Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama Roasts Rahm Emanuel

In this clip from a 2005 Political Roast, then Senator Obama displays his wit making fun of Rahm Emanuel--now his Chief of Staff at the White House. The relate to each other more like brothers with a unique talent for getting under each other's skin as this New York Times article relates:
Early this month, Barack Obama was meeting with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other lawmakers when Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, began nervously cracking a knuckle. Mr. Obama then turned to complain to Mr. Emanuel about his noisy habit. At which point, Mr. Emanuel held the offending knuckle up to Mr. Obama’s left ear and, like an annoying little brother, snapped off a few special cracks. (source)

In this clip it's time for big-brother Obama to give a little love. There are some genuinely funny lines in here...


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Myth of Teen Promiscuity

There have been several articles in the media lately about the "Myth of Rampant Teen Promiscuity." Basically, sociologists have determined that teens today are having less sex and are postponing the onset of sex compared to teens 10 or 20 years ago. the notion that kids today are more sexually active than their forebears is simply false. While it is true that teen pregnancy is on the rise, that may have more do with abstinence-only sex ed programmes than loosened mores. This goes against prevailing wisdom, and that discontinuity between popular myth and measured reality is, itself, a worthy topic to explore.

In her NYTimes blog Judith Warner argues that adults want to believe in teen promiscuity (and other forms of "moral panic") because it masks more complex problems. This is familiar territory, think of the alarms raised over the "Overscheduled Child," the "boys are falling behind girls in school" phenomenon, or the "Overmedicated Child."
After all, moral panics – particularly those concerning children – always serve some hidden purpose. “Modern ideas about the innocent child have long been projections of adult needs and frustrations,” Gary Cross, a professor of modern history at Penn State University, writes in his 2004 book, “The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture.” “In the final analysis, modern innocence has let adults evade the consequences of their own contradictory lives.”

All the examples of child myth-making that I’ve mentioned here have to do, at base, with the perceived corruption of childhood, the loss of some kind of “natural” innocence. When they depart from kernels of reality to rise to the level of myth, they are, I believe, largely projections that enable adults to evade things. Specifically, the overblown focus on messed-up kids affords parents the possibility of avoiding looking inward and taking responsibility for the highly complex problems of everyday life. (source)

The fact is that the best way to delay the onset of sexual activity in children is to be engaged in good solid parenting. "Teenagers with more parental supervision, who come from two-parent households and who are doing well in school are more likely to delay sex until their late teens or beyond. 'For teens, sex requires time and lack of supervision,' Dr. Kefalas said. 'What’s really important for us to pay attention to, as researchers and as parents, are the characteristics of the kids who become pregnant and those who get sexually transmitted diseases'" (source). Usually, it is argued, kids who engage in risky behaviour (sexual or otherwise) are acting out because of underlying problems such as low self-esteem, isolation/loneliness, and poor emotional intimacy with parents. Blaming traditional sex education as being too permissive or popular culture is not a sufficient response to the very real problems that some kids have.


Super-Bowl Snacks...

Check out this bad boy: a model stadium built entirely from snack foods:

I'll quote the recipe from the Holy Taco blog:
The Greatest Snack Food Stadium Ever Built


The Field:
1 Pound of Guacamole
15 Oz. Queso Dip For The Steelers End Zone
15 Oz. Salsa For The Cardinals End Zone
2 Oz. Sour Cream for the Field Lines

The Players:
15 Vienna Sausages
Helmets - 3 Oz. Sharp Cheddar Cheese

The Goal Posts:
1 Slim Jim for Each Goal Post
1 Oz. Monterey Jack Cheddar To Anchor (each)

The Stands:
58 Twinkies
1 Pound of Bacon
1 Bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos
1 Bag of Cheetos
1 Bag of Corn Tortilla Chips
1 Bag of Chex Mix

The Blimp:
20 Oz. Football-Shaped Summer Sausage (optional) (on second thought, no, this isn't optional. Go buy one.)

TOTAL COST: $86.47
TOTAL DELICIOUSNESS: 1 Billion trillion, dude. One billion trillion.

1. Put all your ingredients on an empty table and take a really crappy photo.
2. Take one pound of guacamole and smear it on the center of a baking tray, leaving a section on either end for end zones.
3. It's important here to fill one end zone with one filling, and one end zone with another, so that neither team receives home field deliciousness. We chose salsa for the Cardinals, and Queso dip for the Steelers.
4. Take sour cream and put it into a turkey baster, then squeeze gently to make the yard lines across the field.
5. Vienna sausages make delicious players, and tiny cheese wedge helmets help keep them from getting concussions. Two different types of cheese helps to distinguish the teams. The goal posts are made from Slim Jim's, that we cut up, then stuck together with tooth picks. Monterey Jack cheese was used as an anchor to keep them standing, with a tooth pick linking the two together. At no point was it necessary to "snap in to" any of these slim jims. Cutting worked better.
6. Now that the field is finished, you can begin constructing the stadium around it, which you will also eat. It's important to lay down some paper towels, so that no food comes in contact with your disgusting table top. (Because if you're a person who makes this, you definitely have a disgusting table top.)
7. The twinkie is nature's brick. You can make your stadium as large as you want, depending on how many twinkies you have at your disposal. We had 58. And probably could have used 90. Use tooth picks to secure the twinkies to one another. This outer stadium wall will provide a delicious dessert when the contents of the stadium have been eaten.
8. The bacon wall is the most important part of the stadium, because it keeps the throngs of screaming fans, in this case chips, from falling on the field, in this case the guacamole and salsa. Insert tooth picks into the first row of twinkies, and then weave the bacon in and out of them, so that it forms a pliable wall.
9. Without the fans, there would be no game. It's no different in your snack stadium, so select four different kinds of snacks to fill the stands. Be sure to use pieces of bacon to separate your crowd into sections.
10. As you can see, the chips give the feeling of a crowd of crazed fans. Especially the cheetos, who can barely contain their excitement at Vienna Sausage Roethlisberger and his delectable team.
11. At any major sporting event, a blimp shows up. In this case it's a 20 ounce summer sausage, that's shaped like a football. It doesn't float, we just took out the wire in photoshop, so don't get freaked out. (source)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Eating Dirt

Eating dirt is good for you. Don't believe me? Read the New York Times:

Indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.

