Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bourbon and Revelations

A bottle of Elmer T Lee Bourbon that had a short, happy life at the wedding reception

Stories from this weekend are going to come in fragments--so here's one...

Before the wedding weekend, I can't say that I knew my sister's fiance well. In fact, I believe I had only met him once in passing at an event with lots of people. So I was glad to have a chance to spend an evening with him in Louisville just before he married my sister. He suggested that he introduce me, properly, to Kentucky Bourbon. What a great idea, I thought!

So we went downtown to a bar with a good selection and spent the first part of our night sampling a "flight" of about 9 fine bourbons. About half an ounce of each was poured into a sample glass and arrayed in front of us. By comparing them to each other we could discover all kinds of subtle distinctions and flavors. I realized, then, that my new brother is a connoisseur! I might have guessed this from the fact that he writes about things like art and food for a living, but I suppose one could write about those things without being a real connoisseur. Being a connoisseur is a disposition of the heart, a Tao of experiencing, that I greatly admire. I like fine things, too, but to be a connoisseur means also spending the time to really learn about the things you enjoy. It's closely tied to sacramental spirituality--in ability to see God in "stuff." Very incarnational. I remember saying to Bob after one memorable sip, "This tastes True." I kept thinking of memorable Single Malt Scotches I've enjoyed with Bede.

From there we went to the Maker's Mark Restaurant on 4th Street. We had another (smaller) flight of Bourbons and talked more about our lives and families and the kinds of things guys talk about to feel close. For supper I had an excellent salad and steak (Rare, of course). BTW, my new Brother-in-Law is far more sophisticated in his ideas about religion and spirituality than the average person. He clearly likes to think about the things that matter to him.

As we were walking back on 4th Street we came to a historical plaque that caught my eye:
Plaque at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville honoring Thomas Merton

in Louisville on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the middle of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers ... I have the immense joy of being human, a member of the race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the Sun. (From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

I was stunned. This is the very corner that my Spiritual Director, Bede, mentioned in his blog a week ago. Bede was talking about interconnectedness. How True does that taste?

So after that evening I feel like I know the guy in the way that guys know each other. He's a "good guy" I would say approvingly!


A Monotheistic Traffic Jam

Image (c) NYT

Doug C. points me to this article in the NYT about the coincidence of Rosh Hashana and Ramadan this year creating an unusual mix of Jewish and Muslim devotion in the Holy Land:
The result has been a kind of monotheistic traffic jam in September along the paths of the tiny walled Old City, especially as dawn approaches each day. The Muslims and Jews walk past one another, often intersecting just at the Via Dolorosa of Christian sanctity, as they hurry to their separate prayer sessions: the Muslims above at the Dome of the Rock, the Jews just below at the Western Wall.

It would be wrong to call these tense encounters, because there are essentially no encounters at all. Words are not exchanged. Religious women in both groups — head, arms and legs covered in subtly distinct fashion — look past one another as if they took no notice. Like parallel universes with different names for every place and moment they both claim as their own, the groups pass in the night. (source)

I have never been to Jerusalem, but it's high on my list of places to go. I'd love to spend some time at St. George's College studying. Sigh. Someday...


Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Back...

Betsy and I just got back this evening from Kentucky. We were there for my sister's wedding. I was the celebrant and was pleased with how the service went. I tried to record my sermon--I'll post it if I can. It was great to be with family and to spend some time getting to know my sister's husband, as well.

More later--tired tonight.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

From the Onion: "Bishop Sick of Local Church Scene"

Bishop Sick Of Local Church Scene
April 14, 2004 | Issue 40•15
SACRAMENTO, CA—Bishop Robert K. Boland of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento announced Monday that, although he remains a devoted servant of God and the Catholic Church, he has become tired of the same old church scene.

"This diocese is okay, I guess," Boland told reporters gathered on the front steps of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. "It's just getting a little... tedious. I've got more than 100 parishes in my diocese, but at the end of the day, they're all pretty much the same."

"Don't get me wrong—I still care about everyone's eternal soul," Boland added. "I care deeply, but I must admit that the congregations have sorta become one big blur of blue-haired old ladies. Lately, when I get the question about whether so-and-so's cats are waiting for her in heaven, I just fall back on a stock answer."

Appointed his bishopric by Pope John Paul II in 2000, Boland said he's weary of both the parishioners and "the entire sacraments thing."

"When you're a bishop, you church-hop constantly, performing the Eucharist throughout the diocese," said Boland, whose diocese covers 20 counties in northern California. "Like, I love to worship God in the joyous celebration of the Mass and sacraments, but the whole thing never really changes. At some point, I went from 'I can't believe I get to do this' to 'I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life.'"

Continued Boland: "Once in a while, there's an exciting shake-up in the diocese, like an excommunication or a priest who misuses funds—but hardly ever."

Boland said he used to bolster his interest in the Church by getting involved with the neediest parishes, but that ultimately backfired.

"I was spending a lot of time at St. Joseph's over in Sutter Creek, because they have a big problem with the youth using crystal meth," Boland said. "But if I spend too much time at one church, the priests at the others accuse me of playing favorites. Next thing I know, [San Francisco] Archbishop [William J.] Levada is on my behind, asking why I haven't been to the St. Monica Parish for six months."

Continued Boland: "St. Joseph's isn't even all that great, but I will say that their Friday fish fry beats the tar out of the usual potluck spread."

Boland said he hasn't always been disengaged.

