providential ("fate" comes up a lot) and one gets the sense that the characters are being constantly challenged to grow beyond themselves.

One of these days I should search the Web for sermons about "Lost"--I'm sure there's more than a few out there.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The New Plainsong Psalter

Yesterday I picked up my copy of The New Plainsong Psalter recently written by Christopher Ku, Organ Scholar at Trinity College, and published by ABC. It's meant to be an updated version of Healey Willan's The Canadian Psalter. The Willan Psalter provided Gregorian Chant tones in modern notation (rather than square-note) and pointed the text of the BCP Psalter to be chanted. He also included an appendix with some music for solemn Offices (marriage, burial, evensong, etc.). Ku followed the same approach, providing modern-notation for the tones, but pointed the modern liturgical translation of the psalms (the one found in the BAS as well as the '79 American BCP). Ku did not provide an appendix with music for the Offices, which is too bad in my opinion, but certainly pointing 150 Psalms is work enough!

The closest comparison to draw is with The Plainsong Psalter published by (the American) Church Publishing. Both use the same text, which is a child of the 16th Century Coverdale Psalter that has been in use in Anglican Prayerbooks for literally centuries. The Coverdale Psalter was revised for the American '79 BCP to be more faithful to the Hebrew (Coverdale translated into English from a Latin translation of a Greek translation of the Hebrew original!) The 1970's revision also made the text sound much more modern--eliminating archaic words and constructions and returning to a more plain-spoken style.

The two biggest problems with The Plainsong Psalter, however, are first that the book is too physically big to be used in worship, so liturgy planners are constantly photocopying out pages to make materials to actually sing from in worship. The second problem is the the method of pointing the psalms in the book uses diacritic marks that cannot be conveniently reproduced on a word processor.

Ku's edition, on the other hand, is convenient to hold in the hand or stuff into a pew. It also uses marks that are much easier to reproduce in Word. It is not just a reference book--this piece is meant to be a book to worship with!

I'm much impressed and hope this inspires more parishes to chant the Psalms. There is a spirituality to psalm chanting that is simply too valuable to forget.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Is Meditation Good for You?

The NY Times is running a piece on the rising popularity of meditation in therapy. A quote from the article:
One person who noticed early on was Marsha Linehan, a psychologist at the University of Washington who was trying to treat deeply troubled patients with histories of suicidal behavior. “Trying to treat these patients with some change-based behavior therapy just made them worse, not better,” Dr. Linehan said in an interview. “With the really hard stuff, you need something else, something that allows people to tolerate these very strong emotions.”

In the 1990s, Dr. Linehan published a series of studies finding that a therapy that incorporated Zen Buddhist mindfulness, “radical acceptance,” practiced by therapist and patient significantly cut the risk of hospitalization and suicide attempts in the high-risk patients. (source)

Some of the interesting work being done in the therapeutic use of meditation is being done at Toronto's CAMH hospital, BTW.

Of course meditation works to relieve various mental and physical ills! That's been known for thousands of years. What's funny to me is the impression that these psychologists have such a limited understanding of how this works. For instance, they are having a hard time figuring out what conditions contra-indicate this kind of treatment.

I can answer part of that. Never try to teach meditation to someone with a Dissociative Disorder. That is, someone who withdraws from reality into some kind of alternative. Meditation will just exacerbate their problems!


How to Motivate a Teenage Boy

This guy promised his teenage slacker son a reproduction Shelby 427 Cobra if he managed to get on the honor roll and stay there. The kid did, so the father bought a $45,000 kit and the two spent several weeks assembling the vehicle in their garage. The New York Times ran an article about their adventure, complete with audio interviews.

The idea of rewarding your kid for academic excellence has a certain amount of appeal to me. I'm sure it doesn't work for everybody, for those it does, it does! I also like the idea of a car as a father-son project. I have many fond memories of working with my dad to restore a 1962 Triumph TR-3B. Hopefully when Betsy and I have kids I'll be able to do the same thing with my sons or daughters.



A few days ago Betsy and I were invited to a swank fund raising party at the Distillery District. One the perks of being clergy is that you get invited to a fair number of events like this. This was a fund raising event for a local music school. A very good Jazz ensemble played in the background and we all enjoyed the open bar and hors d'oeuvres. I met a few new people, including a well-known Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Tom Day.

At one point I ended up outside with the band chatting during their break. The pianist, who is black, ended up telling us about the kind of casual racism he encounters. Several times recently he has gone into high-end clothing stores and either been ignored or served poorly. The natural reaction of those of us listening to his stories was to be outraged and suggest that he should have contacted the management, etc. He shrugged and told us that it happens so often that he doesn't have the energy to fight--he simply leaves and goes someplace else.

I think it's impossible for those of use who grow up with privilege and get invited to cocktail parties and to fancy lunches at private clubs downtown to understand what it's like to be a visible minority. This extremely talented and fashionable-looking man is frequently treated like crap just because he's a black man. It's remarkable to look at that reality for a minute.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Case Studies in Pastoral Care

Bede has the story of a fascinating Pastoral Care encounter he had on a recent plane trip. Those of you interesting in knowing about how Pastoral Care works should check out his blog entry. Here's an excerpt:
But I'll have to say that he takes to it pretty quickly. He's amazingly and genuinely both open minded and open hearted And we haven't been talking very long when he reveals to me that just a couple of weeks ago he gave a talk to the kids he works with about being so dedicated to God that you are willing to have everything taken away from you. He even said that he could see himself being destitute for the sake of his faith. "And who," I say, "do you suppose you were preaching that for?" He guffaws. That's not a word I ever use, but it's the only one that fits this particular response. There's an explosion of laughter and relief and he struggles to get out his answer: "Me", he says.

Ok - I've managed to put a bit of perspective into this situation, and I've suggested a change of view that he can explore and even respect. But here's where it gets really interesting, because here's where stuff begins to flow in the other direction. With a good deal of enthusiasm he gets up and fetches his computer and pulls up a sermon from the Internet. It's where his talk to the kids came from. It's entitled: "God is Enough". And boy, is it powerful. It is by a talented and anointed preacher saying something something that reaches all the way down to the bottom of me. It's a sermon designed to counter the arguments of the Propserity Gospel - the view that all you have to do is believe rightly and act faithfully and you will be rewarded monetarily. And over and over again in the course of a homily of about 5 minutes, this guy drums out: "Whatever your circumstance, whatever your needs, whatever your demands, God is enough." Some of his illustrations are outrageous - they are intended to be. This talk is designed to break through ordinary human resistance with the Gospel. God is enough. (source)

No wonder this guy is my role model.


