Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Chora

Theodore Metochites presenting his church (the Chora) to Christ. This picture is from Wikipedia Media Commons, I'll post ours tomorrow.

Today we saw Chora Church (pronounced "whore-ah")--also known as Kariye Camii. The name "Chora" is really just the last word of the formal greek title for the church: ἡ Ἐκκλησία του Ἅγιου Σωτῆρος ἐν τῃ Χώρᾳ (i.e.: the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country). "Chora" means country. This church was located outside the walls built by Constantine (but was later enveloped by the growing city and the Theodosian walls built to protect the enlarged metropolis). The original church was built in the 5th century, but it went through several revisions (some necessitated by earthquakes, etc.). The most impressive parts of the current structure, including the elaborate mosaics and frescoes, were built in the 14th century. The man responsible for them, Theodore Metochites, was a rare man gifted academically and politically. He was the Byzantine equivalent of the Prime Minister at the height of his power, but then a regime change brought about his exile. He was allowed to return to Constantinople having promised to stay out of politics and be a monk at the Chora. This he did. In his last years he wrote that he hoped the Chora Church would secure his legacy until the end of the ages. It just might.

Impressive mosaics, frescos, and marble work fill the place--and yet so much is lost from it's Byzantine glory. We took a ton of pictures, but it's late and I need to get to bed. I'll just wrap up by saying that I'm enjoying this city more and more as I stay here. The place is electric with energy and vibrant in a dozen ways. Just walking down the streets is exhilarating.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Past Repeated

I won't write a long blog entry about today since Betsy already gave a play-by-play on her blog. Here's an excerpt:
Our next visit was to the church of the Theotokos Pammakaristos (Church of the Joyous Mother of God). I have a special interest in this church because I wrote a paper about the parekklesion (side chapel) which has fantastic mosaics preserved inside. However, my interest focused on exterior facade of the parekklesion. There are corbels on this building too, which may be evidence that the exterior facade of the church delimited a space for some kind of activity (perhaps a ritual related to the burials inside the parekklesion?) outside the church. What was the function of the space defined by the canopies or banners supported by these corbels? I’m not sure. There is a very long inscription that runs along the string course (just above the lowest level of arches) and some other funky inscriptions higher up on the third level of windows and niches. Funerary? Festivals? Not sure and there just isn’t a lot of other evidence to draw from. (source)

As Betsy mentions later in her blog, I'll be thinking (and writing) more about the modern Christian church in Turkey at a later point. These folks are putting up with a lot of discrimination and hardship and it's not hard to see history repeating itself viz. the patristic era and today.

Also missing from her blog entry was a mention of the delicious snack we had after looking at architecture: some of the best pistachio baklava I've ever had topped with (what else) pistachio ice-cream. Istanbul is famous for it's baklava, which is a great carbo-tweak after a day of walking around the city.


Turkish Carpet

A woman creating a wool carpet by tying knots on a loom. Most turkish carpets are made in rural homes as a way to generate income.

Here, silk is extracted from cocoons by first heating them in water then pulling the threads from several cocoons together onto a spindle. It takes a lot of cocoons to get just a little silk.

This pure silk carpet took 3 1/2 years to make and costs around $9,000 if you buy it in Turkey. What the picture doesn't show is how the color's change depending on the viewing angle. Also missing the sensation of walking barefoot on this masterpiece.


Pictures from Ephesus

Of course, we took a few hundred pictures at Ephesus. But here are just a few...

The excavation of the residences on the hill near the library are extraordinary. They've spent something like 40 years digging these houses out and were rewarded with beautiful frescos and mosaics.

If you look very closely you can see Betsy in blue at the bottom of the frame. This is the fascade of the once-great library of Celsus at Ephesus

A closer-up image of the stunning carving of the library at Ephesus

Me standing very close to where St. Paul once preached (the Theater in Ephesus).


Hierapolis and Selçuk Pictures...

Looking down the central aisle of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Selçuk.

Check out the cross-shaped baptismal font in this baptistry. Steps lead into the water from both sides.

"St. Philip Slept Here"--in a manner of speaking. This was his martyrium (until it was undone by fire/earthquake). No word on what happened to his remains...

Me on the Synthronon (priest's seat) in the ruined Cathedral of Hierapolis. It's off the path from where most visitors to the site go, but the plan of the church and the baptistry are still clearly evident


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


It's 1 A.M. local time. We just got into the flat in Istanbul that will serve as home base for the next week or so. It's compact, but has everything we need. The owner was even nice enough to leave milk, bread, a few eggs, and some tomatoes for us.

It was a full day. We slept soundly in the hotel by the sea in a town near Ephesus. In the morning we had a short turkish breakfast (olives, bread, watermelon, and a hard-boiled egg) before being picked up for our touring.

We spent the whole morning at Ephesus. The site has been well-preserved and much has been uncovered by a long-running Austrian project. Since the 1960's they have been digging out a set of dwellings built into the hillside near the great library of Celsus. The dig revealed some fantastic mosaics and frescos that give a very clear sense of what life was like for the upper-crust in a provincial capital city. The presentation of these ruins were very impressive--metal and glass walkways showed things off with nary a foot-tred.

The library fascade is even more beautiful in person than in the photographs. The details of the carving are extraordinary. There is also some evidence of the city's Christian history. Walking into the theater, I had the wonderful thought that both St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul once preached there. I stood near where the stage would have been and imagined myself in their position, preaching to a crowd of hundreds, perhaps more, in a bustling trade town--at the time the largest seaport on the Aegean.

As it typical on these group tours, historic site tend to alternate with "Turkish Culture" demonstrations--which is a way of saying they show you how they make things you can buy. It's one step up from an infomercial. So after Ephesus we stopped at a carpet co-op to learn all about how they make turkish carpets. Actually, this tour was quite informative and we saw some true masterpieces made by local women in their homes. One of the most impressive of these was silk, about 10 feet by 20 feet. It took the woman who made it 3 1/2 years of work. The list price was about $18,000 USD/CAD, which really means about $9,000 when the haggling is done. The carpet salesman told me that if we bought the same carpet in Toronto we would probably pay at least $30,000, and I tend to believe him. Even then, I think it would be a bargain considering that this is huge pure silk carpet that took a master several years to complete the intricate design.

I was sorely tempted to buy a prayer-sized cotton rug for my own meditation and devotions, but we just don't have $400 for something like that right now. Still, they did a good job of trying to sell it to us. Funny how sales jobs go through the same routine everywhere, I wouldn't have been surprised if they pitch guy had learned his craft in the U.S. or Canada. But he was a nice guy and true to his word about not pressuring us too much.

Lunch outside the carpet place was one of the best lunches I've had in Turkey so far. As is typical, there were hot and cold appetizers including olives, a tomato salad, and a seaweed dish topped with a delicious yogurt sauce. The main course was several kinds of simple grilled spiced meats and potato. I washed in down with the local beer (which is a surprisingly good pilsner).