"At first, I was thrilled to be living out the dream I'd had since the seminary," Boland said. "I had boundless energy. Every pancake breakfast was a new adventure. Now, I can barely choke down those greasy sawdust links the ladies in the Parish Council of Catholic Women call sausages."

Added Boland: "God, I'm in such a horrible rut."

According to Boland, even the magnificent, 1,400-seat Cathedral of The Blessed Sacrament has lost its luster.

"Yeah, it's a beautiful church," Boland said. "Those ceilings are absolutely amazing. You can't believe how far your voice carries without a microphone. But, even so, Sunday morning has become business as usual. It's like, 'Oh boy, let's watch Mr. Harrison nod off during the homily for the 200th time.'"

Boland's request to be transferred to a different diocese was not granted.

"Sure, I mentioned it once, but it never happened," Boland said. "In my request, I may have been a little hazy. I said that I was sick of the same old sacristies. I said that maybe I should help the poor in New Mexico or South Africa or someplace. In truth, the thought of starting over is pretty daunting. I was almost relieved when they never responded."

"What I need to do is climb my way up to cardinal," Boland added. "That'd be my ticket out of this one-horse diocese."

Boland said there's little chance he'll be promoted anytime soon.

"Archbishop Levada isn't going anywhere," Boland said. "He's here until he dies, and he's not much older than me. It's too depressing to think about right now."

Boland said he hopes current events will serve to shake things up a bit.

"I'm grateful for this recent controversy over gay marriage," Boland said. "It allows me to dabble in politics a little. I'm firmly in support of President Bush's constitutional amendment to ban same-gender unions, so I've been trying to stir up some healthy debate on the subject. Anything to do something new in this diocese."

Cardinal Roger Mahony said he was not surprised by Boland's attitude.

"Bishop Boland is going through a temporary period of dissatisfaction, similar to those experienced by many of his colleagues," Mahony said. "As a cardinal, I'm forced to listen to that same complaint again and again. It's getting really old. If he's so unhappy, he's more than welcome to quit the Church and go work at a Taco Bell."(source)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I just met with the chair of the new Fundraising Committee for the church. Over coffee at Starbucks in the trendy Yorkville neighborhood we formulated our plan for fundraising. Phase I is a mailer going out this weekend to ask for money to pay for the mural--mainly this is an appeal to parishioners. Phase II will begin to look at the people who aren't parishioners, but have a strong connection to this place of one sort or another--that's next week. Meanwhile, we are going to hone in on the campaigns driving themes and image. We need a title for the campaign as well as specific, measurable goals. We also need promotional material! So lots of stuff to do.

The most important part of this is that I have someone to help. I'm incredibly thankful to God for giving me someone to head up this effort. I prayed for some help and God sent me someone--someone with experience! Weird how that works. Always a surprise, for some reason, when God answers prayers. Thus I'm feeling less anxious today than I was a few days ago! Yippee!


Time and Timelessness

Bede's post this week is a very interesting discussion of those moments when the barriers between this moment and the next or this person and the next seem to dissolve. He describes feeling this way about time itself on his recent trip to Turkey.
I think these experiences are pretty common. I think, in fact, that they happen with both frequency and regularity. But in our radically secular culture we are trained to ignore them. And if they are strong enough that we have to notice them, we almost never, ever mention them to another person. People in our society don't talk about that sort of thing. You have to be someone pretty quirky, like a monk or a teen, to do that. But these experiences of awareness of the spiritual dimension of things are part of life. People who do brain research can even point to the places in the brain where they happen. They are part of the gift of our human nature; God pulling us to that place where boundaries aren't what we thought, and where we are really one with each other and with the world as it is and as it was. Quite a thing for an old man and a young man to share. (source)

Bede also talks about the role of meditation in noticing such things:
I first began noticing it in meditation. Meditation is an old and familiar experience to me, and the technique is part of my ordinary consciousness: attend to your breath (or whatever you're using), when you notice that you've drifted away, bring yourself back to the present, and do that as many times as necessary, with a gentle but firm touch. So if I'm sitting there meditating and find a thought of, say, the city of Sardis in Turkey coming into my mind, I just label it as "thinking", and bring myself back to the present. The trouble is that I'm no longer sure that Sardis is part of the past. What if that ancient city, those ancient ruins, are actually part of my present? This isn't anything that I'm thinking my way into. It's just happening. I can't seem to muster up the energy necessary to regard Sardis as a "distraction", because it seems very much a part of now. (source)

The Bridge in West Cornwall

I've noticed this sort of thing myself from time-to-time. For instance, a few years ago I was visiting my therapist at the time, Mary, up in a place called West Cornwall, Connecticut. It's a beautiful New England village in a small river valley. It is best known for an old-fashioned covered bridge across the Housatonic River. I was approaching this red bridge walking along the bank when I noticed--I mean really noticed--the sight and sound of the river flowing over the rocks in the river. Suddenly I felt as though I was a part of that river and that it was part of me. I sat down on the bank and stayed with the feeling until it began to fade.

It's a wonderful thing to notice, and I think Bede is right that pretty much everybody has these moments. It's too bad we are conditioned to ignore them, as they do reveal something very important about the nature of things.


Nantenbo Scroll Photos

As promised, here is a picture of that scroll by Nantenbo.