Sermon - Pentecost 2

This is my sermon on the "don't worry" Gospel. I talked about what's "essential" in life. I also spoke about how an eschatological perspective is a cure for our worries.

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


Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Caribbean Wedding

Today I performed a marriage ceremony for a Caribbean couple from my congregation. This is my third wedding since coming to COTM last September. In that time I have had no funerals. In my two years at St. Mary Magdalene the proportion was very different: more funerals, less weddings. I'm not sure that's enough data to say much, but it's worth noting.

The wedding started 45 minutes late (the bride was late), which is to be expected, but is nonetheless nerve-wracking for everyone. I thought my sermon was fine and the ceremony was relatively smooth. Every wedding I do, I get better at it. The difference is subtle things, but it makes a difference. For instance, we didn't have enough chairs out. We should have anticipated that we would have 215+ people! Also, I found it difficult to manage both the leaflet and my BAS. Next time I'll photocopy those out and put them with my leaflet in the little binder I use in the service. There were other details, as well, but its the sort of stuff that makes more of a difference to the Presider and not anyone else.

The reception was fun. Lots of caribbean food. But Betsy and I had to leave early--I've got to manage my energy and time going into Sunday morning.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Toronto Parking Tickets

The City of Toronto is struggling financially, so enforcement of parking has escalated greatly in the last two years. Normally, I'm good at avoiding the dreaded yellow slips; I either pay the meter or dash in and out.

But today I stepped into a wicked one: $250 for parking in a "fire route." You see, when I parked on that quiet residential street (Balmoral) this afternoon to dash into the hardware store, I didn't realize I was only 50 yards from the fire station. The fact that I had simply pulled up behind someone else that had parked didn't matter, either. The whole curb between the fire station and Yonge Street is a "fire route." I guess they want the extra clearance for the trucks.

So there it was on my windshield when I came back from the store. Not a mere $25 or $35 like most Toronto parking tickets, but a full $250 clams. Ouch. Nor do I think I have any real way to dispute the ticket. The signage wasn't clear, but it was present. My only consolation is that the parking enforcement officer was catching others for the same crime. Sigh.

Betsy and I are really going to have to make some sacrifices if we want to go to Istanbul this year. That means, for instance, that I'm going to have to give up alcohol for a while. Not that I'm excessive, but I do enjoy a drink or two with dinner, following the custom of my tribe. And the evening drink is one of those unnecessary luxuries that makes a difference on our monthly budget. Sigh.


The Prayer of the Week - Proper 8

Lately I've been captivated by an old Shaker Hymn called "In Yonder Valley"

In yonder valley there flows sweet union
Let us arise and drink our fill

The winter's passed and the spring appears
The turtle dove is in our land

In yonder valley there flows sweet union
Let us arise and drink our fill

It is a paraphrase of part of the Song of Songs, an ancient Hebrew love poem that is in the bible but rarely read in church. Traditionally, this poem has been understood to refer to the love between God and humanity, or between Christ and the Church. It is a favorite of mystics and romantic souls. Like the hymn written by the Shakers, it awakens our imagination of the ideal Kingdom of God. There is a place for us, our beginning and our end, a verdant valley that is our destiny as people of God.

In the Gospel lesson for this upcoming Sunday Jesus gives us an extremely difficult command: "do not worry about your life" (Matthew 6:25). He tells us that God loves and cherishes us, and just as he provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, he will also provide for us. God knows what need. "But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (6:33).

And yet we are people addicted to worry. Worry has become fashionable--a show of dedication and concern for those things and people important to us. The nightly news is full of stories of local tragedy and dangerous consumer products. "What you need to know about killer waffle irons: Live at Five." It is profoundly counter-cultural to not worry about our lives. This is precisely what Jesus asks us to do. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today" (6:34).

I know only a handful of people that have successfully implemented that teaching. For the rest of us, getting to that place of not-worrying that Jesus preaches can be accomplished in part, I believe, by focusing on the vision of Kingdom of God promised to us. "In yonder valley there is sweet union." "Consider the lilies of the field..." This world is not the end for us. No matter what our conditions now, no matter what happens today or tomorrow, our God of promise has prepared a place for us of beauty, comfort, and love. Like the Israelites going through the desert, we can expect this path to be full of pebbles, dust, and occasional heartache, but our God is faithful and we will come to the promised land.

Holy God, you promise your children abundant blessings of peace and union in your kingdom, bless now with a renewed vision of the place you have prepared for us. Allow the sweet visions of your kingdom to preserve our hope and dispel our worry. We ask this in the Name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

Thursday, May 22, 2008


We hired our new Director of Children's and Youth Ministry today. I don't think I should say who it is until she has actually signed the contract, etc., but it's basically a done deal. I'm very excited about her; I think she'll be great for us. If everything works out, she should start on June 1st.

Funny to say, but I don't think I've ever actually made the phone call to tell someone they've gotten the job. I mean, I've been a part of the hiring process before, but usually it's one on the Wardens that actually gets to make the phone call. I enjoyed it, I must say. I know, technically it's the Wardens who hire and fire, but this was one of those cases where it was just easier for me to make that call once the decision had been made. It's a nice feeling.



My dad and various members of my extended family live on the Big Island of Hawai'i. The first member of my family to arrive in paradise was my great-grandfather, known as Tutu (an informal Hawaiian word for "elder"). Tutu was a civil engineer, an important trade at the time given the expanding agricultural industry. His wife joined them and they raised a family out there. One of their daughters, Elizabeth Tay, married my grandfather, William Moss, Jr., and they moved away from the Island for some years before returning as they neared retirement age.

They bought an old coffee farm near my great-grandfather's old place (which is still in the family). At the time the two structures on the place were little better than barns, but my grandparents converted both quite nicely. Every few years I would go out to visit. Playing with the cows and sailing with my grandfather on his boat are special memories for me.

After my grandparents passed away, my father retired to the farm with his wife. They continue raising coffee (my dad could be considered a third-generation Kona Coffee grower), as well as chickens and cows. They rent out the guest house for vacationers and indulge their hobbies. In my dad's case, that includes restoring old engines, brewing beer, and growing the coffee.

Kona Coffee is a special treat. Much of what gets passed off as "Kona Coffee" is really just a blend of 10% Kona and 90% cheaper stuff from Brazil, Columbia, or God-knows-where. But pure 100% Kona Coffee is a thing of beauty. My dad sells it for $22/lbs, if you're interested.

My dad has a weather station that uploads data to the web, so here's a chart of the daily temperature range for the last year:

Note how it rarely goes above 80 or below 60 (26 or 16 in Celsius). That's pretty sweet.

Hawai'i is on my mind today because my sister Meg is there with her family for some vacation time. I'm also planning to visit after Christmas this year, finances permitting. The place is in my blood and I do miss it...