After the carpet place we headed to the old Temple of Artemis. Little remains of this structure--once one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Much of the marble was carted off in the Byzantine era to build other monuments and places of worship for the new religion.

Next was the house that supposedly belongs to the Virgin Mary. While it seems quite possible that the Blessed Virgin Mary (and St. John the Evangelist) spent their last days in Ephesus, the claim that this particular house was hers is more dubious. The site was crowded and commercialized and it was hard to maintain a pious attitude. Still, I said some "Hail Marys" and thought pleasant things about the God Bearer. Yet this marion shrine, IMHO, is not nearly as spiritually or otherwise impressive as Our Lady of Guatalupe in Mexico City. Anyway, we saw the house (mostly a reconstruction) and had fresh squeezed O.J. and ice cream in the cafe.

Up until this point, our tour guide had not mentioned the next stop--a leather fashion show. I kid you not, we went from the house of the Blessed Virgin to a fashion show complete with strobe lights and gawdy club music. After the show we were shown into the shop to peruse the leather goods. Our tour guide waited outside looking disgusted by the whole thing as she sipped her apple tea. Lots of hovering salesmen and people from the cruise ships with sunburns and stickers on their shirts that identify to which tour of which ship they belong. Stupid. I mean, the leather was nice, but they didn't even try to pretend this was anything other than a sales job--no wonder it's last on the tour.

When we got back to Selcuk (a town near Ephesus) Betsy and I had time to walk to the old Basilica of St. John. This is where the Evangelist was buried. A large shrine church on the site was once one of the most impressive churches of the world. Earthquakes and then the Turkish conquest of the area in the 14th century left it in ruins, but the restoration underway since the 1920's has done a wonderful job. Enough remains to get a clear sense of the plan and the grandeur of the place. I was particularly impressed with the large baptistry. I've seen the cross-shaped font with steps going in before in some modern churches, and I suppose this was one of their models. Naturally, I stepped down and imagined what it would feel like.

From there it was back to the tour office in Selcuk where I am composing most of this message. While we waited for our ride to the airport I bought a sandwich for Betsy from a local vendor and a peach from a local farmer's market. People are friendly and helpful even though I no almost no Turkish. I do feel right at home, though, and think I've pretty much figured out the essentials of life in Turkey for a rolling Moss (gathering no stone).

Tomorrow we are meeting up with an old friend and collegue of Betsy's--Vasileios. He is a Greek Byzantianist that we always seem to be meeting in odd places. The first time that Betsy and I came to Toronto together we stayed with him. Then when he was studying at the Met in NYC we went and visited him there! Now we are in Turkey and he's here, too. Tomorrow he's going to show us a church that he has researched extensively (he even wrote a book on it). In the evening we are meeting with a friend of a friend who does good work in Istanbul.

I'll post some pics tomorrow. We're wiped tonight.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Some Pictures from Cappadocia

Seleme Monastery was once one of the largest monastery complexes in Cappadocia. Back then scaffolding and ladders would have provided access to these formidable cells. Channels inside the rock also connect may of these rooms and even provide special shelters in case of attack. The monks would roll large millstones across the tunnel to block it. The had ventilation and food and water enough to outlast would-be-plunderers.

One of the monastery churches at Selime--note that although the floor collapsed you can see the triple arch typical of Byzantine churches of the time. The space on the left was used for preparing the gifts. They were brought out the procession and then consecrated in the central section and then after the Communion brought to the section on the right.

We went trekking in the Ihlara Valley, once popular with early Christians who left behind something like 150 (no exaggeration) chapels and churches carved in the soft rock. Few survive, fewer still with frescos in reasonable shape. Here's an example.

the interior of a church carved as part of a HUGE underground city complex in Cappadocia

Back on the Road

Antibotics are a beautiful thing. 36 hours after starting the Cipro I was feeling improved. 48 hours and I think I'm pretty much cured. Yesterday we checked out of the cave hotel. Yes, parts of this hotel were actually carved out of the rock surface. Cappadocia is covered with this peculiar kind of volcanic rock that is soft to cave but strong enough to maintain its integrity. I wasn't completely well, but nonetheless checked onto the night bus to Pamukkale.

Ten very uncomfortable, cramped hours later we arrived. After an interminable delay twindling our thumbs at daybreak outside a travel agency office, someone came to take us to our hotel. We were only there for about four hours: long enough to shower and take a much-needed nap in the A/C.

I still wasn't hungry enough to eat much for lunch, but I did enjoy seeing the strange hot spring formations at Pamukkale. (I should have pictures to post soon). Yet even more interesting were the ruins of the city of Hierapolis. People have been living here since the 2nd Century B.C., but the place was abandoned by the 14th Century C.E. Many of the structures were damaged by earthquakes, but what remains is impressive. Betsy and I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the Byzantine-era churches on the site.

The cathedral, for example, had two features I noted. One was the Synthronon--a kind of half circle of seats used the priests behind the altar against the wall of the apse. Sitting there looking down the nave I could easily imagine presiding in the place. It has a nice feel as a church--not too big. The other thing I noticed was the adjoining baptistry. It was a large room with a huge font decorated with lovely marble. Having such as elevated view of baptism is a good thing to express architecturally, I think.

The last and most ambitious part of the site we visited was the Martyrium of St. Philip. It was a hot day and were exhausted and probably dehydrated, but we really pushed ourselves to the limit to climb the hill up to this ancient church. It's an usually church, so it was good to get some good pictures and video for Betsy. Then we climbed down and downed as much water as we could stand.

Back on the mini-bus a smooth ride to a town near Ephesus. This was soooo much better than the inter-city busses we have been braving. It was three hours, but with room to spread out and plenty of air circulating (alas, no AC). We stopped at a roadside service station where a man was selling one of my favorite drinks in the world--fresh squeezed orange juice. They sell this all over, and my interest was a good indication that my bug is mostly gone.

Indeed, by the time we settled into tonight's hotel I was hungry for the first time in days. Had Calamari and Chicken Shish.

Early to bed tonight (we really didn't sleep much on the bus last night) and tomorrow we'll see Ephesus. We also might get to the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist and also the last home of Blessed Mary. Strange to think that Mary, the mother of Jesus, used to haunt these grounds. Nor was this place foreign to John the Evangelist. Fascinating.

By the way, the town of Gorme, where we spent a few days, is a stone's throw from Nyssa (as in, St. Gregory of Nyssa). it's a small, small Christian world.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ataturk's Revenge

Friday evening before dinner I was starting to feel unwell--by the morning I had a full-blown case of "Atatürk's Revenge." I was a sick puppy. Nonetheless, I attempted to push through a grueling day of sight seeing that included a 3 km trek through a river valley and exploring a huge underground city with many steps and low ceilings. By the time we got back to town I was really struggling and in no shape to take an 8 hour over night bus trip. So we called our travel agent who arranged this part of the trip and changed our plans to add a night here in Goreme. I went to the pharmacy and they said it sounded like a classic case of an intestinal bug. Even without seeing a doctor (which was an option) they could give me antibiotics (Cipro) and something for the symptoms, etc. I took the drugs.