In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.

These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries. (source)

Dirt, it does the body good!


Sermon - Epiphany 3 2009

This Sunday I preached about retreat and rest. I had given most of the volunteers a break from regular Sunday responsibilities, and judging from their expressions I think it worked. Interestingly, this sermon went much longer that my usual 10-12 minutes. It went 18! Amazing how he time flies when you get into a story!

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


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

long-day, short-post

Long-day equals short post. I started it with some shovelling (heavy snow falling all day up here in Toronto). Then I had a very nice Contemplative Eucharist with the regulars for that service. I got started on my Column for the March Anglican (having spent much of yesterday writing down dead-ends), but was interrupted by a deanery meeting. The bishop was there, but honestly it was hard to focus with lots to do back at COTM. One of the more interesting things I learned was from a Postulant looking to start a moms' fellowship group in a church northwest of here: apparently there is a mom's group in my area so popular in has a waiting list. My informant was confident that another group formed at COTM would grow quickly. The issue, she told me, is making sure there are strong connections between the church and the group. That means putting discipleship as a core value from early on. Otherwise it might as well be at the YMCA for all the parent's care. Good to know!

Anyway, got the column done. I'm pleased with the results, I'll post it here when it gets published. Now I'm going to rush off to the gym to get a workout in before supper.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Worshiping at the Apple Store

From Dave Walker's Cartoon Church blog:
January 3rd, 2009

At the Apple store

I went to the Apple store in London.

The worship space was brightly lit, and row upon row of devotees stood at wooden benches gazing in adoration at white machines of varying shapes and sizes. A glass staircase lead upwards, where further rows of worshippers were doing much the same as those downstairs. People wearing bright shirts stood behind other desks, and names appeared on large screens. In the upper sanctuary a gathering of the faithful sat on wide comfortable pews and listened to a sermon.

I found the whole experience quite baffling. I could not see any orders of service anywhere, so it was rather difficult to know what I should be doing. Eventually I plucked up the courage to approach a sidesman, who explained what the worshippers were all doing and answered some of my questions about the basic tenets of the faith. He took me over to one of the white machines and explained some of the ways in which I too could become a follower should I choose. There would of course be very real costs involved.

Wary of making a commitment on my first visit I thanked the sideman and explained that I was in a bit of a hurry. To his credit he did not seem to mind.

I left clutching a parish magazine and thinking that returning on another occasion might not be entirely out of the question. (source)


Back to Work

I was really kind of "off" on Sunday. Not sure why, but I was just not as sharp as I normally am. I ended up making a lot of stupid, small mistakes. I even caused an accident at home that could have ended badly for us (but didn't thank God). Again, I can't isolate the reason--I had plenty of sleep the night before and wasn't feeling ill. I do notice that my "sharpness" tends to ebb and flow, probably according to a cycle that could be charted. There in an entire scientific area of study known as Chronobiology that studies the cycles inherit in living creatures. Usually these correspond to solar or lunar factors.

Anyway, I'm hoping that today will be a better day. I have an staff meeting today as well as an article to write for the Anglican.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Busy Weekend

This weekend has been surprisingly busy. Friday night was a going-away party for a friend of Betsy and me. It was a party full of academics, so you can imagine what that's like! Saturday was brunch and then a much-needed nap and then a wedding of a friend. Because it was a priest getting married (and to an atheist--go figure) there were lots of clergy there. It reminded me of the Diocesan events I go to all the time, except Betsy was there and looking ravishing in her black evening gown. It's always fun to get dressed up and go out for events like this. We got home late for the second night in a row.

This morning we took all the normal volunteer jobs away from the volunteers to have a "Sabbath Sunday." I preached about sabbath and retreat and the link to God's callings. People seem to be really happy and feeling good. The new family that came last week was back again and are talking about baptism dates. I'm pushing for Easter, naturally! Things are humming along well.

I'm tired, now, but have to a friend's Priestly ordination this PM. My favourite part of these liturgies is when all the priests gather around the candidate and put our hands on his or her head to confer the Apostolic ju-ju. I remember when I was on my knees receiving that blessing and be aware of how much heat and pressure and prayer were around me in that moment. Good stuff.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Cat Adopts Squirrel

This made even funnier by the commentary of the news reporter: "Perhaps there is a lesson to learn in all of this..." What?


Woman with 130 Cats

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Temple Grandin Part 2

Here is the first 10 minutes of a BBC documentary about Temple Grandin...


Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is one of the most interesting people walking the planet today. She is a scientist who has made understanding the way animals experience the world her focus. Considerable focus it is, too, when you consider that she is autistic. In fact, she believes strongly that her autism has given her unusual insight into the psychology of animals. But whereas many who care about animals and about how they are treated have an adversarial relationship with the livestock industry, she has worked with them to reform their methods of handling animals to be more humane. Perhaps most famously, she consulted with McDonalds to change the way their supplier's slaughter houses are designed. As a result, nearly half the cattle slaughtered in the U.S. and Canada are done so according to the stress-reducing protocols she has established.

She has a new book out called Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals in which she draws on her own work as well as that by neurobiologists to explore the emotions of animals. Having pets, I know that she is absolutely right to consider our obligation to provide the happiest, most playful life we can to our creatures.