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random Notes from a Wednesday

An observation about the Contemplative Eucharist: it is a very naked liturgy. By that I mean that as a participant, lay or ordained, you feel exposed. There is nothing wordy to fall back on if your thoughts wander. Thus, the intention of mental attention becomes a really important part of the experience of the prayer. That's very cool, and also a bit treacherous--I can imagine people really beating themselves up about not being "focused" every second of the rite. Self-compassion is a must for any kind of contemplative discipline.

After that service I did some pastoral counseling and then went to Port Perry for a lunch meeting to discuss youth ministry with a couple of experience practitioners of that occult art. I spent the hour drive profitably--listening The Odyssey, unabdridged, on CD in my car. Why The Odyssey? I'm fond of epics and like to reread them from time-to-time. I read Dante's Inferno during Lent and listened to The Iliad unabridged on my trip to Holy Cross a few weeks back.

Anyway, at lunch we talked about youth ministry in this Diocese as well as how it is done in England. One thing that seems quite clear is that this Diocese is really behind the ball. There is a ton of work to be done educating parishes and individuals on how youth ministry can and ought to be done. And yet there are some very talented people in in the field doing great work. God bless 'em.

Last night Betsy and I finished watching seasons 1 and 2 of The Unit. I really enjoyed the depiction of NCO leadership. In fact, I used it as an example when I was talking to someone today about what good leadership looks like. Another favorite example of leadership for me is Captain Picard. Here's another instructive example: the Hagakure, which is a spiritual and practical guide written for Samurai Warriors. I know, that seems weird, but trust me, it has a lot of good insights.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Vicar's Study

Here's one of Dave Walker's funny-cuz-it's-true cartoons about life in church leadership:

The funny thing is that virtually all the stuff he lists there is precisely what's in my office: right down to "excessive quantity of computer equipment" and "tea lights (bought in bulk)" and "person approaching door requiring $20 for train fare."


Sermon - Trinity 2008

Like I said in my previous post, I was happier with this sermon than the one I did for Pentecost.

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


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Morning Grace

This morning, as I went through my usual before-Sunday-morning routine, I did not feel god about it at all. I was particularly fretting over my sermon, given how disappointing I found last week. I also had other things on my mind that made me feel less than stellar about my ministry. All the way down the hill on my 15 minute walk I second guessed various decisions that I've made over the last seven months. It was not a good day to be Tay.

But then I sat down at my computer (ORAC) in my office and worked on my sermon some more. As is often the case, the breakthrough came when I read someone else's inspiring sermon. So true--you have to hear the Word before you can preach the word. In particular, it was this sermon by the Rev'd Dr James Lemler, Priest-in-Charge at Christ Church, Greenwich, CT, that struck me. It's entitled, "Blah, Blah, Blah... Love." Essentially, it's about how the Trinity is way of saying that at the heart of God is love. Earlier I had read some more academic versions of the same idea (including something by Jürgen Moltmann).

Attendance was low--the rain and the long Victoria Day weekend didn't help--but everyone was there that was supposed to be there, and as soon as the service started I could tell that it would be a graceful, if quiet, morning. I wouldn't say it was solemn, exactly, more like "gentle." Hard to know what takes a service in the direction of one mood or another. Is it the weather? It is it me? Hard to know.

But as soon as I started my sermon I knew that I was in the zone. It was a quiet sermon, but really smooth and nice. I thought it was the strongest sermon I've given for a few weeks--but it's hard to know how other people liked it. Anyway, I'll post it when I get a chance.

What struck me, even during the service, was the way in which you can receive grace from the Sunday morning worship if you allow yourself to be open to the Spirit. For instance, since I had to do anointing and laying on of hands, I had to ask an extra person to be a Minister of Communion who normally doesn't get to do it. Many more than usual came up to receive anointing than usual, and since I didn't have to worry about distributing communion I could take my time and really pray for each of them. After everyone had received the sacraments, I kneeled at the rail myself and asked one of the Ministers of Communion to pray over and anoint me. Many priests do not have the humility to allow someone to pray over them during a service they are supposed to be leading--but why not? How do you expect your people to accept prayers for healing, in public, if you yourself will not submit to receive this grace?

How can this not be what I'm supposed to do at COTM? Preach the Gospel and convey God's Grace... what else is there for a parish priest?


The Gimli Glider

The "Glimli Glider" was a Boeing 767 that was in service with Air Canada as Flight 143 from Montreal to Edmonton when it ran out of fuel at 28,000 feet on July 23, 1983. The airplane was still very new to the Air Canada fleet, and was thus one of a new generation of aircraft that had eliminated the Flight Engineer position in the cockpit and replaced it with sophisticated automation. Another new feature was the use of metric (litres and kilograms) rather than imperial (gallons and pounds). Both of these factors contributed to the accident.

The main cause of the accident was that both the ground crew and the flight crew used an incorrect conversion factor to calculate how much fuel to put on board. They ended up putting in 22,300 lbs of fuel, rather than 22,300 kg. So in fact they only had about 10,000 kg--half of what they needed.

Normally the crew would have been saved by the on-board "Fuel Quantity Indicator System." They would have noted the fuel gauge in the cockpit not matching what the ground crew told them. And even if they didn't notice until being the air, the flight management computer would indicate the available range given the FQIS reading. Naturally, the FQIS is important enough to have redundancy (and the airplane had made two flights in a fall-back mode), but in this case a distracted mechanic had neglected to configure the instrumentation to work correctly after trying to troubleshoot the problem. So the fuel gauge wasn't working at all for the flight in question.

The captain should not have taken off in this condition, but he was under the mistaken impression that the airplane had been flown without the fuel gauges for some time. The airplane was so new that the policies about what equipment were considered absolutely necessary was still in flux, so he went with the ground crew's recommendation to fly without a functional FQIS. But he was cautious enough to have the ground crew manually check the fuel level with a dipstick and to check the math done by the first officer and the ground crew. The math was right, it was the conversion factor that was wrong--so it did on good.

So it wasn't until they were halfway to Edmonton that a low-pressure warning told them they were trouble. They lost both engines, which meant also loosing most of the electronics and hydraulics. When this happens on a 767, a small propeller-driven generator pops out to give limited power, but as the airplane slows down the airplane's hydraulic power goes down, too.

So these pilots, Captain Robert (Bob) Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal, find themselves at 41,000 feet without engines, with only limited instrumentation or hydraulic power for controlling flight. They flipped the checklist book to "flight without engines" only to find that there was no such checklist! Nor was this a scenario they had tried in a simulator.