Back at the hotel I had a rough night. I'm glad I didn't try to do the night bus in my condition! Today we are taking it easy and will attempt the bus again tonight. It shifts everything back by a day, except that we are going to make up the time by taking a plane from Ephesus back to Istanbul rather than the bus (1 hour flight vs. over-night bus).

So... tonight we take the bus to Pamukkale. We'll have time to take a shower and relax a bit and then see some sights. That evening a short bus ride to a town near Ephesus--go to bed. In the morning a full day of seeing Ephesus and then taking a flight back to Istanbul. There we will settle into a flat where we will spend the rest of our days in Turkey. I'm looking forward to that!

I think I'm over the worst of my illness. Now I'm just going to take a nap (or at least lie down)...


Friday, July 25, 2008

History Told by the Winners

This morning there was no running water when woke up, but by the time we finished breakfast it was working again and we had time for a quick shower before joining the tour. This was a pre-arranged tour, and there were good and bad things about it. On the plus side, we came away with a descent overview of this part for Cappadocia, On the negative side, we spent too little time exploring rock cut churches and monasteries and too much time giving local businesses a chance to sell us their pottery, wine, etc.

Looking liturgically east toward the altar (visible in the back) in one of the Goreme churches

Here a picture of the interior of a typical rock-cut church. This site was in use by Christian monastics up until the 1920's and features a number of different class rooms, refectories, living spaces, and chapels. Note the templon barrier (Byzantine version of a rood screen and a forerunner of the iconostasis now common in Orthodox churches. The altar is visible just beyond. It's square and about two feet per side. I stood at it and tried to imagine celebrating the Eucharist.

Frescos in apse

Here is an example of the elaborate fresco work contained in some of the churches. Note that even though there is no structural reason to do so, these churches conform to the layout of above-ground Byzantine churches with domes and vaults. Unfortunately, many of the Frescos have had the faces scratched off. Initially the tour guide (weak in both English and history) tried to tell us that they had simply fallen off. When someone on the tour asked how the damage could look so deliberate, the tour guide offered several theories that my art-historian wife thought were compelete B.S. One was that local children had defaced the images (unlikely given the both the height and the difficulty of the work). Another was that the Christians wanted to take pieces of the frescos with them "for good luck." The idea that these monks would have deliberately destroyed such beautiful works to take a handful of lucky plaster dust is pretty absurd. And even if they did, why scratch out only the faces? A much simpler explanation is that the destruction was the result of Islamic Iconoclasm. The same thing was at work when they painted over the mosaics in Hagia Sophia. This whole recasting of history to excuse the deliberate destruction of culture and the fact that our tour guide kept referring to the "prophet Jesus" was a good reminder that much of what we are seeing is being viewed through an Ottoman lens. In fact, it's only recently that Turkey has made much effort at preserving and showing it's Byzantine heritage.

An example of damaged frescos

Modern Turkey is very nationalistic. Lots of flags and patriotism. In fact, it's still technically illegal under "article 301" to say anything deemed to be "insulting to turkishness" which basically means being critical of either the current powers-that-be or even those of history. Freedom of speech is not a basic human right, here. What's interesting is that a lot of the 301 prosecutions may have been about thwarting E.U. Membership after all:

In its short life the article has been heavily criticized, both in Turkey and outside.[22] A criticism heard in Turkey, and also voiced by some outside, is that it has turned into a tool of the nationalist "old guard", who, so is claimed, use it to press charges against people of international renown, not to stifle dissenting opinions but with the aim of thwarting the admission process to the EU. (source)

This brings up an interesting observation--we have yet to encounter even the slightest hint of anti-Americanism on this trip. True, we've mostly been in touristy areas and when asked where we are from answer honestly "Canada," but even when the subject of America has come up with our Turkish hosts they have never said anything critical. No one has been anything but nice to us.

Tomorrow more rock-cut stuff including an underground city.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


The bus trip to Cappadocia was pretty challenging--12 1/2 hours, cramped and hot. This was no tourist bus--this is simply the way most people in Turkey would get from Istanbul to Cappadocia. It was just one step up from the "Chicken Buses" I've ridden in Nepal and Mexico. Although there was no livestock, we smelled like some when we finally arrived in Göreme. Our hotel room is actually carved out of some of the soft rock this area of the world is famous for. After lunch and a nap we explored some of the area on a serious (2 hour) horseback ride up the valley ridges and through farm land and villages . Seeing the fig orchards and vineyards was very satsifying.

Back in town, we had a late supper and are now heading to bed. A local dish is meat cooked in a clay jar. The waiter brings the jar over to your table and carefully breaks it apart with a hammer (attempting to keep the shards out of the food). Very nice. People are friendly and the food is good. Tomorow we'll see the ancient rock carved churches and monasteries up close. They even have cities carved entirely underground.

A few pics...

Betsy on horseback

Monk Cells carved into the hillside

Breaking open a clay cooking jar to reveal meaty goodness


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cisterns and Mosques...

We have a few minutes before getting on the bus for Cappadocia, so I'll post a few notes about today.

Fantastic breakfast=late start. I'm very fond of the way they do breakfast in this country--lots of little tastes. Simple things well prepared. Today I even ate some raw honey comb. But once we did get moving we hit the streets pretty hard--walking several km in the process.

The first stop was a mosaic museum with pieces of the floor from the old palace (6th Century). The restoration project was a very big deal and as much on display as the actual mosaics.

Next we saw the former Church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus, now a Mosque. It's known as "Little Hagia Sophia" because of the shared floor plan. Back a few hundred years ago, Latin (Roman Catholic Clergy) were allowed to celebrate Mass in this otherwise Orthodox Church thanks to an obscure connection this place had to the West.

The Mosque Sexton (not sure his real title) spoke basically no English. But because we lingered more than most tourists in this quiet mosque (and perhaps because I put a health donation in the box and Betsy showed proper etiquette by covering her hair) he motioned me to follow him. When I did, he pulled back a piece of the carpet to reveal a large panel of glass floor--through that you could see some of the original mosaic (?) floor of the church.

Outside we refreshed ourselves in a quiet, shaded tea garden. A lady next to us tried to communicate, but she had absolutely no English, so we didn't get much further than relating that we are from Canada and are married.

Constantine's Column was a bit disappointing--it's completely covered by scaffolding as part of a restoration project. So we went ahead to the Binbirderik Cistern. Unlike the Basilica Cistern we saw yesterday, this one is drained and less dominating by tourist traffic. They did have some nice architectural models of important Byzantine structures, most of which have little remaining.