The most interesting thing, though, about Temple Grandin is how comes at things from a totally different way of understanding the world. Because of her autism, her style of thinking is peculiar and yet arrives at stunning insights. By all means, check her out!


Sermon - Epiphany 2 2009 - MLK Sunday

Marili Moore did an excellent job on Sunday preaching about Social Justice and the implications of Martin Luther King's prophetic legacy.

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


Sermon - Epiphany 1 2009

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


Wednesday, January 21, 2009


An odd day that started normally enough with the Contemplative Eucharist here at COTM. I had time afterwards to clean up and answer some e-mails and blog a bit before rushing off to a Dentist appointment.

This was a follow up from a week or so ago. They wanted me back to fill some small cavities and clean up some old bonding work. I really like Dr. Brown and his office. No waiting, even though they were busy. Friendly staff. Good banter. Modern, pristine office. Efficient and high-quality work. And, perhaps most importantly for dentists, superb pain management.

After rubbing a topical anaesthetic of some sort on my gums they began injecting something (perhaps Lidocaine) into the gums to deaden the nerves before drilling. Here is where things got interesting. The (attractive female) Dental Assistant began massaging my left earlobe. "I'm just going to distract you from what what Dr. Brown is doing," she explained. I immediately understood, I've seen similar techniques used with children in the hospital. So I decided to relax by entering into a mode of being attentive to my body. Having meditating a few hours helped.

I noticed several things going on at once. First, the earlobe trick works on several levels. On a purely neurological level, it's true that giving my system more than one novel sensory input at a time caused my attentions to be divided and lessened my perception of the injections. On a psychological level, the earlobe massage was also both novel and soothing, so it worked that way as well. There was a moment when I was thinking, "Really? You're going to do that while he sticks needles in my gums? Hmm. Okay..." Anyway, I didn't feel a thing.

Dr. Brown drilled out the cavities and then one of his people went to work filling in the holes and also cleaning up the bonding work. When they were done I was pleasantly surprised by the difference they made. The bonding is imperceivable. In fact, my teeth look whiter than before. Well worth putting up with a little earlobe massage.

After the dentist it was off to lunch with a parishioner. Thai food at a place on Yonge: Mint. I enjoyed a Thai Ice Tea thankful that the Lidocaine had worn off.

After that I hit the gym for a sold hour of weights and cardio. Interesting how even just a few gym sessions makes a perceptible difference in how I feel.

Now I'm just finishing up my day at church. And a good day it was!


Atom Agoyan's "Adoration"

A few days ago Betsy and attended a special screening of Atom Egoyan's new movie Adoration. Egoyan is a Canadian film maker known for some remarkable films like Exotica (1994), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), and (my favorite of his so far) Ararat (2002). The screening was held at Innis College at the University of Toronto, where Egoyan is a Distinguished Visitor. He showed up after the screening to answer questions from the audience for about half an hour.

Like many of Egoyan's films, questions of identity as mediated by both history and the representation of history are front and centre. Egoyan is also very interested in how trauma is ritualized and socially processed.

This has obvious roots in Egoyan's biography--it was when he came to the U of T as an Undergrad that he began learning about his Armenian heritage and the legacy of the genocide. At the time Father Harold Nahabedian (also of Armenian heritage) was the Chaplain at Trinity College. Harold taught Egoyan the Armenian Alphabet and other cultural lessons, and Egoyan remembers that time fondly.

During the Q and A period I asked Egoyan about the relationship between his own experience of coming-of-age and the appearance of that theme in his work. He didn't really answer the question, but Betsy, my wife-the-art-historian, pointed out that artists rarely have good answers as to why they create certain things. It's part of the old "Fallacy of Authorial Intention" problem familiar to anyone who has studied critical theory. The better question is probably "how" they create. My sister Lynne used to interview a lot of artists, I bet she would back me up on that.

Here is the trailor for Adoration:

Good movie. Heavy on character study.


And Winner of the Prayer Contest is....

The Rev'd Dr. Joseph Lowery!

I don't think anyone else could have pulled this off, but he sure did!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bishop Robinson's Prayer Controversy

The plot thickens... HBO said that they didn't broadcast Bishop Robinson's prayer because the Inaugural Planning Committee had decided to put it in the "pre-show." The Obama people have apologized and said that this was a mistake. So today the whole Lincoln Memorial Concert will be re-broadcast, with the Bishop's prayer.

Here is a summary of events around this from Rachel Maddow:

As for the prayer itself, here the video currently circulating on the web:

I imagine that this was a challenging prayer to write! But I'm proud that the Episcopal Church had such a central role in everything. I have some friends on staff at Washington National Cathedral and I'm curious what kind of stuff they have going on around the Inauguration.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson Discussing His Role in the Inauguration

Bishop Robinson, who is very controversial for being the first (openly) gay Anglican bishop was sought out by Barack Obama early in the campaign to discuss "being first" as well as issues of relevance to the LGBT community. He was also consulted about the Millennium Development Goals. So in a sense it was not so surprising that he would be one of the religious leaders asked to pray at the Inauguration. It seems likely, perhaps, that the planners wished the balance the two sides of religious life in America by also inviting Rick Warren (who has said some very conservative things about human sexuality).

The two men are being quite polite about the whole thing:
Last week, the two men of the cloth, Robinson and Warren, joined forces. "President-elect Obama has again demonstrated his genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground," Warren said, commenting on the selection of Robinson. "I applaud his desire to be the president of every citizen." Robinson echoed those sentiments. "Frankly, I think it is a magnificent, symbolic statement that Rick Warren and I will be praying for the new president and the nation." (source)

I think it's a brilliant example of Obama's big-tent inclusiveness. He really likes sustaining mutually exclusive ideas in dialog. Below is a clip of Robinson being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on her show.