Interestingly, neither the dealer that sold the scroll to me (who is Japanese, btw) nor the dealer he bought it from (a specialist in scroll collecting) can read the script. Nantenbo was never very interested in making particularly legible characters; he was more interested in cultivating a kind of unstudied immediacy in his work. By comparing this work with others by the same artist, I think the characters in the upper left hand corner (next to the signature stamp) say "Daruma." Daruma (Sanskrit: Bodhidharma) is the saint who took Buddism from India to China. He's a popular motif in Zen art. That's him seated at the bottom of the scroll.

Daruma--the Patriarch of Chinese/Japanese Buddhism

The contrast between the quick, almost careless calligraphy at the top and the carefully executed Daruma at the bottom of the scroll is deliberate, obviously. Nantenbo was famous for his sense of humor and playfulness.

One of the stories about Daruma that fascinated Nantenbo goes like this: some time after arriving in China, Daruma was called before the Emperor. The Emperor asked, "What is your teaching?" Daruma replied: "Vast empiness; nothing sacred." Then he went away and spent nine years meditating facing a wall, speaking to no one. Nantenbo and other Zen Masters painted portraits of Daruma facing the wall. In this instance, it seems that we are the wall Daruma is facing. Nor does he seem particularly happy about that!

The composition of this portrait of Daruma also incorporates another important Zen motif: the Enso circle. It symbolizes "...enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void"--in other words, everything. But what's most beautiful about the Enso in the moment of creating it. Drawing a circle free-hand is much more difficult than you might imagine, and the very task requires Zen-like presence. If you don't believe me, just try it!

Inside this Enso Nantenbo wrote:
Born within the ensō of the world
the human heart must also
become an ensō

Good stuff. I'm going to enjoy thinking about this scroll more.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Eucharistic Prayers for Children

My brother-priest Sherman Hesselgrave over at Holy Trinity, Eaton Center, asked on the APLM List Serve whether anyone knew of Eucharistic Prayers written specifically for children. Kurt Huber pointed us all to Prayers 6 and 7 of the Holy Communion service authorized in 2004 by the Church of Wales. Here's an excerpt...
Eucharistic Prayer 7

Suitable for use when a significant number of 7–11 year-olds is present.

In place of the Proper Preface [Through him you made us …], three or four children may each read out a brief sentence of thanksgiving for the love of God in Christ.

The Lord be with you. or The Lord is here.
And also with you. or His Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is always right, wherever we are, to thank you and to praise you, God our Father and King for ever, through Jesus Christ, your Son.

[Through him you made us and the whole universe. When your Holy Spirit came to Mary,
Jesus was born as one of us. He loved us so much that he died for us; on the first Easter Day you raised him to life; and death and evil were conquered for ever. At Pentecost, you gave the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised, to help us to live as your children.]

So here on earth, with the angels and archangels and with everyone in heaven
we praise your name and say / sing:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Father in heaven, listen to the prayer we make in Jesus’ name; through the Holy Spirit’s power, gentle as a dove, may this bread and this wine be for us Jesus’ body and blood.

Father, we remember when Jesus had supper with his friends
the night before he died, he took the bread; he thanked you, broke it, gave it to his friends and said: Take this and eat it – this is my body, given for you.
Do this to remember me.

After supper, Jesus took the cup of wine; he thanked you, gave it to his friends and said: All of you drink from this cup, because this is my blood – the new promise of God’s love. Do this every time you drink it to remember me.

Together we remember that Jesus is always with us and say / sing:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come in glory.

Father, as we remember your Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and rose again,
we offer you these and all the gifts you freely give to us. Send your Holy Spirit to be with us and all who share this bread and drink from this cup. Help us to trust you, bring us closer together and welcome us, with all your people,
into Jesus’ glorious kingdom.

All honour and glory belong to you, Father, through Jesus, your Son, with the Holy Spirit: one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (source)

They also have a version intended for those 7 and younger. Nice and simple. I could imagine using this in the Children's Chapel some day (with the Bishop's permission, of course).



Yesterday I finally bought that Japanese Zen scroll I've been thinking about. It was written in 1918 or 1919 by a Buddhist priest named Nakahara Nantenbo. He was a colorful figure that served as an important bridge to 20th century Zen. Here's a bit about him:
"If I cannot become a priest of extraordinary accomplishment, I will not walk upon the earth," vowed eighteen-year-old Nantenbō (Tōjū Zenchū) to his Zen Master.' The impassioned spirit of this precocious young man was to burn brightly throughout his eighty-seven years. Not only did he rise through ecclesiastical ranks to an exalted position at one of the most prestigious Rinzai Zen monasteries in Japan, he was "a Zen priest of the people."' In his determination to restore Zen to its former purity and brilliance, he emulated the severe methods of legendary Zen masters from the distant past. The thick staff of nandina he used to "encourage" disciples and frighten "false priests" resulted in a great deal of notoriety, giving him the nickname Nantenbō (nandina staff). He also published ten volumes of Zen commentaries, headed numerous Zen study groups and, by his own estimate, brushed over one hundred thousand calligraphies and paintings, which he freely gave away to anyone brave enough to ask. Certainly his efforts helped maintain Zen during Japan's tumultuous modernization. By wielding the brush with unmitigated vigor, he also may have unwittingly exerted tremendous influence on twentieth-century "action" artists and avant-garde calligraphers."

This son of a Samurai attacked the scroll with unusual speed and energy. "Splash" marks at the beginning of his strokes are common, as are abbreviations and bold, dynamic movements.

I'll post a picture when I get a chance. It's not often that I get to collect a piece of fine art, so I'm very pleased about this acquisition--a real treat.


Tay in the Bouncy Castle

Here's a shot one of my Warden's took of me enjoying the "Bouncy Castle" at this year's back-to-church BBQ...