Next we feasted on Kebabs and a well-regarded place. We are quickly learning how to make sense of the food and drink culture around here! Now we'll be heading on a night bus out East. Not sure what kind of Internet Access we'll find!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesday Morning

Betsy with Hagia Sophia on the Seven Hills Restaurant Terrace

I took that nice picture while we were waiting for our supper last night night. It was gorgeous to watch the sun go down from this spot. After supper we went back to the hotel and went to bed early. Got up around 10:30 local time (3:30 AM EST) to enjoy breakfast at the hotel. The spread was extraordinary. For instance, there were a variety of fresh breads and pastries served with jams I've never tasted: imagine tahini and honey or rose jam on a sesame and date bread. I had fresh cherry juice and coffee along with some olives and cheeses. Fantastic.

At the moment we are getting organized to start the rest of our day. First stop: Hagia Sophia, of course.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Arrived Safe and Sound

It was a grueling trip--especially the last leg stuffed into the cabin of an Easyjet 737 next to a dude that was taking up too much room. I had it when people hog the arm rest and the space beyond thanks to extra-hairs forearms (his, not mine--my forearm hair is soft and supple, not wirey and nasty like this guy's). I had restless legs and a sore neck and couldn't really sleep and had nothing else to really distract me.

But the upside was meeting up with Betsy and finally arriving in Turkey. The hotel sent a shuttle to pick us up, but when we arrived downtown they told us that they were concerned the ongoing renovations to the hotel would disturb our stay. Thus we were upgraded to a sister hotel that is much more posh. I don't know why, but I've always had great luck when it comes to parking spots and hotel rooms.

After we got settled in the room and snacked on Turkish Delight, we went for a walk around Hagia Sophia. While doing this, we spotted a rooftop restaurant that looked like it had a commanding view of the ancient church, the Blue Mosque, and also the Bosporus river. We made our way there and were not disapointed. We watched the light change on the monuments as the sun set. Ate some excellent fish and enjoyed the breeze coming off the water. Life is good. But we are exhausted and going to bed. Tomorrow we'll check out the inside of Hagia Sophia and possibly some other sights.


Mailman Seeks Utilikilt

My sister Meg pointed this out to me: a U.S. Postal Carrier petitioning his peers to change the uniform regs such that he can wear his beloved Utilikilt. In fact, he's wearing the exact style/fabric as mine!

Incidentally, the last time I wore my Kilt (last Thursday) a man came up to me and asked me a bunch of questions, he's been trying to find a place that sells them in Toronto. I told him about the one place I know that sells them, but suggested he would do well simply to order it over the internet straight from the company. I love my utilikilt--it's the most comfortable thing I've ever worn.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 10 2008

I didn't want to leave without posting this sermon from today. One of the best I've done for several months, IMHO. I was really on fire. Got to do the video, too, since at least one person told me that my use of body language was the best he'd seen me do. Nice to go out on a bang!

The amusing thing is that during most of the prep for this sermon I had focused Jesus's parable about the wheat and the tares. But about half an hour before the service my attention shifted back to the Hebrew Bible lesson about Jacob's dream of the ladder. So when I got up to preach my notes were completely useless and I ignored them. Instead I found a homiletic butter-zone around dreams and stayed there. About half way through the sermon I was getting chills and goose bumps as I felt the energy flowing--at the moment it felt like I was shifting gears in a sports car: I stepped to the side of the lectern and dropped my voice and just made a connection.

When this stuff works is incredibly satisying. Naturally, extemporaneous preaching doesn't always go this well for me. But when it does, it makes the self-judgment totally worthwhile. Anyway, enjoy...

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


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Getting Ready to Leave...

It looks like I'm not going to get the financing together in time to get a bid in on that house I liked. The mortgage broker ran into trouble getting my housing allowance recognized by the potential lenders. He's going to work on it more next week, but the offer is due Monday. Oh well. Lot's of fish in the sea. And my Real Estate Agent tells me that the market is shifting towards buyers and away from sellers right now, anyway. So we should just enjoy our vacation and tackle this monkey again when we get back.

In the mean time, I oriented the house-sitters to our place and have been running around taking care of various pieces of business. For instance, I had to make sure we have enough cat food at home to take care of the little beasts while we are gone.

I had a dream last night that Betsy came home. I miss her a lot. Her latest blog entry compares her summer Greek program with camp. From the entry:
  1. We temporarily live in close quarters in what we all agree are substandard accommodations: just like camp
  2. 0We eat together and share our food concoctions made with whatever happens to be at hand: just like camp
  3. We go around town and to the shops with our set of friends: just like camp
  4. We go on adventures and out for entertainment in the evenings and weekends (some went to Giants Causeway this past weekend, others went to Opera in the Park last night): just like camp
  5. We don’t have a “camp song,” but we do have a “camp motto” μάθων πάθων (learning by suffering): just like camp
  6. Many have exchanged email addresses and phone numbers vowing to keep in touch: just like camp

I really need this vacation, I'm realizing. I'm tired and frustrated and need to be inspired by the otherness of a place like Turkey.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Ear Licking

Denise, my cat, has been especially affectionate with me since Betsy has been gone. Early this morning (circa 6 A.M.) she kept poking me in the head with her paw to wake up and pet her. This I did, but I'd quickly drift off to sleep again. But her tongue in my ear sure got my attention. Rest assured, having my cat's tongue in my ear feels as weird as it sounds.

Luckily, we've got some friends coming to house-sit while we're in Turkey to keep the cats company. I hate to think what they might do in desperation without some human contact.

The house is now back in order. I know Betsy was only gone for about two-weeks, but that's plenty of time for stuff to get messy. Not dirty, really, but just messy. There were a lot of things that needed to be put away or straightened up.

Today much running around and doing last minute errands....

Batman: The Dark Knight

At the moment I'm pretty stressed out trying to get everything done before I leave on Sunday. So I was pleased to receive an invitation to a special pre-release showing of the new Batman movie. It was fantastic. Much better than the other movies in the series. I especially liked the fact that it was actually surprising. A number of times the film went in a totally different direction than I expected. Seeing Heath Ledger perform so well as The Joker just reconfirms what a tragedy his death was.

(As an aside: I recently read an interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky where he criticized Heath's family and friends for not being more forthright about how the abuse of prescription drugs led to his death. Pinsky is shifting from sex-education to drug-abuse-education because he thinks this has become an even worse public health menace than HIV.)

Maggie Gyllenhaal also does a terrific job.

Thumbs up all around. It manages to sustain a sense of darkness and menace throughout. Little wonder it's getting such stellar reviews...


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our First Pick

BTW, I see no reason I can't be specific on here about the actual house we've found as a first pick. Keep in mind, I'm not 100% certain we can get the financing, etc., set up in time, but this is the first place we've looked at that I definitely would love to live in.