Incidentally, I'm not sure his prayer made it onto the HBO special. Did anyone else catch it? Nor is it on You Tube, yet. I'll be curious to hear/read it. I met Bishop Robinson once when I was in Seminary--I found him to be an excellent preacher and a nice enough guy to have in your chapel!


Sunday, January 18, 2009


We had an MLK service at church this morning. To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. we had a drummer and Bass player and sang lots of Gospel and civil rights hymns. This congregation has enough people of black heritage (perhaps a third of the congregation) that these themes resonate deeply. I'm blessed with a truly diverse congregation. Like last Sunday, there was a lot of joy and energy and warmth. I feel really good right now about the way things are developing here at the church. More than one person has commented that they feel like the community is very close right now.

I believe strongly that the way to achieve growth for us, besides focusing on ministry to kids and focusing on the local neighbourhoods needs, is to create a tightly bonded and loving community. In fact, that kind of tightness and enriched community life is probably prerequisite for the kind of Mission that we want to do.

You see, many people talk about how churches need a "critical mass" in order to grow. Without that mass there just isn't enough energy or people to reach, attract, and integrate new people. It is said that you can achieve this critical mass either by being in a demographically growing area or by merging congregations together, but I think a third way is by making your existing congregation denser. That is, to enrich the interconnection and intimacy within your existing community. In that way, even a very small congregation can achieve such warmth and love that growth will be almost inevitable.

I know, this probably seems like an obvious thing, but actually shifting a congregation's social culture is very, very difficult. From a leadership perspective, I think it's probably very important that the new way of being together be modelled from the top-down. It's also important to be very firm about maintaining the boundaries of psychological safety. What I mean by that is that if Pastors want warm communities they need to police bad behaviour like bullying. I know so many congregations that have a dynamic poisoned by bullying!

A colleague who is leading a fast-growing midtown congregation told me the other day that one of her recent learnings is how fledgling, emerging, or newly growing communities, especially, need pastors willing to protect them from the wolves. You have to have some sense as the Pastor about what kind of behaviour you are willing to accept or not accept. Otherwise you'll end up harbouring all kinds of nastiness.

Back to this morning. I asked Marili (my Honourary Assistant) to preach. I'm glad I did as she gave an excellent sermon about social justice and the legacy of MLK. She could even talk about visiting King's church in Atlanta. She was excellent. I'll post it when I get a chance.

Another highlight this morning was being visited by a family looking to have their child baptized. Considering how well the last two baptisms went I'm feeling fantastic about a third. I know that many pastors feel badly when families disappear after having their children baptized, but we haven't had that problem yet. I'm really proud at how well our community has integrated the new families that have come to us. Usually in Pastoral-Sized congregations it's the Rector that does the work of integration, but I feel that here the congregation itself has done that remarkably well. The new families have even started volunteering for different projects and programmes. That said, I think I probably need to beef up my baptism preparation stuff. For example, a lot of congregations have handouts they give that cover a lot of basic groundwork and get things going. On the other hand, the more informal style of COTM is part of our appeal.

Now I'm getting ready to go home to take the rest of the day off to watch the NFL Playoffs. Life is good.


Article in the Daily Episcopalian

The Daily Episcopalian, one of the blogs on the Episcopal Café website, is running an article I wrote. Regular readers will remember our roof disaster on Christmas Eve here at the church. It was a big deal to be asked to write for this blog--they get about 4,000 visits (12,000 page views) per day! This personal blog gets only a fraction of that--so I feel pretty honoured.

Once upon a time my grade school teachers didn't think I would amount to much when it came to writing. My mother was even accused once of not reading enough to me as a kid! Her counter-claim to their criticism was that they weren't sufficiently challenging me. I think history has proven her right--all three of her kids do a substantial amount of writing in their careers. One of my sisters was a senior magazine editor until she recently decided to go back to school for another degree. My other sister is the Director of Communications for a major American non-profit. Odd how we all ended up doing stuff that involves words!

Anyway, I'm really enjoying having the chance to write for the Episcopal Café and for The Anglican. It's a very different set of muscles than sermon writing.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goat Starts Fire--Cat Rescues Family

The Goat-Cat war has begun...

Goat starts Iowa fire; cat raises alarm

DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Firefighters say a cat is the hero and a goat is the goat in a house fire that destroyed an Iowa home this week.

The blaze in Warren County was believed to have been started by a goat that knocked over a space heater in an attached shed Tuesday and it might have proved deadly had the family cat not awakened the sleeping residents.

"My cat woke me up and I saw smoke coming out of my fan," John

Hadley told KCCI-TV, Des Moines. I made sure I got her (Hadley's mother) out and then I know she loves her animals, so I rounded all her animals up, and by that point, flames and smoke were everywhere."

Hadley and the other two people in the house had to wait in freezing cold for firefighters to arrive from several miles away. Officials told KCCI there wasn't much they could do by the time they were on scene.

All the people were unharmed as were the two goats and the family dog. The hero cat apparently bolted the scene and was still missing Wednesday, although Hadley was certain it was alive and well. (source)


A Recent Article About the Mt. Calvary Fire

The LA Times ran an article about the loss of the Mt. Calvary Monastery of the Order of the Holy Cross. The reporter actually interviewed me briefly for it, though nothing I said made it into the piece. He got my name from googling the fire and finding my blog. I think the advent of blogging probably makes it much easier for reporters to find people saying interesting things about current events. Anyway... it's descent snapshot of the current situation. I was especially interested to see that Kathleen Norris is doing a reading to raise money. I'm currently working my way (slowly) through her latest book: Acedia and Me.

It's a good book, though I'll wait to review it until I'm finished. Anyway, I'm glad that Norris is getting involved to help out.

I'm curious to see what the Order decides to do. Lots of moving pieces to this problem. Money, people, mission priorities, etc. I know the feeling of staring this kind of wide-open reality in the face! What do you do when you can do anything?