I really do think I have more fun than most priests.


Sauce Update

I'm doing a lot of multi-media work today, so I thought I'd upload a snap shot from the Tomato Sauce Project. I had some of it last last night on some breaded eggplant: excellent!


Website Updates

I made a bunch of updates to the COTM website today. I'd really fallen behind on a lot of that--so now I've added a bunch of stuff. I'm particularly pleased with the new "Donate" button that I put on every page. This makes it possible for people to quickly donate on-line to COTM. I also created a "Support our Ministry" page to make giving us money easier. There is also a large section about the mural with pretty pictures.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Quiet Sunday Afternoon

Today was a special day at church--every year we kick off the fall church season with a BBQ after worship. A number of families from the day care came for the service, so we had excellent attendance. The pieces of the liturgy worked well together, and during communion I anointed people with oil for healing. My homily was short by solid (and just as well since the service ran long). A couple of new tweaks worked out well, including praying with the choir just before the service.

After Mass the BBQ went into full swing. Besides food we also were able to offer a big inflatable "bouncy castle" for the kids to jump around in. Later in the afternoon a bunch of us adults took a turn. I'll try to post some pictures up here when I can. The bouncy castle is always a hit.

Been watching football this afternoon--also doing the dishes left over from last night's canning. Yesterday I made another batch of tomato sauce. This time it took about 9 hours of simmering, but the results were fantastic. Much more flavorful than what you get at the store. Downright intense, in fact. Using fresh herbs makes a huge difference. The wine also adds a lot.

I must admit to feeling a little anxious about the church finances. We simply need to raise some more money. So we are planning to send out a letter this week to solicit donations. But then we need to arrive at a more comprehensive strategy that will take us through the fall and winter and integrate both a regular stewardship drive and a capital campaign. I really, really need to delegate this to others, otherwise it's going to be hard to concentrate on my existing ministries.

Anyway, that's something to worry about on Tuesday. Right now I'm just going to enjoy some football and rest.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Some Things Need to Simmer

A few weeks ago the sound system broke. It's been a pain to get fixed. Part of the problem is that the old system was really a series of patches overlaid on each other, so the resulting complexity in high. I'm glad I didn't try to fix it myself--I could have figured it out, but it would have taken a while. For instance, some of the speakers are run on a 70 Volt system while others are on a 8 Ohms set-up. Just figuring out where the wires actually run to is a time consuming process. Better to let the pro do it. Anyway, it's coming together--he should be finished in an hour or two. It's taken longer to get someone here to fix it than I had hoped. One of the big delays was special ordering parts. But it looks like my patience will be rewarded.

Last night I had another project that needed incredible patience. I turned 15 lbs. of tomatoes (about half a bushel) into five jars of really nice tomato sauce. Here's is the recipe:

Tay's Tomatoes - Recipe adapted from online source

15 lbs Tomatoes
10 lbs. Onions diced
5 Garlic cloves minced
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tbs. Salt
1 Tbs. Pepper
1 Bottle Red Wine
2 Cups Herbs (Fresh Basil and Oregano are great)
1 Cup Lemon Juice

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until they change color (about 15 minutes). Prepare the Tomato puree by washing, cutting off the stem end, quartering, and running the tomatoes through a Victorio Strainer. Add the tomatoes and wine to the onions. Stir well and bring bring to a slow simmer.

Simmer until reduced by 1/3 to 1/2--about eight hours. Yes, eight hours! With desired thickness reached, add the freshly chopped herbs and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 minutes and use hot packing method of canning.

If canning, use 1/2" headspace. This recipe will make approximately 5 Quart or 10 Pint-size bottles worth. Process in boiling water path 35 minutes for quarts, 30 for pints. Cool and store.

This was a ton of work. But the results are fantastic. Interestingly, a bunch of basil and a bushel of tomatoes (enough to make this recipe twice) costs less than $20. Meanwhile, a jar of "Classico" tomato sauce runs $5-$6 in my local grocery store. So it's about half the cost to make your own as to buy.

Most versions of this recipe don't include the step of using the Victorio Strainer. but the beautiful thing about the Victorio is that it removes both the skins and the seeds! So the resulting sauce really does look like the primo-brand sauces. Another note: using a food processor to chop up the onions is highly recommended.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Canning Craze

A year ago Betsy and I canned some pickled Hot Peppers that have been a wonderful treat to have on hand since them. As the last jar is almost finished, we decided to do it again this year. We picked up some peppers last weekend at the St. Lawrence Street Market and I pickled and canned them last night. We still have lots of home canning supplies left and all the equipment, so I'm thinking that this year we should experiment with more canning.

I'm particularly keen on trying to can our own tomato sauce as well as some fruit. The directions online make it appear easy but time-consuming. It takes something like four hours to cook down a good tomato sauce--but if you do it in large batches than you have lots of wonderful, inexpensive sauce for quick dishes.

So while I was looking around the Internet I found a wonderful blog called Seasonal Ontario Food. This blogger has lots of recipes and information about food available in the Farmers' Markets here. Her list of fruits and vegetables by month is particularly helpful.


Tay's BBQ

And on a lighter note... I found this outfit in Moss Point, Mississippi:

This is not a hoax, there is actually a chain of BBQ Joints in Mississippi named "Tay's BBQ"--and one of the three locations is in Moss Point. From the website:
Tay's BBQ originated in the 1930's in Columbia, Mississippi, by Mr. Millard Taylor. Today, Tay's BBQ features a truly unique flavor combination and is inspired by the recipes of two families who love great BBQ. (source)

Their motto is "Best Pig on the Coast." Here is their awesome van...