From the MLS listing...
General Description
This Is It! Wonderful Home In Fabulous Riverdale Area. Shows 10++ Generous Size Rooms, Open Concept, High 9 Foot Ceilings. Hardwood Flrs Thru-Out. Loft Attic For Great Storage. Great 15X16 Priv. Deck On Spectacular 144Ft Lot. Perfect For Entertaining Lovely Reno'd One Bdrm Bsmt Apt. Also W/ High Ceilings. Parking. Minutes To Subway, Shopping Etc.**** EXTRAS **** Incl: 2 Stoves, 2 Fridges, Built-In Dishwasher, Built-In Microwave, Garden Shed, Alarm System, Lights On Deck And Elfs.Excl: Dining Room Elf To Be Replaced, Dining/Living/Master Drapes.

Building Type : House Cooling : Central air conditioning
Exterior Finish : Brick, Aluminum siding Storeys : 2
Style : Detached

Main level
Kitchen : 11 ft ,11 in x 11 ft ,3 in
Living room : 14 ft ,1 in x 12 ft ,8 in
Dining room : 15 ft ,3 in x 11 ft ,11 in
Laundry room : 11 ft ,4 in x 5 ft ,1 in

Second level
Master bedroom : 12 ft ,3 in x 12 ft ,1 in
Bedroom 2 : 12 ft ,3 in x 9 ft

Living room : 13 ft ,5 in x 12 ft ,1 in
Kitchen : 10 ft ,8 in x 7 ft ,7 in
Bedroom : 11 ft ,9 in x 10 ft ,3 in

Here's a link to more pictures. The place has a wonderful, open feel. The size is right for us (not too big). I wish it had a garage, but at least it does have parking pad out front. Also, the basement is a rentable apartment with a separate entrance. It's actually one of the nicest basement apartments I've seen. There is a full bath upstairs and a powder room on the first floor.

Cross you fingers...


Our Realtor and I found a house that would be perfect for us. But offers are due on Monday and there are already at least one on the table. That gives me two working days to put an offer together. The main thing to get worked out is the precise financing and pre-approval, etc. If I can get that worked out then we can put together an offer and then I can go abroad and have a local power of attorney sign anything on our behalf. Nerve wracking, but possible. Of course, if it doesn't work out and this house escapes us, that's okay, too. More fish in the sea.

In the mean time, I've got lots of project to finish up before my vacation begins. Not the least of these is putting the house back in order from its bachelor state. I spent a few hours on that last night and made a lot of progress. But I still have to clean the bathrooms, mop/vacuum the floor, and tidy up the living room. We are having some friends house/cat-sit while we are away, but I'd feel guilty leaving them with anything other than a ship-shape house.

I'm also aware that the owners want to show the house in the next week or two. Their Realtor (not ours) is shockingly disorganized for someone that wants to sell a $1.2 house. Neither she nor the owners have even set foot in the main or second story for a year. Needless to say, there a number of things that could be fixed/improved to get a higher selling value. For instance, there is a leak coming from the neighbour's side (it's a semi-detached house) that has damaged the wall in the bedroom. The root problem is being fixed as we speak (the roofers have been working for the last few days), but in the mean time the obvious water damage will be alarming to anyone looking at the house.

Nor have they scheduled an open-house, etc., etc. Since the landlords (or, perhaps more accurately their Realtor) has not been nice to us, I honestly don't feel the obligation to be particularly nice in return. So if they want the place to be immaculate than they are going to have pay for their own cleaners. And they are going to have to schedule showings around our schedule. Now, I would be inclined to be more helpful in the selling process if they were to agree to let us stay a few more weeks, but so far they have been unwilling to budge on this point--they want us out as soon as possible. And yet they want to list and sell the house while we are still living there.

The kicker was when the Realtor listing the place sent me an e-mail asking me to keep the lawn mowed. After the grass seed and the fertilizer and the watering and all the mowing I've done, this really pissed me off. Of course I'll mow the lawn. Obviously she didn't take the time to think, "What kind of tone in this e-mail would make the tenants most likely to be cooperative as we try to sell this place for the most possible?"

Obviously, I've got some emotions tied up with my (non-)relationship with the Realtor. Nor does it seem likely that we will ever have the chance to resolve those feelings with a heart-to-heart. I suppose if I were a better Christian I would call this person and express how I feel and give her a chance to tell me her feelings, etc., but at the moment I would rather hold onto my anger! God forgive me!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On My Mind

Troubling me is an encounter I had this week with a man wanting my assistance. He's poor and functionally illiterate. He wants me to help him get money from the government from a ten-year-old worker's comp claim. Given that he hasn't gotten any money yet, I think this is a long shot, but he's convinced that he is due the money since they sent him a letter ten years ago explaining that they may offer him a settlement. No matter how many times I explain to him that the form letter was simply describing something that they might do, he still insists that they would not have said this if they did not intend to give him money. I'm realizing that there may be some kind of learning disability or cognitive deficit complicating the situation.

Now he wants money from the City to help pay for an apartment he just rented. A City Social Worker told him that they would give him $700 if he found a suitable apartment. He found one that is too expensive to qualify and they won't give him the money, and he's mad because he thinks he is entitled to it no matter what apartment he found. I'm having flashbacks to being a Social Worker myself in Los Angeles. But those days are past. Now I'm not sure what help I can be to him.

"The answer is always in the client," is a mantra I sometimes use. Meaning, if you are at a loss with what to do, center yourself in the experience of the client. I think that this guy is incapable or unwilling to understand reality. I've tried to explain things rationally and that's not working. So I think I just need to be really clear about the boundaries and what I'm willing to do. Sure--I can make some phone calls. But I'm not going to camp out at the Worker's Comp office just to find out that his claim was denied 10 years ago.

I think a lot of priests end up in this situation--wanting to be helpful and having people ask more than we can give. It's helpful in such circumstances to look inward and experience the feelings that arise. Of course I feel guilty. Shouldn't I be totally devoted to advocating for this man and all others who come? Well, the reality is that he is not my only responsibility. I also have a church to run and other people to care for. (Not to mention my own self to keep in balance.)

So it goes. Hard not to get trapped in a cycle of guilt and anger as a minister. Easy to feel guilty for having every advantage in life and for sitting in my office answering e-mail and blogging and thinking about my sermon, etc. Easy to feel angry when someone tells you that your duty as a Christian is to help them. I know so many priests that burned out as they cycled between guilt and anger. I believe the solution has something to do with forgiveness....


Sermon - Pentecost 9 2008

A short sermon this week--I suppose I was compensating for the long ones I gave last week and the week before. I find it difficult, usually, to gauge the length of a sermon when I'm giving it. This week I made reference to Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life," as a way of talking about how our perspective on things does, indeed, matter. The parable of the sower is supposed to help us see Kingdom-work in a better way.

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


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I just talked with Betsy on the phone--she's working hard on her Greek. She misses me--I understand how she feels. Funny how a person becomes such a part of your life that you actually ache when they are missing for prolonged periods.