Gliding, they calculated that they would not manage to make the nearest airport and instead opted for a former military airfield, Gimli Field. They lined up on a runway that had actually been decommissioned and turned into a drag strip. It was family day, and the runway was lined with spectators on either side.

They were coming in fast and high, and there wasn't altitude to make a 360 degree turn (nor flaps or spoilers)--so Pearson made a move of genius. An experienced glider pilot, he executed a maneuver called a forward slip. Think turning the yoke to the right and pushing the left rudder pedal. Part of the airplane wants to turn left, part right. The result is the aircraft starts slipping sideways through the air. The bank angle (according to an interview I saw) was something near 60 degrees, which was incredibly scary to the passengers. The co-pilot reported later that it was disconcerting to be looking down at the pilot, rather than across at him. This maneuver creates enormous buffeting. The passengers were looking at a golf course below them through the windows in the left side. In this flight mode, the craft looses both altitude and airspeed quickly. At the last moment, Pearson straightened up the airplane and touched down. The forward gear hadn't locked, and thus collapsed immediately. Pearson could now see people on the runway and braked hard enough the blow all the tires. Partly thanks to the nose dragging on the runway, the plane came to a stop without hitting anyone.

The passengers and crew got off safely. Folks from the drag strip put out a minor fire starting where the cone section had dragged on the runway.

Here's the really great part--after making some repairs the airplane flew from Gimli to an airport with proper ground facilities. There it was repaired and put back in service for more than 25 years! It was known as the "Gimli Glider" and had no other problems. It was retired with much fanfare in January 2008. The same crew from the 1983 incident (including some of the original flight attendants) flew the airplane to a bone yard in the California Desert.

Note that several crews attempted to replicate the scenario in a simulator--all crashed.

Ultimately, a string of mistakes caused the near crash. The captain bears some responsibility for not catching the incorrect fuel calculations and for flying with insufficient equipment. And yet he performed some extraordinary flying to save the day. What lesson to take from that?


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Iron Man

Last night Betsy and I went out on a double date with friends to see the movie "Iron Man"--it was a fine movie for what it was, a summer popcorn flick. Not the sort of thing that teaches you anything new about the human experience, or changes one in any significant way, but it was entertaining enough!

After the movie we went to the Duke of York pub for supper. It was nice walking in the Yorkville area at night with the lights and the people milling around. Got home feeling pleasantly full. Betsy and I have a great life.

Last night I dreamt that I forgot to take the communion bread out of the freezer for the Chancel Guild when I came to church Sunday morning. I do forget to do that sometimes, but it's a minor thing, they can always throw one into the microwave. I had some other unusual dreams, too, including one where I was playing Black Jack at a casino and doing quite well using the Martingale System.

The Martingale System is a betting strategy useful in situations where you are making consecutive bets, with approximately 50% chance and win the amount bet. Basically, every time you loose you double the amount your are betting in the next round. For example, after loosing four dollars you bet bet eight, which means that you recover the loss if you win. If you loose, you bet sixteen. So even if you loose several times in a row, you will make back your money when you finally do win.

The problem is that this model assumes infinite wealth and no limits on how much you can bet. In real life, neither of these are true--all it takes is a few losses in a row to exceed the available cash for betting and also exceed the table limits. In fact, that's one of the reasons why casinos have table limits--to defeat this kind of betting strategy. But it doesn't really matter, since you can mathematically demonstrate that as long as the amount of money you have available for betting is finite, you will eventually run into a loosing streak long enough to bankrupt yourself!

Here's the math, for those of you that like math:
Let q be the probability of losing (e.g. for roulette it is 20/38). Let y be the amount of the commencing bet (e.g. $10 in the example above). Let x be the finite number of bets you can afford to lose.

The probability that you lose all x bets is qx. When you lose all your bets, the amount of money you lose is

The probability that you do not lose all x bets is 1 − qx. If you do not lose all x bets, you win y amount of money. So the expected profit per round is

Whenever q > 1/2, the expression 1 − (2q)x < 0 for all x > 0. That means for any game where it is more likely to lose than to win (e.g. all chance gambling games), you are expected to lose money on average. Furthermore, the more times you are able to afford to bet, the more you will lose. (source)

The trade in this system is steady gain at the risk of a string of losses.

I think they should teach game theory in seminary. It's important to be able to evaluate strategies in any kind of leadership.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Spiritual Partnership

My attention was attracted to this story about two American Buddhist teachers, Michael Roach and Christie McNally, a man and woman, who are living together in a yurt in Arizona. What makes this remarkable is that they say they are celibate but have also vowed to never be more than 15 feet apart. Even more interestingly, he insists on keeping his monastic vows.

Male-female spiritual partnerships are not unknown in Tibetan Buddhism. In order to practice "Highest Yoga Tantra," for instance, an aspirant must give up his monk vows (including celibacy) and begin having very ritualized sex with a compatible adept. This kind of Tantra is a real fascination for Westerners, of course, although I don't think it's common nor nearly as "fun" as it sounds to most people. It's a very disciplined endeavor in real life--one of the main practices involves maintaining a high level of arousal for long periods of time (like, hours) without orgasm. But, again, one must give up being a monk in order to practice this form of Tibetan spiritual discipline.

An anthropologist might say that this phenomenon is a kind of "transgressive sacrality"--that is, a religious practice which derives it's efficacy from it's violation of religious taboo:
Transgressive sacrality’ within a religious tradition is something completely different [from heresy] for, though violating the interdictions and observances of the tradition in question, it does not seek to replace the latter. Instead it lays claim to a superior degree and second order of spirituality derived precisely from the violation of socioreligious interdictions whose general validity and binding force is not at all questioned by the transgressor. In fact, transgressive sacrality cannot operate without the existence of such binding and powerful taboos, and often presents itself as an esoteric form of the mother-religion, the latter serving as the exoteric prerequisite and recruiting ground for it. (source)

The idea of transgressive sacrality is often linked with the "crazy wisdom" tradition within Buddhism--esteemed teachers violating the rules as a kind of pedagogy. Living a Paradox as a way to break through spiritual materialism.

But this couple is not doing HYT (Highest Yoga Tantra)--but instead are trying to model a kind of male-female spiritual partnership of a different kind. They describe their reasons for doing this thusly:
One, he felt that it was impossible to keep secrets in this age of Google Earth. Two, he decided that if Buddhism was really going to succeed in America, it would have to be more inclusive of women.

“If these ideas that will help people are going to make it in the West,” Ms. McNally said, “it can’t be a male-dominated culture, because people are not going to accept that.” (source)

They are transgressive not because they are having sex (which they say aren't), but because they are challenging traditional notions of gender and relationship within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Monks aren't supposed to do this kind of thing.