New Year, New Body?

So I've started going back to the gym this week. It was a good workout yesterday: upper-body resistance training and then half-an-hour of cardio. I just have to keep my motivation up to keep going. I find music helps--especially rap! I think I need to join a class of some sort. I'm strongly considering Ju Jitsu--that would be a very appropriate choice for a ninja priest. I used to take martial training quite seriously and was pretty good at Karate (Ishin Ryu was my style). It's nice have areas of life where one can be unapologetically aggressive!

I also went to the Dentist for the first time in many years. I know, I know, I'm a bad person for not going sooner. But who wants to go to the Dentist? They said I didn't have as much tartar as they expected (so I guess I'm doing a descent job brushing). And my gums were in pretty good shape, too. They found one small cavity they are going to fill Monday.

The big issue, however, is that I still have three missing teeth leftover from dental work I had done way back in High School. At the time we didn't have money for implants and didn't like the idea of destroying healthy teeth to put in a conventional bridge. So instead we opted for a "Maryland" Bridge. But of the four bridges only one has survived to the present day. I gave up having the others re-glued every few months.

So I still have these gaps. The ideal solution would be implants--but the cost is astronomical. We'd be looking at $15,000 when all is said and done. The other option is a conventional bridge (still expensive) and the third option would be some kind of denture appliance. These are a hassle, but would keep the teeth around the gaps from shifting in. Realistically, we probably won't be able to afford to have my mouth fixed properly until Betsy graduates and gets a job! Sigh.

But I suppose the good news is that I really like the dentist we found, Dr. Brown. He's a nice guy and his office is very thought out and polished. Everyone, including the hygienist, was kind and competent. Nor did I feel like I was entering a confessional booth, as sometimes happens in shame-based dental care offices.

The contacts are still working out for me, as well. After about a week with a trial pair I think I'm ready to make the change permanent. I'm getting better about sticking them into my eyes, though I'll be glad when I've mastered the technique completely.

I wouldn't call any of this a New Year's Resolution--but it is true that the New Year does make a convenient time to make changes like these. I just hope I can maintain motivation around these convictions!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Cussing Pastor

There is an interesting movement afoot in the Mega-Church world. Mark Driscoll, known as the "Cussing Pastor" has developed a hyper-masculine, uber-Calvinist style of church that has a attracted a large following of young people in Seattle. The NYTimes Magazine article about Driscoll argues that this is really a reaction to to main-stream evangelical pastors who have been watering down the edgier side of Jesus and the Gospel for the sake of attracting seekers. Driscoll will have none of that. Neither will he abide feminists or, apparently, dissent to his policies!

Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself. (source)

But this is not your grandfather's Calvinism--Driscoll is very with-it. He knows exactly how to speak to this generation and does so fluently. Nor he is afraid to talk about sex. This is one of the things that alienates him from other evangelicals. "Family friendly" he ain't!

Anyway, I would recommend the article for it's protrayal of this very controversial preacher and exploration of how Calvinism and Chauvinism intersect.


Love Potion?

There is a hilarious article in the NYTimes about research into the biochemistry of love. Larry Young, a researcher in Social Neurobiology at Emory, recently published an article in the journal Nature that purports to explain much of the biological foundations of love. There is a sequence of drugs and hormones triggered by circumstances that produce the feelings and motivate the behaviours we call "love."
[Prairie voles] are among the small minority of mammals — less than 5 percent — who share humans’ propensity for monogamy. When a female prairie vole’s brain is artificially infused with oxytocin, a hormone that produces some of the same neural rewards as nicotine and cocaine, she’ll quickly become attached to the nearest male. A related hormone, vasopressin, creates urges for bonding and nesting when it is injected in male voles (or naturally activated by sex). After Dr. Young found that male voles with a genetically limited vasopressin response were less likely to find mates, Swedish researchers reported that men with a similar genetic tendency were less likely to get married. In his Nature essay, Dr. Young speculates that human love is set off by a “biochemical chain of events” that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving mother-child bonding, which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery and nursing. (source)

So it is possible to create a love potion? "Absolutely," claims Young and his team:
“It would be completely unethical to give the drug to someone else,” he said, “but if you’re in a marriage and want to maintain that relationship, you might take a little booster shot yourself every now and then. Even now it’s not such a far-out possibility that you could use drugs in conjunction with marital therapy.” (source)

The funny part of the article comes from the author's speculation about the creation of an anti-love drug--a vaccine against the effects of love.
Could any discovery be more welcome? This is what humans have sought ever since Odysseus ordered his crew to tie him to the mast while sailing past the Sirens. Long before scientists identified neuroreceptors, long before Britney Spears’ quickie Vegas wedding or any of Larry King’s seven marriages, it was clear that love was a dangerous disease. (source)

Yet more avenues of treatment in the emerging field of cosmetic neurology. "Cosmetic Neurology," if you unfamiliar with the term, is the use of drugs to enhance otherwise healthy brains. They can give you drugs to make you feel good, work harder, react faster, focus better, or remember more. Imagine being able to take a drug that would temporarily improve your memory or focus just before a test? In fact, this is why Ritalin abuse has become so popular on University campuses. Interestingly, abuse of Ritalin is most common in the very competitive Universities of the northeast U.S. Despite the risks, kids are willing to take these (FDA Approved) drugs to gain an academic edge. I suppose the fact that these drugs have been approved for medically-supervised use is a comfort to abusers, but, of course, even Cocaine is FDA approved for certain conditions! In other words, just because it comes in a pill doesn't mean it won't kill you.

So once again science is opening up huge new ethical questions and opportunities!