Like the sign says, a "A Day Without Swine is a Waste of Time"
Look at that beautiful MEAT!

I say you haven't lived unless you've eaten southern BBQ. Check out this Menu...
all of tay's plates are served with your choice of two
sides, bread, sauce and a regular drink.

(six bones)

(four bones)

three piece.....$6.99
two piece.....$5.99

large...$6.99 - regular $5.99

large...$6.99 - regular...$5.99


I could really do with a pulled pork sandwich right now...


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Unbusy Pastor

Another really busy day. Tuesday night I didn't get home until 10 pm thanks to an exhausting but important Parish Council Meeting. That made it a 13 hour day. Yikes. I don't want to be doing too many of those.

I'm really glad I reconstituted the Parish Council when I came to COTM--it accomplishes a bunch of things. First, it gives me a forum to reflect on issues affecting the congregation with more voices at the table than I get when I meet with the staff or the Corporation. Second, the increased diversity of opinions is useful to help correct the bias otherwise inherit in the role of staff or Warden. In other words, I get to hear from people that aren't in a position of power and responsibility in the church. Third, it helps widen the circle of people informed about some of the projects and concerns ongoing here. Fourth, it is a decent incubator for congregational leadership. And last night's meeting fulfilled all those roles. I went away from it feeling like I had a much better grasp on what's actually happening at COTM. It definitely took my insight about certain key dynamics to a new level. So three cheers for the Parish Council!

I couldn't sleep in today as flex time, however, as I had my Contemplative Eucharist to Celebrate. That service is really flourishing. For a while I was practicing being non-anxious about whether it would be sustainable and about whether anybody would come, etc. And yet without really trying hard to promote it I have a nice little group of folks that consistently come. I'm thinking about adding another service and perhaps tacking on a time for instruction on Christian meditation or contemplation. When I told my staff that I wasn't sure I was qualified to teach these things, they teased me mercilessly, so I guess I better just shut up and teach.

After that it was back-to-back meetings through lunch and into the afternoon. One of these was with the Parish Architect. It was a good meeting which produced some solid steps forward. We know what to do next to keep the plans developing.

Only then was I really able to sit down and do e-mail and correspondence. Fingers in many pies. I'm trying to get the lights fixed and the sound system fixed and give helpful feedback about the nascent confirmation program, etc., etc. I'm glad I started the day with some serious meditation!

I'm supposed to go to another meeting that starts in an hour. But it's already 6:30 and I can't imagine doing another 13 hour day. So I think I'm going to pull a Eugene Peterson:
"Yes, but how?" The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It's a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St. Paul, but a gift nonetheless) that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening. It is more effective than a protective secretary; it is less expensive than a retreat house. It is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative. The authority once given to Scripture is now ascribed to the appointment calendar. The dogma of verbal inerrancy has not been discarded, only re-assigned. When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism.... (The Contemplative Pastor, Page 22)
A lesson I must hear again and again to get right. Someone at Council last night challenged me with this gem: "Tay, surely there are piles of books written for Pastors about how to drop stuff." True, that.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Parable of the 98 and the 2

And He told them this parable:
A shepherd has 100 sheep. Two are lost. One of these is old and ragged. His wool is thin and wiry and he will not live more than another season or two. The other lost sheep is young, strong, and fertile. Does he not leave the 98 to search for one of the two? And will he not save the old, sickly one?

I know, it seems like a false dilemma, in ministry and mission it rarely seems like we are choosing in such an abstract way to appeal to one group or another, but in reality things seem quite different.

Here's the reality. I have two or three people that call me several times a week, each week wanting my care and attention. They are both very marginalized. Yet both on the phone and in person I am able to give these people great comfort and care. It seems pretty straight forward, they need care, and within reason I give what I can.

Now, on the other hand, there are lots of ways that I could be reaching out to the high-functioning urban success stories that inhabit this neighborhood. I could offer another meditation group or set up a MOPS group or do something similar. This will take a lot of time and energy and the results are uncertain.

How do I, as a Pastor, decide where my time goes between these two things? The Gospel imperative seems to favor care to the sick, the poor, and the friendless, but I'm also told I need to "grow" the church (preferably by adding young, attractive families to the rolls).

WWJD? Perhaps he would engage the most proximate mission: reach out and heal whoever is at hand? In practice that's tough to engage, since the closest mission to hand is utterly subjective. It seems like there is so much need around me and COTM that we could engage any of them quite easily, but not all of them. How does the Holy Spirit guide us to the right mission?

I barely have a clue. Prayer, I suppose. Listening, of course. Maybe something else?

This is where ministry gets really hard--like editing, the key is choosing what gets cut out. It takes a certain courage to take something off my desk and put it in the trash can. It may be a very nice and pretty thing, but the desk is overflowing already. Many times when I pray for my ministry I pray the wisdom to have the detachment necessary let so many things (and even people) go.


Church of the Resurrection in Newfoundland

Does this look familiar? Doug C. calls my attention to the Church of the Resurrection in Newfoundland. Collegiate-style (aka Choir-style) seating across a central axis that begins with font and pascal candle, continues through the ambo, and ends in the altar.

On the left we see that a warm, welcoming, and essentially domestic greeting space opens generously onto the principle worship axis beginning with the font and leading the ambo.