But their practice — which even they admit is radical by the standards of the religious community whose ideas they aim to further — has sent shock waves through the Tibetan Buddhist community as far as the Dalai Lama himself, whose office indicated its disapproval of the living arrangement by rebuffing Mr. Roach’s attempt to teach at Dharamsala, India, in 2006. (In a letter, the office said his “unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practices.”) (source)

Yet there is something undeniably appealing about this kind of practice. It's marriage times ten--an exercise is attending to someone other than yourself!
They eat the same foods from the same plate and often read the same book, waiting until one or the other finishes the page before continuing. Both, they say, are practices of learning to submit one’s will to that of another. (source)

Marriage is a spiritual discipline, and I think looking at these kinds of extreme examples from other traditions can be helpful for understanding Christian marriage. For one thing, if gives us a way to understand intimacy that is not necessarily sexual.


Prayer of the Week - Trinity Sunday

Beloved Parishioners,

This Sunday, the first after Pentecost, is known as "Trinity Sunday." The idea is to celebrate the Trinitarian nature of God--that know God to be composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to function as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a famously difficult and complex teaching of the church. Like most doctrines of Christian belief, it is an attempt to make sense of an experience of God we have embed in the scripture: how can we say that Jesus is God and yet somehow not the same as the God who created heaven and earth? Also, how can we say that the Spirit of God, given at Pentecost, both is and isn't God? Understanding the relationship between Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit was the great controversy that occupied the great minds of Christianity up until at least 325 (The First Council of Nicaea, from which we gained the great Nicene Creed).

At the heart of the "problem" of the Trinity is that God has revealed himself to us fully in the being of his Son. We believe that Jesus was not only the Son of God, but that that the full essence of God came to dwell with us in that person. How do we express what we know about this arrangement except with the language of relationship? All doctrines of the Trinity are attempts to express that at the heart of the mystery of God is a relationship.

What is striking, theologically, is that we hold that this aspect of God is not merely a result of our limited capacity to understand, a prism through which God passes in order to be known to us, but actually is true of God even in Himself. In other words, even before humankind or the world were created, God already existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity didn't start with the birth of Jesus, it was there from the beginning.

Often we tend to think of human beings as being individuals first, and then as members of social and familiar groups as providence and choice has determined. But, in fact, it would be more correct to think of families and other social groups as existing first, and individuals arising out of them. For the first months of life, an infant is incapable of recognizing that they are a separate being from her mother, but gradually this sense of separateness emerges.

There is grace in the Doctrine of the Trinity because it shows that God, like humankind created in God's image, is inherently social. We are not alone, but emerge out of a great web of relations that go far beyond anything we can imagine. We are children of God, away at University, perhaps, but fated to come home after graduation.

Father, we praise you: through your Word and Holy Spirit you created all things. You reveal your salvation in all the world by sending to us Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Through your Holy Spirit you give us a share in your life and love. Fill us with the vision of your glory, that we may always serve and praise you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Interfaith Dinner

Last night was the Annual Interfaith Dinner put on by the Neighborhood Interfaith Group that includes many of the synagogues and churches in our area. Mostly it has been just Christians and Jews in this group, but now we are beginning to engage Muslims in the community. The speaker last night was Imam Hamid Slimi, who is chair of the Canadian Council of Imams as well an academic and a leader in various other contexts. He gave a good, if long, talk about the common ethical convictions of the "People of the Book."

A couple of things we interesting to me. One is that we both formally toasted the Queen and we sang the Canadian National Anthem at the start of the dinner. Is patriotism a religion? BTW, I have no problem participating in these civic rituals of allegiance: the Queen is a nice lady and I'll drink to her health as I would to anybody else. And since Canada is my home, I find nothing objectionable in the Anthem--it's really a sort of prayer for the prospering of the country.

Another thing I noted was the role of humor in the proceedings--virtually every speaker had to tell an interfaith joke involving Rabbis, Priests, and Imams. I realized that humor was essential, for some reason, in the how the event functions. My next thought was that perhaps next year they should formalize this with an item on the agenda. Perhaps hire a comedian to do a 5 minute schtick, or have a religious joke contest or something like that. Something could be done to take advantage of this.

I ended up sitting across from a local Rabbi who came up from the states three years ago to work on the staff on one of the big conservative synagogues, here. His wife is also a Rabbi--she works for an organization that does Youth Ministry at a Regional Level. So we talked about New York and New Jersey (yes, they know Dover). I also discovered that the husband is a Navy Chaplain in the Reserves (he did four years of active service) and his wife did CPE once upon a time! So we spent some time talking about their experience in the military and chaplaincy. They had the good fortune to be stationed at Pearl Harbor, which they loved. We also swapped stories of what it's like to be an American in Canada. Interestingly, many of the same differences I've noted between the American Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada are also present in the contrast between American and Canadian Synagogues.

The evening wrapped up with a group photograph, and I came home, still wired, at 11 P.M.!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Neural Buddhists

David Brooks has a piece in the New York Times about a kind of emerging scientific spirituality. Basically, it's a theology grounded in a materialistic (but not necessarily deterministic) view of the human person. Basically, some are writing about how "spirituality" is a universal and desirable human attribute and that religions are mere patina over that.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. (source)

I agree that this seems to me to pose a substantially greater challenge to orthodox belief than the tired atheism of the likes of Richard Dawkins. In response, I think we need to beef up our doctrines around revelation. How and why has the Truth been revealed to us and how do we understand competing truth claims?


Tay's Perfect Martini

I'm fond of gin martinis. It's an elite drink, I know, but half the pleasure is learning to make it just right. Here's my Recipe...

4 green olives stuffed with pimentos*
4 ice cubes
1 teaspoon dry vermouth
4 ounces of gin (slightly less than 3 jiggers)

Timing is critical, so follow this order exactly. First, put the olives in the martini glass. You may add a little brine if that pleases you. Second, put the ice in a cocktail shaker (or a cocktail mixing glass if you have a bar strainer). Add the vermouth and the gin. Immediately** cover and shake*** for as long as it takes to say the Lord's Prayer. Then, IMMEDIATELY pour into the martini glass through a strainer. Enjoy.

*Do not use the kind soaked in vermouth, it will throw off the gin/vermouth balance of the drink
**Do not let the gin sit on the ice longer than directed here, the ice will add too much water to the drink
***Shake with a motion faithful to your spiritual temperament: some like a very solemn and deliberate motion, others dynamic and loose. Also, it's important to think the right thoughts. Think of someone like Steve McQueen or Marilyn Adams--cool....