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Death of a Theologian

David Brooks of the NYTimes has a meditation on the recent death of theologian and priest Richard John Neuhaus. Fr. Neauhaus became somewhat controversial for advocating that American public life (politics) should never be divorced from a religiously-centred morality. He became embraced by both conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics for these and other views. He was a man who went through many changes: Canadian-to-American, Lutheran-to-Catholic, Democrat-to-Republican.

The focus of Brooks' essay, however, is death. The way Neuhaus approached death has the ring of wisdom for me, and it's notable for it's lack of sentimentality:
William D. Eddy was an Episcopal minister in Tarrytown, N.Y., and an admirer of the writer and theologian Richard John Neuhaus. When Rev. Eddy grew gravely ill about 20 years ago, I asked Neuhaus to write him a letter of comfort.

I was shocked when I read it a few weeks later. As I recall, Neuhaus’s message was this: There are comforting things you and I have learned to say in circumstances such as these, but we don’t need those things between ourselves.

Neuhaus then went on to talk frankly and extensively about death. Those two men were in a separate fraternity and could talk directly about things the rest avoided. (source)

In Brooks' request for "comfort" I see the problem of most pastoral care requests. People ask us religious types for words of comfort for loved ones. What they really want, usually, is to be comforted themselves!


Football's Magic Yellow Line

Here is a short video someone sent me about how they create that magic yellow first-down line that you see in NFL coverage now:

Interesting that they use an audio signal to carry the data--I bet that makes a lot of sense when you consider how carefully the audio signal is synced to the video.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Fine Cuban

Last night we had some friends over to watch football and enjoy each other's company. One couple was just back from vacation in Cuba. Naturally, they bought some fine Cuban Cigars and shared them with us. Being on the deck in the frigid cold smoking them and talking about our wives (who declined to join us) and jobs and the prospect of starting families was one of the most satisfying conversations I've had for a long time. Equally great was rejoining our ladies by the fireplace and sipping Elmer T. Lee (a Christmas gift from a certain friend). I'm so grateful that God has seen fit to give me so many blessings. I try to be equally grateful when times are tough, but it goes against human nature.

Anyway the question is whether smoking a cigar can be a "spiritual" experience. I think the answer is obviously "yes." A rabbi once said that when we get to heaven God will ask one question: "Did you enjoy my creation?" I certainly will have an answer ready.

Incidentally, it's been many, many years since I've smoked a cigar. Like Bourbon, Scotch, or Fellini movies, it's an acquired taste. And even though I enjoyed the cigar last night even more than I expected, I won't be buying them for myself anytime soon! It's a special occasions kind of thing.

Also striking is how uber-masculine this all was. I thought of a line from a Pablo Neruda poem, "The smell of barber shops makes me cry out loud." Having been in a barber shop recently (all straight razors and barbercide jars that look like they belong in an antique shop), I know what he means. It's an extraordinary comfort sometimes to relax into conventional gender expectations and just be a guy! I felt that way when the Barber was teasing me about not having much hair to cut and I certainly felt that way on my porch with the Cohibas last night.

I'm sure there is a sermon in here somewhere. I'll be thinking about that night for a while.


Friday, January 9, 2009

(English) Country-Fried Squirrel


According to the NYT, ever since the North American Gray Squirrel began invading the habitat of U.K.-native Red Squirrels, the English have been going nuts for squirrel meat:
Enter the “Save Our Squirrels” campaign begun in 2006 to rescue Britain’s red squirrels by piquing the nation’s appetite for their marauding North American cousins. With a rallying motto of “Save a red, eat a gray!” the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat.

British bon vivants suddenly couldn’t get enough squirrel. Television chefs were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers’ markets were selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on the menu. (source)

What's even funnier is how the food writer and chefs describe these dishes:
Mr. Henderson, who cooks with both poetry and passion, sometimes prepares his squirrels “to recreate the bosky woods they come from,” braising them with bacon, “pig’s trotter, porcini and whole peeled shallots to recreate the forest floor.” He serves it with wilted watercress “to evoke the treetops” (source).

Honestly, this story makes me feel both bemused and curious!


Donatism and Roland Burris

Stanley Fish wrote an interesting piece of his NYTimes Blog about the application of the theological heresy known as Donatism to the Roland Burris situation.

Burris, as you probably know, was appointed to the U.S. Senate by a state Governor accused of corruption. The argument of many against accepting the Governor's appointment is that his malfeasance "taints" Burris' appointment. The question then becomes, to what degree is the validity of any official act of office dependent upon the purity of the person performing it. In other words, if we accept that Burris' appointment is "tainted" by the Governor's alleged misconduct, are the actions of other disgraced officials also up for review?

This last question is not new. It was debated in the 4th and 5th centuries in the context of what is known as the Donatist controversy. This debate was about the status of churchmen who had cooperated with the emperor Diocletian during the period when he was actively persecuting Christians. The Donatists argued that those who had betrayed their faith under pressure and then returned to the fold when the persecutions were over had lost the authority to perform their priestly offices, including the offices of administering the sacraments and making ecclesiastical appointments. In their view, priestly authority was a function of personal virtue, and when a new bishop was consecrated by someone they considered tainted, they rejected him and consecrated another. (source)

Donatism has always fascinated me. It's one of those heresies that keeps manifesting in subtle forms despite the Gospel. To be clear: sacraments are the work of God and do not depend on a priest's purity to be effectual. If they did, we'd all be in trouble! But God's forgiving and bountiful grace is sufficient to make up for any lack that me or my brother/sister priests may have! That's not to say that the ethics of priests are irrelevant, only that the "taint" of sin is not perpetuated upon the sheep!

One of the philosophical consequences of this contra-Donatist position put forth by St. Augustine is that a certain insulation is introduced between the person and the office they hold. In other words, some actions derive their authority from the office rather that the merit of the person filling it. This is counter-cultural right now, where increasingly people are motivated by the chrism of the officer rather than their relationship to the office. The modern shift is towards privileging relationship over contract.