A nice looking Ambo that illustrates the concept well--note the teaching Christ icon and the Bema-style solidity of it. This is no mere lectern!

A large square altar with President's chair behind. The square shape helps reinforce the equality of participation while the chair preserves apostolic presidency.

Another view showing how the altar relates to the rest of the space. Although it's not elevated as it is in some places, the path between the two poles of Word and Table is a powerful negative space that draws out attention.

From the church's website:
Because we recognize that the “Church” is the people, we want to avoid calling our building or any part of it the “church.” The place where we gather for prayer is called the “Oratory”, which is Latin for “place of prayer.”

The Oratory is designed with the principles of equality of celebration, participation verses spectation, and flexibility of liturgical space.

The altar table and the ambo (table of the Word) are placed at opposite ends of the oratory to enable liturgical action to take place in the whole of the oratory. Sitting in the “round,” with the use of chairs, also enables the gathered community not only to be drawn into the liturgy, but to face one another and to acknowledge Christ’s presence in the other. The use of chairs, instead of pews, also allows us to be more flexible in the liturgical use of our space. (source)

I'm looking forward to returning to a configuration like this for Advent this year. We learned a few things from previous experiments that will help in the next iteration.



A priest friend passed this along to me. I can sympathize...

British church humor is just too perfect!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

No Country for Old Men - Post Script

Seeing my first post on the topic, a friend pointed me to an article in Wycliffe's newsletter about the movie "No Country for Old Men."

In "Praying the Psalms with No Country for Old Men," David Tiessen posits that NCFOM, like the psalms, explores the reality of a violent and desperate age and yet points to a distant glowing hope:
In the spare, minimalist terms of old westerns such as "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," the film offers a meditation on the shift from the 'old country' of the trusting relations upon which neighbourliness and care for strangers is built and in which justice would prevail, to the emerging 'new country' of the violence of selfish greed and remorseless individualism which drives even the law to despair. The march of violence seems inexorable and inevitable, and as the film progresses we discover through and along with the characters the alternatives before them: join the game for one’s own gain but ultimately succumb to the inevitability of a violent end; risk resistance at the cost of the despair and exhaustion of watching the wicked triumph; resist the game on alternative (nonviolent) terms. In this film the results of these alternatives don’t look much different – it is always the violent and the wicked who seem to triumph: there is no country left for the ‘old men’ who presume the good. It is the bad and the ugly who win. It is Psalm 10, verses 1-11.

....Yes, the march of violence seems inevitable, but in the end there is a glimmer of hope that alternative forms of resistance are right in themselves and, at the very end, there is a final ‘verse’ that is the film’s prayer and benediction: Where it seems that God has all but abandoned us to the violent night, there remains the dream of a glowing fire somewhere up ahead in the dark, beckoning us on. With that, "No Country for Old Men" offers our culture a contemporary Psalm, turning us in the end to listen and look again for God in the dark. (source)

I would add that the movie seems to have an embedded critique about the "in my day things weren't so bad" argument. The fact is that "this country" has always been hard on people. So what does it mean, philosophically, that we feel such displacement, as though we were more suited to another age?


Holy Cross Sunday

It's about 45 minutes before worship this morning. The choir is rehearsing. Most of the stuff that I need to do has been done. This year the feast of the Holy Cross falls on a Sunday, which is great, since usually it gets relegated to a weekday and is therefore ignored in parishes that don't celebrate weekday feasts. Holy Cross is special to me because, of course, it is the patronal festival for the Order of the Holy Cross, with whom I've enjoyed a long relationship.

Yesterday the Holy Cross here in Toronto hosted their yearly BBQ. I saw some folks I haven't seen for a while, which is always nice. People were feeling good and enjoying themselves despite the rain which trapped us inside.

I do miss staying at the West Park house of the Order. It's been my privilege to do several long retreats there. My favorite was probably the summer between my second and third years of seminary. There were three of us "Residents" at the monastery that summer: a priest on sabbatical, a seminarian from Princeton, and me. We fell into a wonderfully mature and helpful way of being together in which we all thrived. We would sometimes gather as needed to talk through difficult things and pray with and for each other. Other times we would go out together on excursions with or without the monks to see a movie or have a picnic. But mostly we just lived the monastic life of praying, eating, and working with the same patient persistence as the river that flows by the monastery.

People are arriving and I still do have a couple of things to do before the service starts...


Friday, September 12, 2008

No Country for Old Men

We saw the movie "No Country For Old Men," last night. It's a very powerful film that explores fate, change, and the elemental forces that drive out lives. Haunting ending. I'm trying to discern about whether (and how) to preach about it.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

PhotoSynth of Hagia Sophia

This is a PhotoSynth created by National Geographic of Hagia Sophia

I love how this technology makes it so intuitive to visualize the thee-dimensional space.


Prayer (and Song) of the Week - Holy Cross

I'm writing this on the anniversary of 9/11, a tragic day in world history that changed many things. I was in classes at seminary that morning in New Haven, Connecticut, some 70 miles from Ground Zero, when it happened. I remember just before class--Christian History--that a Teaching Assistant went up to the professor and told him something that left him puzzled. As class began he explained that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center and then he proceeded with his lesson as planned. I remember thinking that he should have taken a few minutes to lead us in prayer or something, but like many people he simply did what he knew how to do (teach, in this case).

After class most of us went to the Common Room. One of the Deans had arranged for two TVs to be set up with live feeds from CNN. The footage of the planes crashing and the buildings coming down was played again and again. Confused, we gathered into clumps to discuss possible responses. In the days that followed we were sent off to do what we could. A few of my classmates went to Manhattan to offer spiritual care. Most of us, including myself, stayed in Connecticut and counseled people affected there.