The most common mistakes in making martinis (IMHO) are the following (in order of frequency)
  1. Letting the gin and vermouth sit in the ice too long
  2. Too much vermouth
  3. Not enough olives
  4. Sloshing the precious nectar over the side on the martini glass
  5. Failure to have recent copies of the New Yorker on which to place martinis in progress

A word about gin. These days, after some experimentation, I use Bombay Sapphire. I'm always happy to see Queen Victoria looking approvingly (or, as approving as she ever looked) on my alchemy. Here's a review of Bombay Sapphire I found on the web:
Spicy, with pronounced juniper palate, this super-premium version of regular Bombay (originally distilled in India) is the brainchild of marketing genius Michel Roux of Carillon Importer. Only introduced in 1988, it has become a major hit among gin connoisseurs. Sapphire offers a combination of no less than ten natural botanicals--more than any other gin--including grains of paradise, almonds, lemon peel, licorice, juniper berries, cubeb berries, orris, coriander, angelica and cassia bark. Makes a martini of unprecedented smoothness. (source)

But if you have the wallet, you should really try Hendrick's. It's almost twice as expensive as "normal" gins, but it is very flavorful and goes well with summer.



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 2008

Here's my Pentecost Sermon from last Sunday. To tell the truth, I was kind of disappointed with this one. It's okay, but not nearly as good as what I had come up with before I preached it. I had a very good sermon on my head which I then outlined on paper. I had the paper with the outline in front on me as I preached this. At a critical moment when I needed to make a big, insightful jump connecting initiation with love I couldn't remember what to say. I looked at the outline, but I couldn't find the right note on it to remind myself. Isn't that annoying?

So the sermon ended up being 10 minutes instead of 12. And it didn't quite come home in the way or with the spirit which I attended. How ironic on Pentecost! But that's the risk you take when your preaching relies so heavily on the proximal aid of the Holy Spirit!

I find that I can't really be critical of my own sermons to my parishioners. When I've said something in the past about a sermon that didn't live up to my own expectations, I usually get looks of alarm and dismay. I think part of the dynamic of pastoral preaching is that people look for things in the sermon they can grab onto, and criticizing it in retrospect deeply undermines the whole enterprise. I think it must feel like some bad faith. They know you're not perfect, but make a covenant to not point out your faults. So by criticizing your own sermons you break the good faith agreement that sermons will simply stand, in the public space, without criticism.

Of course, people will talk amongst themselves about your preaching, but that kind of private discourse is totally different from what they say the preacher! So I've learned that nothing good comes from criticizing your own sermons with parishioners.

Now, self-criticism is a totally different barrel of monkeys. There I believe we should be as critical and heartless as we care to be. In this case, what really frustrates me is that I was so in the spirit with this sermon a few hours before I gave it. Something changed on the walk from study to pulpit. I've experienced it before, and damn is it disconcerting!

It's ultimately a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. Perhaps I didn't pray through the sermon enough? Perhaps I didn't spend enough time becoming convinced by own ideas? Conviction is the currency of preaching, and you have to believe what you are saying to the bone if you want to "land" it with your congregation. Sigh.

A direct link to the MP3 file...

Anyway, life goes on. I'm preaching again this Sunday, so I have yet another chance to say a meaningful Word to my people. Preaching is hard.


The Painted Prayerbook

Here's a great blog: The Pained Prayerbook. It covers a lot of bases with very thoughtful reflections on the lectionary. It's worth a peak. Here's a self-description of the site:

With original artwork by Jan Richardson, this blog explores the intersections of writing, art, and faith, plus a few other things besides. Its pages include a weekly reflection on a text from the lectionary (the three-year cycle of readings that take us through much of the Bible). These lectionary reflections emerge from a process of lectio divina (“sacred reading”), the ancient art of praying with sacred texts, including the text of our own life.

The art pieces that appear with the weekly lectionary reflections are painted paper collages that Jan creates as part of the process of doing lectio with the texts. (source)

Doesn't that sound appealing? I especially commend it to you preachers out there, as her reflections make good sermon prep material.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Sorry for the lack of posts--I've had a lot on my plate in the last few days. Generally, I get chances to write blog entries while sitting at my desk, but the last few days have seen me away from that grand place. I've been out and about at meetings and seeing people and so forth.

Happy Mother's Day to all. Did you call your mother, yet?

It's also Pentecost, of course, and we celebrated at COTM with extra-special music and other bits of fanciness. I was pleased with how the service went and with various other details of parish life that seem to be falling into place. For instance, I seem to be finally getting a handle on some of the volunteerism problems--but it's too soon to declare victory. Basically, I decided to delegate the role of recruiting people to particular roles on particular days. Putting a sign up sheet in the back of the church just doesn't work with this bunch--they really prefer it when someone simply asks them, "Can you do the coffee on such-and-such a day."

My sermon was okay--but better when I composed it than live. Often it's the opposite.

Rainy here. That's good for the grass.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Homeless Action Group

I went to the Homelessness Action Group meeting an Trinity-St. Paul's United Church. City Councilor Adam Vaughn was a special guest. He said that the number of shelter beds in the city is actually declining because they are closing more places than they are opening. The closures are due to problems with deferred maintenance that requires capital expenditure to repair. The city wants the Province to pay for the work (approx. $30 Million) but the Province won't allocate the money. So, unsafe places are being closed faster than new places are coming on line.

Councilor Vaughn suggested that the city may just have to eat the cost of those capital repairs like they did with the subway improvements a few years ago. In that case, a major accident prompted the city to spend the money on repairs. But the loss of life due to the lack of shelter beds means that we have already had several TTC accidents. If you doubt this, check out the Homeless Memorial at Holy Trinity, Eaton Center. They have several hundred names of people that have died on the street. Not good. And what's $30 Million in a budget with $1.6 Billion for capital improvement in 2008 (and another $8.2 Billion for 2008 Operations)!

Strategically, though, the real problem is the lack of low-income housing in the city. Fixing that requires tweaking city/provincial rules around development. You see, left to their own devices, developers are not going to provide new low income housing--it's not profitable. That means that in the areas of the city where population is increasing, the increasing demand for low-wage work will be filled with people commuting into the city core. That means more demands on public transit and various other problems. What city needs is to be able to more strictly control what kinds of housing is built where in order to guarantee financial diversity in neighborhoods.

This could be done by changing zoning regulations to allow proscriptive and inclusive zoning. Inclusive zoning means that the city could require developers to achieve a certain mix of units in a given development. For example, requiring that a new condo tower have at least 20% family-sized units and half of those designated for low-income families. Proscriptive zoning goes even further, and allows the city to be quite specific about what developers are required to build. Take a look at the corner of Bathurst and Dundas. There is a one-story McDonald's there. It's a big waste of space in a tight part of the city. With the right laws in place, the developer could have been required to build to the maximum height allowance. The upper stories could have been housing.