Another problematic aspect of this understanding is that it emphasizes the duality of official leadership. For instance, when in the 16th century when lawyers for the English Crown argued that the “The king has in him two bodies, a body natural and a body politic.” His body natural is “subject to all infirmities that come by nature,” but his body politic does not have a bodily and imperfect form; rather it consists of “policy and government” that has been “constituted for the direction of the people” (source). This duality can create understandable confusion!

The real question to resolve, as Fish points out, is what kind of framework of judgment ought to be applied in the Burris case.
The legitimacy of an appointment can be either a procedural or a moral matter. If it is a procedural matter, authority is conferred by the right credentials, and that’s that. If it is a moral matter – only the good can be truly authoritative (this was John Milton’s position) – authority is always precarious, and the structures of government and law are always in danger of being dissolved.

The (perhaps paradoxical) truth is that while governing has or should have a moral purpose — to safeguard and advance the health and prosperity of the polity — it is not a moral practice. That is, one engages in it not by applying moral principles but by applying legal principles. Senator Reid and his colleagues in the Democratic party seem finally to have figured that out, which is why, in the absence of any more bombshell revelations, Roland Burris will be seated as the junior senator from Illinois. (source)

See, knowledge of the Church Fathers and the early controversies of the church does have practical value!


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Three, two, one.... Contact

So I've decided to take the plunge and try contact lenses. In fact, that's what I'm wearing right now. I got fitted with a trial pair yesterday. Today I'm allowed to wear them for 2 hours. Tomorrow four. After that, I'm golden.

Hardest part, definitely learning to put them in. But I'm getting faster each time. Yesterday the tech made me put them in a take them out several times to make sure I was getting the hang of it. How do they feel? Fine. I barely notice they are there, in fact. Interestingly, my vision is better with contacts than it was with glasses (20/15!) although the RX is the same.

Why contacts? Why not?


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Epiphany at Trinity

Yesterday evening I said Mass at Trinity College. It was the Feast of the Epiphany, so I was very pleased to have a chance to Celebrate Mass that day. The school has a new Chaplain, Andrea Budgey, whom I've know for a few years. Before the service, the Sacristan, Andrea, the organist (Christopher Ku) and I went over the service and decided what liturgical options to exercise. Since it was a Principal Feast we did most stuff, including the Gloria and the Creed. I also elected to sing the Preface.

Saying Mass in a seminary chapel like this is a lot of fun for a priest like me that still has some high-church tendencies that don't get exercised much in my own parish. There is a glee that comes from being able to discuss which manual gestures with people that care about such things. I'm not complaining about my own parish--I don't want them to care about how many times I make the sign of the cross during the Canon of the Mass (so many other things are more important), but sometimes it's a nice change. It's like being married to someone who is allergic to peanuts and going out and eating a nice Thai dish with a peanut sauce--you don't feel deprived at home, but the change of pace can be refreshing now and again.

Anyway, the Mass went extremely well. The student giving the sermon did a good job and the servers were excellent and everything went perfect from a liturgical purist point of view. Even more delightful, however, was perceiving the presence of the Holy Spirit as I said the prayers and distributed communion. Sometimes I really love my life! I know, I know, I'm a church nerd. So be it!


Plagerism and Self-Persuasion

Remember that guy Neale Donald Walsch that wrote the "Conversations with God" series? He is being accused of plagiarism for using a well-known anecdote from another popular spiritual writer, Candy Chand (Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul). He was writing a Christmas essay for Beliefnet and told a heart warming story about a Christmas pageant he says he saw. Oops. Turns out the story he claimed happened to him was written 10 years ago by Chand and has made the rounds on the web ever since and appeared in the Chicken Soup series as well as elsewhere. It's even officially copyrighted.

Now, Walsch says he convinced himself that this happened to him 20 years ago and that it was an honest mistake. But that fails to explain why his version of the story matches Chand's almost verbatim. He offered this explanation:
All I can say now — because I am truly mystified and taken aback by this — is that someone must have sent it to me over the Internet ten years or so ago,” Mr. Walsch wrote. “Finding it utterly charming and its message indelible, I must have clipped and pasted it into my file of ‘stories to tell that have a message I want to share.’ I have told the story verbally so many times over the years that I had it memorized ... and then, somewhere along the way, internalized it as my own experience. (source)

Chand doesn't bite: "Quite frankly, I’m not buying it," she told the Times. It's not the first time people have tried to claim the story as their own, but it the first time a professional writer has done it. "As a professional writer, when someone appears to plagiarize, they damage the industry, they damage other writers’ credibility and they hurt the reader because they never know what to believe anymore."

Quite right. But the best line was her zinger that ended the NYTimes article about the situation: "Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie, and thou shalt not covet another author’s property." Lol.

But I think the real question is whether it is possible to absorb a story and make it your own in this way. Answer: "of course it is." In the television version of This American Life, there is a true story of a husband and wife where the husband has convinced himself of something that actually happened to his wife, not him. (Episode 11: "Every Marriage is a Courtroom"). I think it's perhaps quite common for people to appropriate anecdotes in this way. Of course, it's impossible to notice oneself.

So understand Chand's anger as well as how Walsch could have persuaded himself in this way. Now, are some people more prone this kind of self-suggestibility than others?


sermon - Christmas 2 2009

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


Sermon - Christmas 1 2008

This is the sermon where I quoted the Ricky Bobby prayer.

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


Sermon - Christmas Day 2008

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


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What made me excited about today.

Finished my column for the Anglican. Looks good. Glad to get that out the door and on-time.

Lately the energy has seemed low around COTM. I've been blaming the Christmas-rush, but actually I'm not sure what the reason, but I was really pleased today to feel myself getting very excited about some new stuff we are planning.