A stressful day. The housing search is nearly overwhelming. It's just too much data to crunch to make a decision. So I simplified the problem by creating a spreadsheet to make it easier to compare comparables. For instance, I one column is the miles of driving distance to get to church. This doesn't take into account things like distance to a the public transit, but it does give a sense of "closeness." And I simply have a 1-10 score to the kitchen rather than try to factor out all the pieces that go into a kitchen that pleases me, etc.

After all this I identified some more properties I want to visit--but I'm far from being sold on any of them, yet. I think I know what Betsy and I will be doing with the rest of my vacation when we get back from Istanbul!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Betsy's Blog

Betsy started a blog to write about our travels and adventures this summer. You can find it here. Here's an article that I particularly liked.
Small Cat Safari
With dozens of years in the industry, Queen’s Elms Residence is able to combine our expertise with your dreams to create a perfect safari. We listen to your needs and desires and are especially equipped to eliminate any unwanted rodents such as mice.

Spend the day rambling through the bush and across the grassy planes. You may wish to be escorted by trackers and a guide who will give you insight into their fascinating culture and way of life. These uniformed workers who appear at various stations around the Elms Residence are unable to answer any questions about life either within or beyond the limits of Elms, yet they are retained for the unique insight into the life patterns of the small cats breed in their nature reserve. Their dedication alone preserves the high concentration of tabbies, medium, and short haired cats.

Your best opportunities to see cats within this preserve are in the vicinity of trash bins, on windowsills, and behind the shrubberies. (source)

She has a bunch of pictures of the cats that hang around the university residences to accompany the article. Apparently she is enjoying herself!


Buddhism's Struggles in Japan

D.C. calls my attention to this article in the NY Times: In Japan, Buddhism May Be Dying Out. Japanese Buddhism has always been a pretty complicated phenomenon. The Mahayana Buddhists with whom I studied were somewhat critical of what they judged to be a corrupted tradition. It's one of the reasons I'm always amused when Westerners imagine that Eastern Religions are free of the politics and judgmentalism that they ascribe to Christianity. Anyway, Buddhism appears to be in decline in Japan:
Over the next generation, many temples in the countryside are expected to close, taking centuries of local history with them and adding to the demographic upheaval under way in rural Japan.

Many reasons are given. Some are demographic. Some are more troubling:
He said Japanese Buddhism had been sapped of its spiritual side in great part because it had compromised itself during World War II through its close ties with Japan’s military. After Buddhist priests had glorified fallen soldiers and given them special posthumous Buddhist names, talk of pacifism sounded hollow.

Mr. Mori, the priest here, said that after the war there was a desire for increasingly lavish funerals with prestigious Buddhist names. These names — with the highest ranks traditionally given to those who have led honorable lives — are routinely purchased now, regardless of a dead person’s conduct in life. (source)

What's really sad is some of these priests who are umpteenth-generation priests and have no heir.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Burning Fuse

Sorry I haven't been blogging like normal. Friday was crazy busy and Saturday was a loss because the power was out all day at the church (Hydro was replacing a pole that someone ran into many months ago).

The fuse is burning on the house project. I'm hoping to hit at least three open houses today. I'm hoping to drag along a couple I know that are smarter than me for advice and support. Hard doing this without the wife! I know--it's not worth it to get too stressed out, but a certain amount of anxiety is useful for getting stuff done!

Watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" for the umpteenth time last night. What a visionary film. An film that isn't ridiculed for beginning with the caption "The Dawn of Man" is worth watching, IMHO. Kubrick is definitely one of my favorite directors of all time. Right up there with Fellini and Francis Ford Coppola. Kubrick could do so much without words because he trusted the camera and the audience in a way that most directors/producers can't these days.

A fine day at church. Attendance still summer-soft. It will probably get worse when I'm away. But I felt very good about my sermon and good about a few one-on-one contacts I made after the service. It's nice to be able to give.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Prayer of the Week - Pentecost 9

Beloved Parishioners,

The Gospel Lesson for this upcoming Sunday is the famous parable of the Sower. Jesus is describing what it is like to spread the word of God:

"19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty" (Matthew 13).

It is striking to me that most of the seed is wasted and yields nothing--but the small amount that does land on good soil results in a rich harvest. It's a good lesson in just how difficult and yet fruitful evangelism is. The keys, apparently, are in the wide scattering and the ability to be satisfied with what happens on the good ground.

I think that we often focus too much on the bare patches of our lives rather than notice the verdant places. I think we would do well to follow our Lord's example, instead, and rejoice in the precious places of new life. We should expect most of our efforts to fail and a few to become something far beyond our wildest hopes. Who, looking at a single grain of wheat, could possibly imagine a Kansas field of golden wheat rippling like water in the wind? Our work, as Christians, is to toss our faith in God's kingdom alongside our path in the hope that some of seed will bear fruit.
Heavenly Father, your bountiful mercy provides us with the blessing of Truth revealed in your Word. Help us to spread that message of love broadly that a few precious pieces might land on fertile ground. Give us courage to be your messengers of hope to a troubled world. And finally, Lord, give us the insight to see the goodness that you bring to pass in this life, and in the life to come. We ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

The New York Times has an amusing article about what goes into making a spectacular chocolate chip cookie. Particularly interesting to me is the change brought on by simply letting the dough sit for 36 hours before baking. Also note how, according to the article, salt is essential to mastering this cookie...
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.


Sermon - Pentecost 8 2008

With so many kids and families out enjoying the summer, I decided to preach about play and did so in a playful way...

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


A Quick Note About Housing

We just got 60-days notice that we have to move out of the Farnham house. The owners want to sell it. The timing is terrible--it means moving just as Betsy is starting her classes again. Plus she's out of the country and soon I will be, too. So there are many things to figure out and not a lot of time to do it in. Your prayers are appreciated.


Attacks in Turkey

There was an attack on the American Consulate in Istanbul today. No Americans were hurt, but at least six people (including the attackers) were killed in the firefight.
A group of unidentified gunmen opened fire on Turkish security guards outside the United States Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, the Turkish authorities said, and at least three police officers and three assailants were killed in a brief gun battle. Officials said that a fourth assailant escaped.

The late-morning attack was the first on a diplomatic mission in the city since 2003 when 62 people were killed in assaults on the British consulate, a bank and two synagogues. While the motives behind this attack were not immediately clear, Turkish officials described the gunmen as terrorists. (source)

We've been advised to wear Canadian flag bins while we're in the country. I suppose bad things happen everywhere. Life is risk.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Life Without the Wife

We had a long but great staff meeting today. I'm really happy having Kerrie on board--she fits the team perfectly. We spent about three hours hashing through all kinds of projects. One of the things that made me really happy was the large amount of time spent on strategic initiatives--for instance, we are already talking about a meeting we will have in September to plan the year's calendar. The result of a more strategic view is much more room for creativity and exploration. I'm loving it. Things are flowing nicely! I would be interested to read a study about how time is spent in staff meetings. Intuitively, I would think about third of the time should be spent talking about the past, a third on the future, and a third on the present.