Strangely, the spiritual leader of our community, the Rev'd Sandy Stayner, was nearly killed in Manhattan when the buildings fell. She was with her husband and the Archbishop of Canterbury filming a documentary about spiritual direction at Trinity Church, Wall Street, when the attack occurred. After the first building fell they had to escape the area through a labyrinth of underground tunnels and passages that honeycomb lower Manhattan. Trinity had a daycare, so as part of the evacuation each adult was given a little one to shepherd, carry, and protect. Shortly before following the building fire Marshals into dungeon-like underground, the Archbishop gathered the group in prayer. Sandy recounted later how he prayed that they would see Christ in and be Christ to all those whom they would meet in the next few hours.

I think the instinct of most of would have been to pray for protection and preservation for everyone involved in the tragedy. Or perhaps for the strength and courage to endure a dangerous moment. But this desire by the ABC to pray for Christ-likeness reveals a deep truth about who we are called to be in our times of trial. We are asked to be like Christ--specifically Christ encountering his Cross.

This week the Feast of the Holy Cross falls on a Sunday. It's a way to draw conscious attention to the center of our faith: a God who looks like us most when he suffers and dies. Ironically, we look most like God when love inspires us to take up our crosses, too. So the cross becomes the center of the universe--the intersection between this world and the next. It is the fixed pole around which our salvation and God's providence swings.

A 6th Century hymn, Pange Lingua, says it well:
Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be;
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.

Bend thy boughs, O Tree of Glory,
Thy too rigid sinews bend;
For awhile the ancient rigour
That thy birth bestowed, suspend,
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.

He endured the nails, the spitting,
Vinegar and spear and reed;
From that holy Body pierced
Blood and water forth proceed:
Earth and stars and sky and ocean
By that flood from stain are freed.

(Latin by V. Fortunatus, Tr. Percy Dearmer and J.M. Neale)

Holy God, even in disaster and death you and there to give us life in Jesus Christ. Show the way of cross to be none other than the way of truth and peace. Give us the patience and love to be Christ-like in our sufferings and to come nearer to you. We ask this in the name of the one who died and rose again, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Christ,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


"Magic Mint" aka "Salvia Divinorum"

According to the NYT, there is a new drug rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. and Canada: Salvia divinorum (literally: "Sage of the Seers." It's a plant in the mint family that has long been used by Latin American shamans to produce a hallucinogenic affect. It's much more potent than LSD--in terms of the amount necessary to create an affect--but it also wears off much faster. A typical high only lasts a few minutes.

Interestingly, no studies have documented any harmful effects from Salvia, which is probably why it is still legal federally and in most states. (But the jury is still out on long-term effects.) It is cheap and plentiful over the Internet for the time being. But a recent string of goofy You Tube videos of users clearly high out of their minds has prompted legislative action. Law makers are raising the concern that recreational use of Salvia could lead to other drugs or impair driving. Even proponents of the drug's use recommend a "sober sitter" to watch over the tripping.

People who take Salvia report brief, intense mystical experiences that are solitary and contemplative in nature. According to DEA, it's too introspective to make much of a party drug, but it is nonetheless popular among young thrill seekers.

The problem with banning the drug completely is that it makes research difficult, and many scientists believe Salvia could open the doors to entire classes of psychiatric medication:
Though Salvinorin A, because of its debilitating effects, is unlikely to become a pharmaceutical agent itself, its chemistry may enable the discovery of valuable derivatives. “If we can find a drug that blocks salvia’s effects, there’s good evidence it could treat brain disorders including depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, maybe even H.I.V.,” Dr. Roth said. ...

“We have this incredible new compound, the first in its class; it absolutely has potential medical use, and here we’re talking about throttling it because some people get intoxicated on it,” said Dr. John Mendelson, a pharmacologist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute who, with federal financing, is studying salvia’s impact on humans. “It couldn’t be more foolish from a business point of view.”(source)

From a botany point of view, it's a noteworthy example of a "cultigen"--a species of plant resulting from human intervention. The ancients biogenetically engineered this plant to be a potent source of this drug. (As an aside, Bananas are also a cultigen.)

I've never tried LSD or anything like it, but I would be curious to go on a shaman-supervised vision quest someday. Perhaps like Kabbalah it's something to be explored only after one has a lifetime of experience in order to be properly grounded. Safety first!


Will the New Particle Collider End the World?

Picture leached from the New York Times

CERN (The European Centre for Nuclear Research) in Europe just fired up their brand new, $8 Billion Particle Collider in Geneva. With a 17-mile magnetic track it is by far the largest such device in the world. In a few months they will begin experimental collisions with the energy of 7 Trillion Electron Volts. No one has come even close to this scale.

As is often the case with cutting-edge science, fears have been raised and doomsday scenarios posited. A very small minority of scientists have raised concerns that this machine could create small black holes or weird, unknown, and dangerous radiation. In response to that, the scientists designing the Large Hadron Collider (as it is known) have pointed out that their experiments are simply replicating events that happen naturally. Their physics models (the one's being tested and developed by this collider) show that any black holes that do get created will rapidly decay and will not endanger the earth.