For instance, our confirmation prep programme is looking awesome! I'm really excited about what we've come up with. We are recycling some stuff from Heather McCance and then adding a bunch of stuff that makes it our own. It's going to be great!

We came up with some other ideas in our staff meeting that are really wonderful and organic and I think truly responsive to where people are. More about that later.

Now It's a Principle Feast day (Epiphany) so I managed to get myself invited to celebrate Mass at Trinity. I love celebrating seminary Eucharists!

BTW, I had an eye exam today. My Intraocular Pressure was on the high side, so I've got a referral to another doctor to make sure I'm not at risk for developing early-onset glaucoma. Just another reminder that I'm past the age where I can take my health for granted.


January Column for The Anglican

The January edition of The Anglican came out this week. I was particularly pleased with how my column came out this time. SMM folks may remember the anecdote I use from a sermon I gave on Christmas Eve 2006. I remember that John Ralston Saul complimented me on that sermon--and he did not give such compliments lightly!

Anyway, here is the article. My writing is improving with practice--and blogging helps. I think the addition of the illustration was nice, too.

Although I didn't get a by-line, I also wrote the first draft of what became the article on the bottom left of page 12 ("Ghanian bishop seeks support"). I thought it was important that the bishop should get a press release into the Anglican.

Now I have to write another Column due today--but I have the idea-germ in my head so that will be fine. Where I start to get freaked out is when I have no idea what I'm going to write about!


Mad Scientist or False Suspect?

The New York Times ran a fascinating seven page article about Dr. Bruce Ivins, the FBI's main suspect in the anthrax letter attack back in 2001. Under scrutiny by federal investigators, Ivins committed suicide last year.

Although there is compelling evidence that Ivins was the attacker, there is no "smoking gun" that proves it conclusively. One of the interesting things to emerge, however, is his "darker" side concealed from family and co-workers. He was obsessed, for example, with College Sororities to the point where he actually stole a book of secrets and cipher device from a Sorority house. One minute he is ranting in e-mails in a way that borders on paranoia, the next he's a musician at his church.

Another thing that is interesting is how investigators became fixated on another suspect earlier in the investigation (also a scientist) and only reconsidered Ivins after a change in investigation leadership. But they were cautious to fall into the same trap and hound an innocent man. Reading the article, you get a sense of the FBI was really struggling with the massive amounts of information generated by a case like this. Putting it all together is nearly impossible. Cf. the famous Zodiac Killer case, which was also left in an unresolved state after the main suspect died.

From a purely philosophical point of view, I'm struck by how having more information in an investigation is not necessarily a good thing. In his book Blink, Malcome Gladwell argues that the human capacity for judgment is overwhelmed by too much data, and that the key to good decision making is 1) developing expertise, and 2) exposing that expertise to the right pieces of data (and not too much of it). Emergency room Doctors, for example, more accurately diagnose heart attacks when they are limited to five datums rather than be allowed to exhaustively test every possible indicator.

I believe that one of the primary skills necessary for good leadership (Pastoral or otherwise) in our time is simply managing information. Rather than assume that more and more information on a subject is a good, I think it's important to ask instead, "What do I need to know?" I think it's worthwhile to look at situations like these massive investigations to understand how to organize group thinking and leadership thinking.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Girl from the North Country

Betsy and I have been lying low and alternating between "chillaxing" and being sick. First she was sick. Then I was sick. Now she is sick again. Nor are we alone--it seems like there are more colds going around this season than last. No idea why--hard to blame the economy.

Right now I'm wrapping up church and looking forward to the NFL Playoffs. Today when I preached I used a call-and-response refrain: "Love is the answer" with the congregation. It seemed to work pretty well. I'd like to integrate some other new techniques into my preaching skill set, as well. It's important to keep developing as a preacher.

Ever heard the song "Girl from the North Country"? It was originally written by Bob Dylan and was inspired by the folk songs he explored while visiting England in the 1960's. The version I've been listening to is by Sam Bush. My brother-in-law, Bob, put in on my iPod. It's one of those songs that stay in your head for a long time. When I've been walking in the driving snow it seems to fit very well. Nostalgia for the "North Country." I doubt some of my friends who actually live North of Toronto are so thrilled with the storming snow flakes!

When I listen to this song I think of one of two places: the fields around our house in Kansas and Virginia. Kansas because of the way the winter winds would blow the snow across the flat, flat fields. You could see, literally, for miles. Vastness only matched by the oceans. Virginia because of ex-girlfriends, which this song is also about. 'Nough on that subject!

The above video has a version of the song with some really amazing Mandolin work. Sam Bush really is an amazingly talented musician.

Girl From The North Country

Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
Many times I've often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine. (Bob Dylan)


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tay in Hawai'i - 1992

Continuing our Hawai'i posts, here are two pictures Meg uploaded of me in Hawai'i in 1992.
Just look at those chiseled calves!

My first game bird--damn thing was almost bigger than me!

The story of the turkey goes like this. Wild turkeys (among other edible beasts) roams the mountains in Hawai'i. They have no predators but breed quickly, so if they wander onto your property they are pretty much fair game. I was taking a nap when my dad woke me up and gave me the rifle. I took the shot from about 50 feet and killed the beast (not a very challenging shot--I must admit). Luckily, the rifle scope was not properly calibrated, so the bullet killed the bird cleanly but didn't make a complete mess of it. Dad helped me strip off the feathers and skin and we put in on the BBQ for supper.

I know, not everyone who reads this blog will understand why this was a great experience for me, but I do have a clean conscience eating meat from the grocery store knowing that I have no ethical qualms about killing animals for food. In fact, I'm much more ethically troubled by what happens on corporate feed lots and giant chicken operations than hunting fields.