Betsy is getting along fine in Belfast. We have been talking on Skype and it works well for us. I even get to see a video feed from the camera on her laptop. She is still getting used to the time difference.

I've logged about 20 hours on Grand Theft Auto--which has gotten me about 25% through the game. I have to say that it gets more entertaining as it goes along and one learns the fundamental skills of the game (driving and shooting, mostly). The missions become more challenging and more interesting.

I'm also still mind-boggled at the amount of detail in the game. For instance, I took a character to a comedy club to earn their friendship, and Ricky Gervais did a stand up routine. Yes, the real voice and routine of Ricky Gervais. How's that for random?

Otherwise, I'm surviving Betsy's absence okay. I do miss her, though. I keep thinking I'm going to see her at the end of the day...


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bede and Benny Hinn

Bede's blog last week in which he talked about the dead with honesty sparked some predictable controversy about what is appropriate to talk about and what isn't. This is particularly relevant for us bloggers, as the competing goods of privacy and openness contend in the fields of inquiry. Bede's take on this is that in our culture we tend to suppress the "negative" rather than engage it fruitfully:
"I haven't got time for the pain" says the familiar commercial. But what happens when I do the unthinkable and take time for the pain? Well, just to give one man's testimony, when I learned to take time for the pain of a headache a whole area of my life opened up. I saw directly the ways in which I create tension for myself and how my body responds by trying to get me to stop doing this destructive thing to myself. My headaches, particularly the ones that start at the crown of my head and radiate through my neck and down into my back, have become friends instead of enemies, because they warn me that I am harming myself. And this happened just because I took some time and some openness with something that isn't positive. The same is true with death. Those kids need to know about death, and so do we all. We need to know that we aren't going to live for ever in this particular life, and that our time is limited and we don't have any of it to squander. This sense of limitation can push us to open ourselves to each moment and to be alive to what can be accomplished now. It can expand our lives in countless ways. (source)
I agree. A lot of what passes for "being polite" is actually an effort to avoid unpleasantness. But unpleasantness is part of life (and, for that matter, ministry). Overcoming this takes patience and training. Prayer is one way. But I know so many people that pray thinking that they know what the answer to their prayer ought to be and thus they are disappointed. Maybe God has something better in store for your headache than it's remission!

I'm troubled when I see this resistance to God-given-reality manifest in religion. Take Benny Hinn, for example. Got diabetes? If you believe in Benny Hinn and send him money, God might cure you. If not, then you didn't believe enough. This guy feasts on people's inability to let God be God. I'm all for healing prayer--but this guy isn't interested in real healing. (BTW, it's amusing to read the TON of websites that document his various frauds, unfulfilled prophesies, investigations, and heretical theology.) But I digress. The point is, pay attention!


Pray for Lambeth

Lambeth is fast approaching. Here's a prayer written by Province I (New England)--just replace the italic section with your favorite judicatory, rinse and repeat:
Gracious and loving God, whom we know as the God of justice, peace and reconciliation and who alone can order the affections of your people, be present with those assembled in prayer, study, worship and converse at this fourteenth decennial Lambeth Conference.

Watch with them in their daily round. Lend your Holy Spirit to the diverse minds, tongues and interpretations of Scripture gathered there that they might seek to strengthen the bonds which unite us and seek to dispel those things that divide and separate us. Let flow the balm of mutual respect which brings a realization that unity does not require uniformity, nor that such unity is achieved at the cost and sacrifice of your great gift of diversity.

Give to the bishops, spouses and other attendees, especially those from Province One of the Episcopal Church, strength to witness to the wholeness of all your creation and people, including our brother Gene who has been excluded and relegated to the margins of this gathering. Help them to raise clear voices as they seek to engage others in dialogue. Also give them open hearts as they listen to other nderstandings of your purpose and will for your people.

As we keep vigil here at home, strengthen us in that deep sense of solidarity which upholds us in the fellowship of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior in whose Holy name we pray. Amen. (source)


Birthday Aftermath

The birthday dinner was great. The lobster, which I got from that fish place in Scrivener Square, was unusually tender and succulent for an inland find. But I suspect this store turns them over frequently enough. I went to the LCBO next door with a gift card someone gave me that was quickly converted into bubbly. Champagne, I find, is great with nearly anything, but especially with lobster or pizza. Our neighbors brought over some dessert, not even knowing it was my birthday, so that was perfect.

The next day I worked some and then took Betsy to the airport to go to Belfast. I have word that she arrived safe and sound. We plan to talk with Skype while she's away.

I pooled together some of the gift money given me for my birthday to buy a Playstation 3. Needless to say, since Betsy's been gone I've been spending many hours driving around the streets of Liberty City. The world of Grand Theft Auto IV is incredibly elaborate--besides being able to drive around, of course, you can also take a Taxi or even use the city subway! Although I've playing for hours, I've barely explored beyond the game's version of Brooklyn. The storyline is interesting and the character well-written--no wonder this game has gotten record-breaking reviews.

No wonder that my sermon for today was about the importance of play in the spiritual life. I think most North American adults probably play too little.


Thursday, July 3, 2008


What am I doing for my birthday this year? Honestly, not much. Since Betsy is leaving for Belfast tomorrow we thought we'd spend tonight together. (There will be time for parties after she's gone--just kidding.) So I think I'll pick up some lobster on the way home. Lobster on your birthday is a Moss family tradition that betrays our New England roots.

The congregation gave me a very nice card signed by everyone. I especially appreciated the short notes of encouragement written by people whom I serve. Also, today I received a touchingly personal gift from someone I admire. It actually made me cry because I knew that it was a gift coming from a very deep place in this person's heart.

But although I didn't do much to celebrate today, I did get to go sailing yesterday, which was a big treat. I went with a friend after work on his Nonsuch (a type of Catboat) around the Toronto Islands. I'm more familiar with sloops like the one my grandparents owned (the Aka Maka--a clipper-rigged wood-hulled boat) or the one my father had a time share on in Seattle (a 40-something foot Catalina). Because the Nonsuch doesn't have a jib (the sail in the front of the mast), it's much simpler to sail than the multi-sail sloops (or or even the small but crazy-busy cockpit of an Albicore). In fact, the original concept of the Nonsuch was that they be easy to manage single-handed yet have a descent cabin size. Although I'm a novice sailor, I noticed right away that this boat was lighter in weight and much faster to come about than the slightly longer, heavier boats I've sailed in the past.

This was something of a shakedown cruise, so we did encounter a few small technical challenges, but nothing we couldn't overcome. As luck would have it, we had an excellent wind for most of the trip. I had the con for various periods, including bringing her back through the Island channels to her slip under power. I must say, despite my lack of experience I feel completely at home behind the wheel. Perhaps it's inherited memory? I felt incredible peace charging through Ontario swells in a 13 knot wind. Happiness is a well-trimmed boat.