Still, I can't help but feel a little nervous. I'm reminded of the scientists that thought a nuclear explosion would cause a chain reaction that would ignite the entire earth's atmosphere. I'm also reminded of an intense and vivid dream I had a few years ago in which aliens were drawn to the earth after sensing strange radiation emanating from a large collider. In the dream, I traveled to the underground research facility and repelled the alien invasion with cunning and a 12-gauge. Oh, and I also had to defeat the Secret Service, who thought I was there to harm the President (who taking a photo op with the new Collider). It was such an exciting and vivid dream that it's still one of my all-time favorites!

No doubt the collider is a convenient carrier for the usual anxieties I'm feeling about ministry. Today I received an anonymous note attacking the mural and my taste--I wonder whether it is the same person that tried to insult me over the internet a few months ago? A buddy-in-arms called me while I was stewing over this nasty note I got and sensed something was wrong. When I told him about the note his response was appropriately short and curt: "If it's not signed it's not worth a ****." Ah, the Zen Master speaks! The student listens to the wise Master.

So much of leadership is figuring out who's opinion you should listen to. I mean, you should hear everyone, but not everyone's notions should carry equal weight when you are making decisions. I know, that seems obvious, but in practice it becomes much more complicated. Try holding your ground when people actually leave the congregation over it, for instance.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PhotoSynth of Children's Chapel

The folks at Microsoft just recently released a very, very cool web-application into Beta: PhotoSynth. It's an incredible way of stitching photographs into a 3-D universe that allows you to jump from photo-to-photo. Right now it's only available for PC (sorry Mac friends) and you need a high-bandwidth Internet connection to enjoy it. You'll also need to download a free browser plug-in. I know--that's a hassle, but the results are worth it! This is probably the coolest piece of software ever to come out of Microsoft.


Sermon - Pentecost 17 2008

Here I am preaching about the significance of conflict in Christian Community as an opportunity for growth.

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


Sermon - Pentecost 16 2008

My first sermon back from Vacation. Talked about what it means to bear one's cross as Christian in Turkey.

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


The Mural is FINISHED!

Susy finished the Mural in the Children's Chapel. It look's awesome. Here's a few shots...
The "Heaven" Wall

Left side of "Heaven" with John the Baptist, Theresa of Calcutta, and Barbara

Peter, Mary Magdalene, Cherubs, and others on the right side of Heaven

The Kingdom of God on Earth

Many of the animals were modeled on those of actual parishioner's and staff

Mary and Joseph looking on the scene, proud of their son

And yes, that is me in the "Earth" side of the mural wearing a gray Utilikilt. I'm thankful that Susy gave me hair in the Kingdom of God! (I was a cute kid)


Friday, September 5, 2008

Art from Articles

I had trouble getting to sleep last night. It was a little warm in our bedroom, I suppose. But since the weather is only going to get cooler from now on it doesn't make much sense to try to put the A/C in. Interestingly, our new bedroom is much "warmer" feeling than the old one: probably because of the wall-to-wall carpet and the smaller size.

I finished that article for the Anglican. They are going to pay me this time, which is extra cool and definitely may motivate me to do another. I'm saving up to buy a piece of art for the new house. I have my eye on a gorgeous long Japanese Zen Bodhidharma scroll. I really like these type of scroll paintings. Here's a very nice version of the Heart Sutra:

And there are lots of beautiful landscapes and still-lifes, too. So that's something to look forward to.

The Mural is finished! Yipee! Now we just have to plan for the official unveiling.

The sound system at the church broke last Sunday. Luckily I believe I can get it repaired tomorrow. What it is it with church sound systems? So rarely are they done well. This one is in terrible shape and I'm surprised it lasted this long!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Moved In

Okay, everything that should be at 20 McMaster is now here. We've even managed to get the internet up and running. Our friends from Farnham helped us with the last bit of the move (cleaning the Farnham House) and then bought us take out and champaign, which was a great way to relax after the move.

Now we are coasting into tonight expecting a nice sleep in our old bed in it's new place.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008


The last couple days have been busy between church stuff and preparation for the move. On Monday I spent a few hours waiting for the technician from Rogers to arrive and set-up our cable, phone, and internet connections--this he did with little drama and a thick accent. Rogers uses outside contractors to do this kind of work, and they can vary widely in skill. I've noticed, however, that the more services you install at once, the more skillful technician they send. This guy, for instance, brought various diagnostic gear with him to make sure our connections would work. But his skillfulness did not prevent him for accidentally disconnecting the cable to the unit upstairs! This bewilders me all the more since both I and the guy that lives upstairs told the cable guy that there are two units in the house and please don't cut the cable upstairs!

Meanwhile, I replaced a dated overhead light in the kitchen with a more modern Ikea version. Installation was straightforward.

Betsy and I have been making trips to hand-carry delicate, precious things like art and crystal. This evening we've been packing up our clothes and a few other things that will make tomorrow smoother. A crew of guys are coming tomorrow morning to pack everything up except the bed. We'll have one last night here and then Thursday they will come with the truck to cart it all over to the new place down the hill.

At times like this obstructions seem to come out of thin air. Last night, for instance, a car collected a nail in a tire and deflated. Luckily, I bought an air pump a few months ago and was able to pump up the tire long enough to get to a place where they can repair the flat, thus sparing the spare.

At work I've been frustrated with the challenge of getting the lighting in the children's chapel underway. I still don't have an electrician or electrical plans and the scaffolding goes away on Friday! Susy expects to be done with the painting tomorrow! Of course, doing the work after the scaffolding goes away won't be impossible, just a little less efficient and little more expensive. Ah, well.

So the next 48 hours will be especially crazy!