The major counter-argument for such increased regulation is that it would "hurt" developers. But real estate development has been so crazy in Toronto for the past many years that the city leaders would welcome a cool-down in downtown development. There are condo towers popping up everywhere, and putting the breaks future development would give city services time to absorb the new demands.

What's important right now is not that developers get rich or that the skyline have bigger buildings, but that the communities being built are ecologically sound--that is, that they are good habitats for people. And that means planning neighborhoods, not just letting people build whatever they want.

Adam Vaughn is a convincing speaker. He's obviously a career civil servant (and before that a well-known reporter) who has a profound knowledge of how this city works. I hope he has some success in his plans!


Prayer of the Week - Pentecost

Beloved Parishioners,

On my mind the last few days has been the idea of God "dwelling among us." We often say that God is present in our lives or in certain places, but the manner of God's presence varies. That is, God has many different ways of being and showing His presence. For instance, in Genesis God enjoyed evening Garden walks with his new creation. In Exodus, God traveled with the Israelites in the form of a pillar of fire and cloud. They even made a tabernacle for God to dwell in among his mobile people. Eventually, a massive Temple was built to be God's house in Jerusalem. After it was destroyed by invading armies, the Jews returned and rebuilt it. Then God came into our presence in an entirely new way: as incarnate flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. The post-resurrection appearances of Christ to the apostles shows yet another way in which God has dwelled among us. This Sunday we are celebrating the feast of Pentecost--this recognizes the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church--yet another way in which God dwells with(in) us.

One traditional way that churches have maintained a sense of God dwelling among us is to maintain a "Reserve Sacrament." Whatever part of the host consecrated at the Eucharist that was not eaten could be set aside in the church during the week. One of the main uses for the Reserve Sacrament is to give Communion to the sick. The prayers done at the bedside then become a continuation of the public worship done on Sunday morning. Having the Reserve Sacrament in the church during the week also has a way of extending the worship through time. In other words, some residue of the Sunday worship remains behind--the feast is extended. The particular way in which God is present to us in the sacrament of the Last Supper continues to echo through the week.

I believe it was Andrew Sheldon who first began keeping some of the Sacrament in Reserve at COTM. For years it was kept on a shelf in the Sacristy, ready to be administered to those in need during the course of the week. I've taken this practice one step further by purchasing a simple wooden "Tabernacle" to hold the Reserve Sacrament in the church space itself. Now when I'm saying my prayers or when others come to pray here (as they often do during the week), we can look at the Tabernacle and know that God still dwells among us, not just as we gather on Sundays but in a continuous way. Communion is more than just a blessing--it is nourishment. And nourishment implies an ongoing process that has its beginning in one moment (Sundays) and fruition in another (our efforts to be holy and loving during the week).

You might notice that I haven't gone into a very technical explanation around the problems of Transubstantiation or other debates about what the Eucharist actually "is." To be honest, I'm not really sure how God is present in a piece of bread or a sip of wine, I just know that he is! My favourite definition of Sacraments says they are, "Outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace." I'm perfectly happy to let God figure out the "how" and concentrate instead on the "where."

You see, as church we are constantly trying to propagate places where people can encounter the living God. We create programs, gather for worship, fuss over buildings, publish materials, and make all kinds of other efforts to provide opportunities for people to be changed by encountering God. Keeping a Reserve Sacrament is yet another place where that can happen.

Heavenly Father, we thank you that through your Son you have given us signs of your love for us. Help us to feel your close and abiding presence in our lives. Preserve and nurture the Holy Spirit that resides in us as your gift to those who believe. Keep us ever mindful of you, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

In Christ,

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Return

A friend of mine, a Rhode Scholar whom I dated briefly in High School, sends me this poem by Geneen Marie Haugen.

The Return

Some day, if you are lucky,
you'll return from a thunderous journey
trailing snake scales, wing fragments
and the musk of Earth and moon.

Eyes will examine you for signs
of damage, or change
and you, too, will wonder
if your skin shows traces

of fur, or leaves,
if thrushes have built a nest
of your hair, if Andromeda
burns from your eyes.

Do not be surprised by prickly questions
from those who barely inhabit
their own fleeting lives, who barely taste
their own possibility, who barely dream.

If your hands are empty, treasureless,
if your toes have not grown claws,
if your obedient voice has not
become a wild cry, a howl,

you will reassure them. We warned you,
they might declare, there is nothing else,
no point, no meaning, no mystery at all,
just this frantic waiting to die.

And yet, they tremble, mute,
afraid you've returned without sweet
elixir for unspeakable thirst, without
a fluent dance or holy language

to teach them, without a compass
bearing to a forgotten border where
no one crosses without weeping
for the terrible beauty of galaxies

and granite and bone. They tremble,
hoping your lips hold a secret,
that the song your body now sings
will redeem them, yet they fear

your secret is dangerous, shattering,
and once it flies from your astonished
mouth, they--like you--must disintegrate
before unfolding tremulous wings.

--Geneen Marie Haugen


Sermon - Easter 7 (Sunday of Ascension) 2008

Here's my sermon from Sunday. Short but sweet. Mainly I wanted to link the idea of God withdrawing from our presence at Ascension with the way in which parents withdraw from the lives of their children--both are act of love which provides the requisite freedom for growth.

A direct link to the MP3 file...


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shaker Music

I've always been a fan of Shaker Music. So I was very impressed to hear the hymn "In Yonder Valley" while watching a TV show "The Unit" (a recent fixation of mine). "In Yonder Valley" is the oldest recorded Shaker Song we have--it was written by Father James Whittaker and is a paraphrase of the Song of Songs.
In yonder valley there flows sweet union
Let us arise and drink our fill
The winter's passed and the spring appears
The turtle dove is in our land
In yonder valley there flows sweet union
Let us arise and drink our fill

One blogger about music pointed out that "In Yonder Valley" has a striking similarity to "the plainsong Salve, Regina as it is sung in the ton simple" (source). The same blogger also recommends the Boston Camerata's CD of Shaker music that was grounded in both research and the cooperation of the existing Shaker community.

Take a look at this picture of the remaining Shakers:
(Sister Marie, Anne Azéma, Sister Frances, Sister June, November 1999 (source))

Don't these ladies look like nuns? There is something about men and women that like celibate lives dedicated to prayer in religious community that radiates. I'm glad to know there are a still a few people living this particularly American form of Protestant Monasticism. I wonder how they would feel about that label?

I really think that a lot of the future of Congregational Hymnody is to be found in these earlier form of music like Gregorian Chant and Shaker Music (not to mention Shape Note and other early music forms). This stuff is incredibly rich soil in which to dig for seeds long dormant.