Prayer of the Week - Pentecost 8

Beloved Parishioners,

As the summer shines many of us are getting the chance to have some much overdue playtime. For kids that means camps and sleep-overs and the chance to travel with their parents to see relatives and new places. For grownups the chance to play is a welcome relief: trips to exotic places or to enjoy friendships formed over many years. Some will escape the pressure of work to see nature and live simply. Others will see the best Toronto has to offer down at the waterfront or the city islands or Nathan Phillips Square or by catching a summer concert. Whatever form your play takes this summer, know that the Lord plays with you!

In the Gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30), Jesus seems frustrated that the people he encountered would not accept with child-like simplicity the truth of the kingdom: "But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds" (Matt. 11:16-19) Whether God's Word came in the form of flute (Jesus's message of liberation and hope) or wailing (John the Baptist's call to repentance and reconciliation) the people would not listen. Apparently it was the will of God that these things should be hidden from the "wise" and revealed to "infants" (vv. 25-26).
Nor is this the only time our Lord spoke of the need to be child-like in our approach to His Word. In Matthew's eighth chapter he places a child among them and says plainly, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me" (vv. 3-5). Clearly, we can learn a lot from our children.

Perhaps the most important thing children can teach us is how to play. For kids play is absolutely essential to development. With play they rehearse roles and learn about the world through experimentation and fantasy. Adults can do the same. When abandon ourselves to joy and imagination we open ourselves to every possibility the universe has to offer, including the ultimate potential of experiencing closeness with God.

So be playful this summer as though your salvation depended on having a little fun!

Heavenly Father, your Son showed us that the path to you is the way of simplicity and innocence. Help us to play with a child-like spirit in your creation that we may know the joy you intend for us through our adoption as your children. Help us to find the rest that comes from accepting your Son's yoke--for his yoke is easy and burden light. We ask this in His Name, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

In Christ,
Tay Moss

Yokes--Easy or Otherwise

I'm doing my usual Thursday Sermon Prep Time--that means, among other things, reading the lections for Sunday and then following various threads of inquiry that arise from them. I also read some of my favorite church blogs to see what others have caught hold of in the upcoming lessons. This gem stands out from Jan Richardson's blog, The Painted Prayerbook:
I have to say, too, that I’ve struggled with Jesus’ use of the image of a yoke. On the surface, a yoke connotes bondage, servitude, and the diminishing of freedom and choice. In scanning the Web for images of yokes, however, I realized that I was imagining a single-user yoke, one that someone who has power over us places upon us, something that we have to pull alone. What I found more often on the Web were images of double yokes, designed for working animals to pull in tandem. How might it be to imagine this as the kind of yoke that Jesus was talking about, a yoke that we don’t have to pull alone, a yoke that he wears with us? A yoke not for servitude, not for bondage, but a tool of connection, a way of being in relationship with Christ that makes our work easier, not more difficult. (source)

I never really thought about what Jesus meant by asking us to take on his yoke except as a poetic way of saying burden. But yoking does, indeed, imply sharing the burden. We are yoked to Christ in fruitful, kingdom-building work...


Lambeth's Cartoonist-in-Residence

Regular readers of this blog know Dave Walker as the amusing cartoonist whose work I sometimes post here. He also has a blog that discusses church stuff of interest to him. He is going to be at the Lambeth Conference this year as a kind of Cartoonist-in-Residence.

Check out Dave's famous take on the Windsor Report to get a sense of his style.

BTW, Dave did the illustrations for a new book, What am I Doing Here? A beginner's guide to church.

Nice to know that some people still have a sense of humor.


Wish List...

Today is my birthday. Someone asked me for my current wish list. It is...
  1. A PS3
  2. An iPod (either the Nano or the Classic) or, dare I ask, an iPhone? (available in Canada starting July 11)
  3. A small, CD-playing stereo for my office (with at least one stereo input or an iPod dock) Perhaps something like this. (or even a gift certificate for Bay Bloor Radio)
  4. Icons (particularly of Benedict, Mary Magdalene, and St. John the Baptist
  5. A nice kitchen timer
  6. An LCD Picture Frame

Yes, I know, this is a tech-heavy list. But the fact is that I have plenty of books on my "must-read" shelf and have pretty much everything I "need"--so the only thing left to wish for is stuff that really is just about fun. Nothing wrong with that, right?


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Monastic Honesty

In Bede's blog for this week he talks about two Brothers of the Order who died within a week of each other (during the Order's Annual Chapter Meeting, no less): Br Michael Stonebraker and Br Bernard van Waes. Br. Stonebraker, incidentally, spent some time at the Cathedral here in Toronto and is therefore known to many in these parts. But what's striking about Bede's obituary is that it is plainly honest in the scandalous ways that monastics can be:
Contrary to the projections often sent in our direction, the monastic life is no ideal state, freed from the conflicts that everyone else in life faces, and I do my best not to hide either the joys or the trials of our life in this column. These two brothers were greatly talented and marvelously accomplished human beings and many people were genuinely transformed by their ministries. They also had lives that were deeply marked with hostility, anger and chaos, and both they and the community bore those marks as well. All of this we carried through the days of their dying and as we sang the Office of the Dead for each of them, and we carried their lives, and ours, to the altar at the Requiem Eucharists for them. Michael's funeral was done here at West Park in the presence of his community. Bernard's funeral will be July 14 in Santa Barbara. The ashes of both of these brothers will be laid to rest in the columbarium here at West Park where most of the departed members of our community rest. And of course stories will be told about them for many, many years.

May they rest in peace, and rise in glory. (source)

Every day (except on the community's sabbath day--Monday) the community at Holy Cross gathers for a "Chapter" Meeting to discuss house business and various other things that concern the community. One of the traditions at Holy Cross is to remember departed Brothers by reading his obituary at Chapter on the anniversaries of his death. These obituaries are honest and graceful in the same spirit as Bede's writing about Michael and Bernard. Originally the idea, I'm told, was to help newer members of the Order learn about the personalities of the men who went before them. But the tradition is really much powerful than that, I think, because it models a kind of honesty and charity towards people. We remember them as they were, not as we wished them to be.

This can be disturbing. Some might call it baring the dirty laundry, but I think that this is short sighted. The best way to honor the dead is to remember them accurately. Otherwise we are just spinning myths to suit our needs.


Parade Pictures

As promised, here are a few choice shots from the Pride Parade...

BTW, if you didn't know, that's Toronto Mayor David Miller in the middle photograph.


Sermon - Pentecost 7 2008

For Sunday's Sermon I decided to do some teaching around Christian leadership. In general, I don't think we do enough to empower lay leadership in the church, and I do think being leaders in the world is part of the call of all Christians to be not just disciples, but apostles as well.

So this sermon borrows heavily from Judy Paulsen as well as from Edwin Friedman and others. In the end it lasted an astonishing 22 minutes! I'm still not sure how that happened! Definitely the longest sermon I've given at COTM so far! But for those that asked for more teaching in church, there you go!

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