Monday, May 5, 2008


Today I slept in--then took one of cats, James, to the Vet with Betsy for his "operation." Did you know that when you adopt cat from the city pound they actually require you to sign something that says you promise to have the animal spayed for neutered. Still, I feel a little bad about taking my boy for this surgery. Can anyone say, "Transference?" Anyway, he'll be there overnight for blood work and fasting and then have his surgery tomorrow and stay the night. We'll pick him up on Wednesday. I feel bad for the little guy, but I think he'll be in good hands.

On the way home Betsy and I drove by some properties that we are thinking about. We don't know if we'll be able to stay here on Farnham past this summer--so we are exploring our escape options.

Once home we set to work on the yard. While Denise was given the special dispensation to explore the backyard, Betsy and I se to work on various projects for a few hours. I'm finally starting to see some sprouts from the grass seed I put down a few weeks ago, and that's a relief. I found myself wishing I had my dad's Rototiller.

Now we are getting ready for supper. Denise, tired from her adventures, is curling up next to betsy on the couch.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Unit

Lately I've been getting into the show "The Unit"--it's produced by David Mamet and has his style of language. It's a sort of a smarter version of "24." The excitement is there, but the scenarios are much more realistic and just as thrilling. But the really big difference is that "the Unit" understands military culture in a way that "24" does not. Neat stuff.


Saturday, May 3, 2008


There are two basic ethical frameworks: Teleological and Deontological. The former concerns itself with the context and results (intended or actual) of ethical decisions. Deontological ethics, however, assumes that decisions can be understood in terms of rightness or wrongness. Consider this example:
Driving at night in the country, you encounter a red stop light. There are no other cars around. You wait several minutes but the light doesn't seem to change. You wonder whether it is broken. A Deontologist would turn right at the light, then perform a legal U-turn in the next available driveway. A Teleological Ethicist would simply turn left through the red light.

This is on my mind because I have encountered a situation where I can do great good by violating a rule I disagree with. I'm enough of a utilitarian to ask, "What's the harm and what's the benefit?" If I do the thing I'm contemplating, I can see no harm except possibly to myself if I'm "caught." Yet even then I think reasonable people would agree that I'm justified and that my actions were honorable and made in good faith. And so the remote risk of self harm is present and balanced against the relatively certain benefit to a person in serious need. I imagine a scale in which the two sides of the swing arm terminate at very different distances from the fulcrum. Two pounds benefit versus an ounce of risk--but how long each side?

A skeptic might ask, "How can you trust your own judgment about these risks and benefits? Shouldn't you submit your cause to the community's wisdom as recorded in law and policy?" Yet law and institutional policies are such blunt expressions of community will. That's the problem, IMHO, with Kantian ethics: you end up with impossibly generalized principles. Such propositions as "Lying is wrong" are problematic as soon as you start thinking of actual cases. This priority granted to local phenomenon is not a flaw (Kant thought that every ethical principle was worthwhile insomuch as it is universal) as it is evidence of a different understanding of the relationship of the part to the whole.

You see, some people believe that everybody should be treated the same, and they assume that it is possible to treat everyone the same with the technologies of law or policy or (in the medical profession) the "Standard of Care." Yet I would argue that no human-built system this side of heaven could possibly be impartial--nor should the quest for impartiality be the ultimate goal of law/policy/SOP. The goal is the alleviation of suffering, not avoiding "being unfair"! I think Foucault would point out that laws/policies/SOP's in all cases serve the institution, and not the individual. The individuals resist this to a greater or lesser degree, and an equilibrium is established.

I know, this sounds really abstract. But as Aristotle pointed out, the study of ethics is no small thing, but rather answers the question "how ought we live?" And these days I could take a remote risk to bring great relief. So my decision affects more lives than my own.

Does it matter that I'm a priest? Well, yes, I think it does. I'm not only constrained by the ethical obligations of baptism (think "WWJD" or the more classical formulation "Imitatio Christi"), but also by the fact that I must avoid being a "scandal" to my congregation (cf. St. Paul discussing eating meat sacrificed to idols). I think that priests that deny the fact that their role as leader and example constrains them somewhat are fooling themselves. If Jesus were alive today, he'd be arrested. But it's hard to lead a congregation from jail. This is obvious, more subtle truth is available by thinking about what Jesus might say from jail. Sure, there's MLK's letter. But check out "The Grand Inquisitor" chapter of Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov.

Above is scan of a page of Dostoevsky's notes from chapter five. My point is just that as a priest I do have a different ethical obligation than a non-priest, just as doctors and lawyers have ethical obligations peculiar to their professions.

Anway, the main thing I learned from sitting at the feet of ethicists like Margaret Farley and Thomas Ogletree is that there are always more questions to ask. In fact, you can easily stall ethical pronouncement by multiplying mitigating factors. The result is a certain humility about ethics which brings us, I think, back to where we started: I know a person I could greatly help by assuming a small risk. Jesus would do it--shall I?


Friday, May 2, 2008

The Buffalo Builders at COTM

Last week a local band, The Buffalo Builders, did some recording for a new album at COTM. They appreciated the space for the acoustics as well as the spirituality of it. Several members of the band are PK's ("Preacher's Kid") and I'm told that the space really worked them on many levels. They made this You Tube video during the experience...

BTW, the book that Holly holds up to the camera in the first few seconds is my copy of the St. Augustine's Prayer Book that I keep in the prie-dieu where I say the Offices. It makes me smile to know that she found this ultra-high church devotional book compelling! Loren Gavitt, the editor of the SAPB, was once on staff at St. Mary Magdalene's (where I was the Associate Priest)--so it's a neat connection in the it's-not-such-a-small-church-after-all kind of way.

It was our pleasure to offer them to space to be creative. I love being able to serve the community like that. I'm also anxious to hear what they recorded!


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene

This was too funny to not post...


The Bishop's Comany Dinner

Last night Betsy, myself, and a group of parishioners from COTM went to the Bishop's Company Dinner. It's a yearly fund raising event that provides for some causes having to do with clergy support. It's also a chance to schmooze with various players in the Diocese. I'm an extrovert, so this kind of thing is right up my alley. I made several new contacts of people I'd like to get to know better. I also got to make some introductions between people I think should know each other. And, of course, I got to check in with friends and acquaintances whom I don't normally see except for events like this one.

Incidentally, one of the things that came up was a priest-friend of mine (Jason V.) suggested bringing "Fr. Matthew" (the You Tube phenom) up to Toronto to give some kind of talk about evangelism. We'll have to scrape together some money for a ticket and honorarium, but I think we manage that between our two churches and maybe another.

If you don't know who "Father Matthew" is, check out his work: