Friday, March 27, 2009

Arrival

I'm here at the Monastery, but can't sleep yet. Perhaps that "Rockstar Energy Drink" I had around supper time has something to do with this insomnia? We arrived around 9:30pm, which is around 11pm monastery time. In other words, most people are in bed or at least headed that way. The place was quiet. We took our bags to our room and then I did what I always do when I come for retreat here, I visit the chapel and pay my respects to the Founder. His tomb is behind the altar in the crypt chapel. Saying prayers by the flickering light of the vigil candle always seems like a perfect way to begin a retreat.

What I notice most strongly this time are the smells. It smells like Holy Cross. Every part of it. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could smell the earthy, almost yeasty river. In the chapel it was incense. Near the pantry: coffee. In the library: books. Each of those scents familiar from other places, and yet here they have distinct notes that mark them as belonging to this place alone. I guess what I'm saying is that this place smells like home to me. Or one of my homes, at least. Certainly my spiritual home.

This time around the monks put us in a room that was my office the last time I did an extended stay. In fact, the ethernet wire I'm using was the one I ran back then, some 4 or 5 years ago--wow, has it been so long? When I say "extended" I mean weeks or months rather than days. Hard to get so much time in a block now, married and a pastor as I am. It's in the basement, nice and dark with thick, quiet walls.

Sleeping in the basement of a building so substantial as this is no small thing. Henry Vaughn designed this place--the first new monastic building since the English Reformation. Solid as the convictions of those that built it.

On my mind this evening--the feeling in my gut that this time is precious. Precious for how it can change me. Already I can feel the pavlovian-like reflexes toward holiness kicking in. Already I've prayed, kneeling with arms outstretched in front of the chapel high altar, for openness. Amazingly I got my answer right away: "of course!"

You have to be careful about what you pray for around here. The results can be terrifying in their sweep. I suspect the reason for this is partly situational--prayer is answered here because it can be answered. It's the nature of the place that people are more receptive but also that they have the supports in place to deal with massive upheavals. I've known many guests who have gone through massive internal changes while here. I often thought that those changes had been the works for a long time, but here the person finally had permission to change.

I'm very excited about being here. I can't wait for Mattins (Morning Prayer). Such a relief to be here...

-t

Road Trip Prep

photo by Randy, OHC
We can't leave for Holy Cross until Betsy is finished with a Tutorial that she is responsible for. So I'm having a relatively (for vacation/retreat time) busy morning packing and getting the house ready for us to be gone for a few days. Besides packing clothes and the usual sundries, we are bring a full kit of electronic gadgets. I want to get some images of Holy Cross. So I'm bringing what I need to record video, audio, and stills. I'm even hoping to do a taped interview with Bede.

Already my mind is at West Park. I'm really, really looking forward to settling into the rhythms of life there. It will only be a couple of days--but I plan on getting as deep into retreat time as I can. I'm especially looking forward to praying the Offices. And getting into that non-hurried head space that is possible there.

I miss living there, as I have done for various lengths of time in my life. I'm sure I'll have a chance to do that again some day.

Note: the photo above was taken by Br. Randy, OHC. If you want to see more of his photos look at his Flickr Albums.

-t

More Website Upgrades

I've been making various improvements to the COTM website. I know it's my vacation and perhaps I shouldn't be tinkering with a work project--but I do find it enjoyable. Anyway, take a look at what I've done. Basically, I took the static news page from the website and essentially configured Blogger to post to it. The previous was okay, but it made posting harder than it actually need to be. Using Blogger to manage the news section has other advantages as well--like an RSS/Atom feed and the ability to authorize other people to post, etc. So then blogger is acting like a content management system (and it's free). I could add some other features like Comments and so forth, but I don't think I need them at the moment. I suspect I'll updating the news section of the website more often now.

The next challenge will be adding a dynamically generated calendar of some sort. But maybe I should wait a few weeks, first!

BTW, the Wiki for Geeks for Jesus is now up and running. This will be a place to organize our plans and also create some documents that will be useful for others. Feel free to contribute that conversation even if you can't come to the meetings! One of our next tasks to setting a date for the conference we've been talking about.

What's next? Tomorrow as soon as Betsy finishes her Tutorial we're off to Holy Cross. I'll bring our cameras with us, so we should have have some nice stuff to post. Stay tuned!

-t

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Man Walks Down the Street with a Katana...

When I was walking down the street today I saw a man coming towards me with a Katana wrapped in a cloth in his left hand. Now, it was the way he was holding it--like one holds a Japanese Sword--that caught my attention. Looking closer I confirmed that it was, indeed, a Katana wrapped in the sort of carrying cloth you something see to keep the scabbard from getting scratched, etc. It's possible it was just a Bokken (wooden practice sword) except then why the very nice-quality cloth covering? I don't think he realized that the Katana was perfectly obvious to anyone who knows anything about martial arts. As he passed close I said, "Nice Katana," but he ignored me. Probably because he was listening to his iPod.

Speaking of Katana--check out the new computer wall paper I found. I've been using it lately as my desktop wallpaper. I find it... calming...

If you don't recognize it, this is what a Katana looks like when it's been disassembled. The Katana is one of the finest pieces of craft, workmanship, and technology even conceived. No living master can accomplish what was done at the height of the Japanese medieval age.

So when I saw someone walking down the street with this legendary weapon I did a double-take. Hopefully he was just on his way to the Dojo at the end of the block...

-t

Vacation?

Supposedly my vacation started today, though I actually did come in for most of the day to work on two projects. One is repairing the roof from the leak we had at Christmas Eve--remember that one? So I was up there today with one of my Wardens and the Roofer. Looks like a relatively minor repair is necessary, but he expects the roof itself should last about another five years, which is good to hear.

The other project I was work on was finishing the grant proposal for the ARC. I ended up making a sharp-looking application, IMHO, take a look:






It looks better, and more read-able, as a PDF. The printed version with bleeds and so forth is nice and spiffy. The text was somewhat of a group effort, but the design was based on a template from InDesign that I spiffed up. It's at the printer now.

Any-who.... Time to go home and start my vacation for real. 'Nough this coming-into-work stuff!

-t

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cat Scan Art

A medical student, Satre Stuelke, has been making art using a CT Scan. Here are some samples...




-t

De gustibus non est disputandum

I was checking out the "Barter" section of Craig's List Toronto the other day came across this gem:

Funny Barter...But Serious-Ladies...

Date: 2009-03-13, 9:46PM EDT

I've had this wish forever but have done nothing to realize it! Here is what I'm offering.....
Seeking a young (21 to 40) career woman for whom I can buy NICE Ferragamo, Cole Haan, 9 West Pumps for you to wear. Then at the end of the summer, I just want to give you a new pair of shoes in exchange for the old stinky pair. I am willing to do this over, and over! ;) Please, someone attractive, cute, help me realize this fantasy. ;-)
Yes, it is freaky, but smelly heels happen to be my curse of a fantasy. I am an otherwise normal guy with a 9 to 5 job...just love women's foot. Thanks...eagerly awaiting response. (source)

Thing is, I totally sympathize that this "normal" guy who has a a "curse" of a fantasy. He likes what he likes. Stinky shoes aren't my thing, but hey: De gustibus non est disputandum: "There is no accounting for taste. And like all true fetishes, it's completely out of his control. Hence his evident humility and his language of this being a "curse." Poor guy, I genuinely hope he finds someone willing to take him up on his offer of free shoes. It takes serious courage to put an ad like that on the web.

The ad raises all kinds of interesting questions about the nature of desire in the internet age. These days people with the most obscure interests--say collecting photographs of lawn gnomes or building replicas of Captain Kirk's Chair--can connect with each other via the power of the Internet. It's not just that fixations on the most obscure interests are more acceptable, it's that the attention to such interests are being rewarded. These days, if you are obsessing over building the perfect replica TARDIS you can connect with lots of people with precisely complementary interests. In fact, the more obscure the interest, the more rewarding it must be to connect with others who share it.

Growing up as a kind of nerdy guy, I remember alternating between feeling very alone in my interests and yet also very gratified that I knew more about them than most. For instance, the high school version of myself could have sketched out, in detail, how to make basic explosives (nitroglycerin, ANFO, etc.). I wasn't crazy, just curious and capable of backing up that curiosity with a little library research. Of course, I never tried it--partly because my research also revealed how dangerous this stuff is.* Like a lot of people, I think I felt that my passion for learning about the things that interested me isolated me from the mainstream. Probably most people feel this way about some things in life. If I could talk to myself at age 12 or 13 I could say some very reassuring things about just how valuable that curiosity would be. Most of us only really excel when we align our passions with our occupations.

The sad thing is all the people out there who never have an opportunity to pursue their interests. The Internet has made information (on anything) cheaper to attain, but it's still not free! Even if it were possible to give access to everyone, it might not be advisable. As Paul says, all things may be lawful, but not all things are beneficial. In other words, just because we can share secrets, doesn't mean we should! Some knowledge is dangerous. Really. And I'm not just talking about chemistry.

The worst abuse of this knowledge-as-power idea in the realm of religion comes in the form of what Christians have classically called "Gnosticism." At the root, this is a fetish for "secret" initiations and "knowledge" hidden from casual view. it leads to hierarchies of initiation and the notion that some are more advanced than others simply because they have been given access the "secrets" hidden from others. Think of the religious groups that require people to pay to receive the teachings of the "church." But from the Patristic age the Christian mainstream has believed that the wisdom of Christ is available to all who seek it. In that sense, the christian enterprise has always been allied with those who want to share information, not hide it.

Edward Albee spoke once at my college. In the Q&A time I asked him what he thought of those who propose that unlimited access to information leads to chaos in the Internet age. (I admit, I was baiting him to say something pro-openness as I was advocating for greater openness in the College's Internet policies at the time.) Anyway, he startled me with his direct and clear answer: "I'll take chaos over censorship any day." He said it with a ferocity that I felt in the bottom of my spine. He wasn't kidding.

At the end of the day we are all pursing our diverse and arbitrary interests. I sympathize with anyone brave enough to advertise them on Craigslist!

-t

*Closest I ever came to making explosives was (while supervised by my professor) making gun powder based on sugar for a College chemistry class. I had to balance the Redox reaction and then actually mix the stuff and then burn it. The flash was very satisfying.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sermon - Lent 4 2009

I preached on Lent 4 about the nature of spectacle as an effort for communities to reintegrate themselves by a shared exercise in meaning making. This is done by squarely gazing, as a community, on the suffering/sin we wish to heal. The scripture supporting this is Numbers 21:4-9. I was also heavenly influenced in preaching this by a Jewish sermon on this part of the book of Numbers by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

It's like this, people are getting bit by snakes. God says, put a bronze snake on a pole and look at it. Later, we Christians say something similar about the cross. Look upon the suffering of God for love and be changed by faith in that sacrifice. The take home lesson is that transformation comes from the courage to engage the darkness. The light of observation brings healing (cf. the other lections for the day--Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 3:14-21).

I was intrigued by this line of thinking from a theoretical point of view--but it's certainly a complex reality to preach on! And let no one say that I don't preach about the Old Testament lessons!



Here's the audio...


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

-t

A Cartoon History of White House Gardens


The Garden of Eatin': A Short History of America's Garden from roger doiron on Vimeo.

Pretty soon we have to get growing on planting our personal garden at home as well as the church landscaping and vegetable garden. Yep, we are going to create a church vegetable garden on a patch of grass that begs for it. Why not?

-t

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Encouragement

Remarkably, eight people showed up for the Healing Prayer Service (plus me makes nine). Even cooler, three, yes three, were simply people from the neighborhood who felt the need for some healing prayer after seeing our posters. How cool is that! It actually worked. I had my doubts--but there are people who actually saw my little poster and came because of it. Amazing. I know three might not sound like a lot, but for us that's a big deal. I'm pleased as punch.

-t

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Captain's Chair



It has become popular in certain circles to create replicas of Captain Kirk's Command chair from the Starship Enterprise bridge. The New York Times has an article about the obsessive hobbyists who spend months or even years making precise replicas of the chair. So, once you've made an exact replica of the chair, what do you do with it?
“You sit in the chair,” Mike Paugh said, “and you’re watching an episode and pushing buttons and you find yourself saying, Fire photon torpedoes or whatever, and you’re making the sounds yourself because I don’t have the sound effects yet.”

“Personally,” said his wife, Barbara, “I think my husband is a nerd.” (source)


Others have more serious intentions for the chair:
Some watch TV in theirs, or simply loll, and some seem to find the chair an empowering place from which to deal with others. “When we have a little family powwow — I have four children — I sit in it to lay down the law,” said Mr. Boyd, the auto parts manager.

And most, of course, indulge their fantasies, imagining doing battle with Klingons and otherwise cruising the cosmos. “Sitting in it,” said Mr. Bradshaw, the graphic designer, “I find myself striking an action pose quite unconsciously.” (source)


Do I want one of these? Of course I do. How cool would it be to have a replica of Captain Kirk's chair in Man Town (that's what we call the room with the TV in it)?

-t

White House Veggie Garden

A lot of people (including me, in my small way) have been lobbying for the Obama family to plant a serious vegetable garden on the White House lawn. They've decided to do just that.

They are using kids from a local school as some of the labor, but some White House staff are volunteering and the Obama girls will have garden work as one of their chores. Apparently the White House Chefs are especially pleased with this turn of events.

-t

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Caribbean Night 2008

Here's a little montage of last-year's Caribbean Night at the church.



-t

Catherine Keating on Christ Centred Character

Here is a quick little interview I did with Catherine Keating in which she discusses our "Christ Centred Character" project as well as the ARC project.



-t

Good Parenting Tips

Some very amusing "tips" for new parents by Emily Fowler, in visual form:







Lol.

-t

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Mountain" Oysters

the NYTimes is running an amusing article about the annual Mountain Oyster festival in Virginia City, Nevada. Every year creative chefs and brave people to compete with cooking cow (or lamb) testicles.
“It’s a Basque comfort food,” said Lisa Aguirre, 54, a descendant from Reno who was standing in the parking lot of the Bucket of Blood Saloon, waiting for the oyster tasting to begin. “Everybody is going to tell you they taste like chicken,” Ms. Aguirre added. “That’s a lie.” .... Sometimes even the chefs themselves cannot work up the courage. “I don’t eat them,” Ms. Wilson, the award-winner, admitted. “It’s very sad.” (source)


Part of what makes this compelling is the character of the town itself:
The city retains an atmosphere of renegade bohemia in which it is possible to spot a woman decked out in lace sitting in a saloon with a pistol in her cleavage. Tourism is now Virginia City’s calling card: the fry, dreamed up by a local saloonkeeper to kick off the tourist season, joins the International Chili Society Cook-Off (May), the International Camel Race (September) and the Virginia City Outhouse Races (October). And Thunder on the Comstock attracts thousands of motorcyclists every September. (source)


Ah, adventure food. Would I try it? Damn straight I would--why not?

-t

JavaScript

I feel like I accomplished something today: check out the beta of my new, totally customized movie viewer for the COTM website. It took me about half a day (plus some preliminary research last night), but I managed to create a JavaScript application embedded into the web page that essentially loads and displays an XML play list. It's even smart enough to use one thumbnail image to represent the video in the playlist and another as the preview in the viewing window. It's also smart enough to make my name a link to the biographies page.

This player (based on the JW FLV Viewer) can manage FLV (Flash Video), MP4, MP3, and AAC. It can also easily "pull" videos from YouTube. I have the option of hosting the video files on YouTube, the COTM server, or the Mosso Cloud server (my favourite as it is both dirt cheap and lightening fast).

Because it's dynamically generating this material from a single playlist, it is much simpler to do updates than my previous, manual methods. I'm pleased.

-t

Subway Hero

Every so often you hear one of these stories. A guy falls off the Subway platform. Someone else jumps in and saves him. This recently played out in New York. Here's the Good Samaritan's perspective (Chad Lindsey):
“I’m kind of zoned out, and I saw this guy come too quickly to the edge,” he said. “He stopped and kind of reeled around. I felt bad, because I couldn’t get close enough to grab his coat. He fell, and immediately hit his head on the rail and passed out.”

Mr. Lindsey said he sensed a train was approaching, because the platform was crowded. “I dropped my bag and jumped down there. I tried to wake him up,” he said. “He probably had a massive concussion at that point. I jumped down there and he just wouldn’t wake up, and he was bleeding all over the place.”

He looked back up at the people on the platform. “I yelled, ‘Contact the station agent and call the police!’ which I think is hilarious because I don’t think I ever said ‘station agent’ before in my life. What am I, on ‘24’?”

The man wouldn’t wake up, he said. “He was hunched over on his front. I grabbed him from behind, like under the armpits, and kind of got him over to the platform. It wasn’t very elegant. I just hoisted him up so his belly was on the platform. It’s kind of higher than you think it is.”

He stole a glance toward the dark subway tunnel that was becoming ominously less dark, with the glow on the tracks, familiar to all New Yorkers, signaling an approaching train.

“I couldn’t see the train coming, but I could see the light on the tracks, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get out of this hole.’ ”

He remembered the subway hero of 2007, Wesley Autrey, who jumped on top of a man who was having a seizure on the tracks and held him down in the shallow trench between the rails as the subway passed over them. “I was like, ‘I am not doing that. We’ve got to get out of here.’ ”

People on the platform joined the effort. “Someone pulled him out, and I just jumped up out of there,” he said. With time to spare: “The train didn’t come for another 10 or 15seconds or something.”

The man lay bleeding on the platform, and the police arrived. Mr. Lindsey soon got on another train. A large group of riders who had been on the platform entered the subway car with him, smiling and clapping him on the back and saying thank you.

“Then I sort of freaked out, and I was nervous and shaky. These five women opened their purses and gave me Handi-Wipes. I was covered in blood and dirt from the subway tracks.”

The fallen man was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan and was later released. (source)


I'm glad there are still a lot of people in the world willing to take this kind of risk for strangers. Our epoch is often very cynical, but there is still much to be thankful for!

-t

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seen on Craigslist: "Piranha & Tank w/Accessories - $150 (Brampton)"

Piranha & Tank w/Accessories - $150 (Brampton)

Date: 2009-03-07, 7:35PM EST

6 yr old Pirahna and Tank... I'm thinking its about 30 gallons?? Comes with lights, stand...everything in pic.
Fish is cool... eats well...not skittish.
My kid hates it and I have to get rid of it.
150 obo

Thats him in the pics.... his name is "Big Suge"....but he doesnt answer to it...just kinda does what he wants.

Classic.

-t

The Braided Leather Cord: Pleasure, Desire, and Gratitude

Donald Schell has a meditation worth reading on the Episcopal Cafe blog: "The Braided Leather Cord." He relates his experience of climbing a rope while on pilgrimage in Ethopia to need for soulful people to integrate pleasure, desire, and gratitude. A few choice passages:

Just as the three strands of interwoven flesh - animals’ skins - made a lifeline and a way of ascent, the sixth century Syrian monks who built Debra Damo, despite their fierce asceticism, confidently wove Pleasure, Desire, and Gratitude into a line sturdy enough to carry us up into God’s embrace. Most Christians of that time braided this same line.

....

But who is trying? For a single sermon commending pleasure or desire, we’ve probably heard twenty urging us to give or share because we ‘should be grateful.’ We’re in the grip of fearful Christian thinking from those bitter centuries that came to mistrust pleasure and desire.

...

Our pleasure delights God. Both giving us our daily bread and giving us Christ the bread eternal please God because both ordinary bread and Christ our living bread delight and pleasure us. We’re all of us the prodigal welcomed home to a Great Feast in OUR honor and for our pleasure. Receiving God’s vast blessings with pleasure moves us (makes us want or desire) to offer God our thanks. We’re in bolder and more paradoxical territory than ‘It is right to give God thanks and praise.’

....

The joy at bending knee and hip for prayer was so exhilarating that I refused to hold myself back, so went forward to kneel at the rail to receive communion, even though I wasn’t confirmed and knew I was breaking the rules to receive. This was an altar call I welcomed joyfully.

Finally had desire unlocked what was frozen. Desire hadn’t let me rest, and in the end it moved me to a path I’m still pursuing. Gregory of Nyssa in his Commentary on the Song of Songs says that we are most like God in our infinite desire.

....

[That] Sunday [my wife and I] started ballroom dancing lessons. For three years we hardly missed a week. Week by week for three years, we danced our way to deeper understanding and love. Learning to dance together was as deep as any conversation we’d ever had.

There’s the three braid strand - pleasure, desire, and gratitude. I started this reflection with pleasure. Braiding, each is equally essential. I might have told other stories if I’d begun with desire or gratitude, but once braiding has begun, each is line is important in turn, and as Christians of the first centuries knew, together they carry us to Life. (source)


Rope is a powerful image. It connects and binds and somehow manages to be both strong and flexible. In some circles wedding ceremonies now include a "binding" ceremony in which an intricate knot temporarily binds the couple to each other. This resonates with me more than the "unity candles" that you sometimes see.

I've always enjoyed playing with rope, even though my mother was afraid I would hang myself! I consider knot-tying to be one of those essential skills everyone should learn, like cooking, sewing, or changing a tire. It's a practical skill that comes in surprisingly handy in the parking lot of Ikea or when hanging a vinyl sign on the side of your church!

It's a symbol we probably don't use enough in Christianity; consider that Jesus, that carpenter and friend of fisherman, probably knew more knots than most people, even in his culture. Ropes connect and give structure and allow us to move things and hold things. One of the things I find fascinating about St. Gregory of Nyssa's Church in San Francisco (the parish Donald co-founded) is the ropes that hold the oil lamps over the altar. They are thick, black, sturdy ropes that look like they could probably hold a person's weight. They go from the lamps to pulleys in the ceiling to cleats in the wall high enough to discourage kids from doing damage.

Anyway, that's what comes to mind when I think of ropes....


-t

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Kitten James



-t

Sermon - Lent 3 2009

My sermon from Lent 3, 2009. I discuss how crisis reveals what is true and essential about the human condition and our relationship with God.

Again, I edited up both the video and audio for your viewing pleasure. Not that my sermons are so awesome, but at least it's a start at New Media evangelism!

Note for the technically inclined: both of these files are hosted by the Mosso Cloud Network, which is very cost-effective way to host large media files.



Here's the audio...


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

-t

Torture

A stunning article in the NYTimes by Mark Danner (itself a condensation of a longer article he wrote for the New York Review of Books) details the best record yet about the torture conducted on suspected terrorists in the "Black" Prison programme. The article is based primarily on the classified report written by the Red Cross based on their extensive interviews with prisoners who had been transfered from the "black" prisons to Gitmo. It's chilling reading, and has the ring of authenticity.

One of the things that is striking to me about all this is that two former CIA Operatives that I have known were both highly critical of the use of torture. One told me that he had conducted or supervised many interrogations, including some were local officials used torture, and his cold-blooded experience was that torture was simply not as affective as other means. "There is no magic to it," he told me, "you simply keep asking the same question over and over again. It just takes time, that's all." Further he told me of disgust for what he was hearing about in the "war on terror": "I find it professionally insulting."

A third source, whom I haven't met, is Slow Burn, a book by former CIA operative named Orrin DeForrest about his experiences as an interrogator in Vietnam. Essentially, DeForrest replaced crude, cruel, and ineffective methods with a system of interrogation that (according to his account) was successful but too late to effect the war's outcome. Again, this is the voice of an experienced interrogator who found that torture was not the best way to get valuable intelligence from people.

But even if torture were effective in getting information, there are still powerful moral and even purely utilitarian arguments against employing it. Danner summs it up:
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away. (source)


There is talk of some kind of Truth Commission. I sure hope that happens for the sake of our national conscience.

-t

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Healing Prayer Service Progress

Today was the third Healing Prayer service here at the church. Thought I would offer a few quick reflections.

Liturgy... We follow this outline:
  • We sit in a circle in front of the chancel. Three candles burn on a table near the presider.
  • Greeting and opening collect from BAS pg. 554.
  • A reading from scripture (related to healing)
  • Silence for contemplation
  • Sharing about the scripture
  • Extemporaneous, open prayer time
  • Laying on of Hands and Anointing (those who wish to receive it take turns sitting in a chair in the middle of the circle. Everyone gathers around and puts a hand on the person's shoulder or arm. Presider lays hands on the person's head. Silent prayer for three or four breaths, then anointing using the BAS formula pg. 555)

Attendance... The first Saturday it was just two of us. The second there were six. And today we had six as well. Until today it was entirely parishioners--but then today we had a visitor who came because she saw our banner out front. Sweet! Now this person is a life-long Anglican who has known of our church, but not been inside before. That's just great. It's exactly the kind of encouragement I needed!

Spirituality... It has been quite moving to share prayer together in this way. I think doing the open intercessions followed by the anointing flows really nicely. I think that as we continue to meet the feeling of intimacy and connection will grow and the prayers will feel even more powerful.

So I'm feeling pretty good about this. I think we need to post even more flyers and advertising and we'll see how this goes...

-t

Heavy Metal Monk



-t

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cult and Paste

A friend of mine from College, Nathan Koons, has started a funky blog: "Cult and Paste." I haven't detected a central theme, yet, and the whole things is kind of creepy, actually...

Speaking of Hampden-Syndney, they have a new president: Christopher Howard! Yes, he's black. I'm delighted. He continues the HSC tradition of College Presidents with a background of service to our nation. It's a hell of a C.V. imagine a Rhodes Scholar, Special Forces Chopper Pilot, Harvard MBA, and the DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency) "Intelligence Officer of the Year." I'm not kidding, he did all that. Very, very cool. Oh, and he earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan doing something related to human intelligence. And he played serious football. This dude is a hard core achiever!

-t

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Geeks for Christ"

We had our first "Geeks for Christ" meeting today. This is a group forming to talk about developing the church's use of New Media and technology. We talked about a number of ideas springing from two steams of thought. The first stream is the need for churches to get a lot smarter about using new technology to do things cheaper and better. We can identify a number of efficiencies that could be achieved by having a Diocesan Standard way to manage finances, for instance. The second stream is about the need to get better at doing New Media evangelism. We need to be engaging our culture in languages it understands.

So right off the bat we are going to establish a Wiki where can share ideas, collaborate on projects, post resources, etc.

At our next meeting we are going to set a date for a "Geeks for Christ" Conference. We don't know the shape of that conference, yet, but do know that it will involve material from both streams, will appeal to Chistians of all stripes, and will involve featuring projects. We want people leaving the conference feeling energized, informed, and inspired.

Next, we believe we need to explore creating a set of standards for the use of technology in the Diocese. Establishing such standards will help guide Diocesan level policy making as well as parish-level purchasing. Having a consistent technology base will make collaboration easier and opens up the possibility of bulk purchasing and other economies of scale.

So that's a start--an ambitious start!

-t

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Contemplative Eucharist Flyer--Constructive Feedback?


I've been working on a flyer today to publicize the Contemplative Eucharist. I know a lot of people who read this blog have design sense/training. Here is a PDF version. I also tried a legal-sized format which allows the text at the bottom to be spread out a little more vertically. I was trying to be a bit more funky in this design. Thoughts?

-t

Vatican Discovers that People Watch You Tube

In an unusual letter to his bishops to be released this week, the Pope apologizes for mistakes made in the whole fiasco involving the pardoning of Bishop Richard Williamson. Williamson has repeatedly and even recently denied the Jewish Holocaust. Now, one of the mistakes the Pope admits to making is that they didn't realize so many people would watch the You Tube interview of Williamson denying the existence of the gas chambers. The thing is, this clip of Williamson denying the Holocaust was available before the Vatican lifted the excommunication.

You see, for the Vatican the issue of Williamson was about his "illicit" but "valid" ordination, not his denial of the holocaust. His real sin had been going around church authority, not denying the most important human-rights crime of the 20th century. So it was quite a surprise to them when everyone erupted. Apparently no one at the Vatican bothers to Google anybody. Nor do they have antenna tuned to pick up on these sensitivities.

-t

Chef-In-Chief Michelle

I'm very pleased by the new initiatives taking shape to promote local, organic, healthy foods. I really believe it's the next wave of the larger Green movement--and one that brings with it important reforms in food production and safety. I felt so strongly about it that I even sent a letter to President Obama asking him to make the White House an example. I wasn't the only one.

Apparently they got the message. Michelle Obama has been championing real food since arriving in her new post. The New York Times has a nice article summarizing her efforts so far:
In her first weeks in the White House, Mrs. Obama has emerged as a champion of healthy food and healthy living. She has praised community vegetable gardens, opened up her own kitchen to show off the White House chefs’ prowess with vegetables and told stories about feeding less fattening foods to her daughters. (source)


Typical of the new regime's style, Mrs. Obama asked the White House Chef give a speech about nutrition, a first so far anyone can remember.

Back here in Canada, one of my parishoners suggested using a patch of grass that is concealed from the street to grow a small vegetable garden. I think this is a brilliant idea and plan to pursue it as the weather changes! Its an area about 10 feet wide and 25 feet long--not huge, but we could probably do some nice stuff in there. My only concern is veggie-theft, but then again if people are that hungry I'm not going to feel too badly about them stealing a few tomatoes.

I've also been thinking about the possibility of a neighbourhood garden for Rathnelly Republic (where Betsy and I live). My current favourite spot for a community garden would be between the Toronto Hydroelectric Sub-Station and the High Level Pumping Station. You can see the area I'm talking about in the satellite image below:

Right now I don't have time to organize creating such a garden, but if anyone wants to pick up the flag note that the City of Toronto has resources and processes available to help communities found such gardens. They even have a city staffer to help. Neat, heh?

This is the sort of thing I want to bring to the Rathnelly Area Resident's Association and see what they think. It's possible they already have something like this in the works. Betsy and I did volunteer ourselves for the committee putting together the "Rathnelly Day" party that the neighbourhood holds bi-annually.

Rathnelly is a very colourful neighbourhood. It's called a "Republic" because they tried to secede from Canada in the 1960's. They elected a queen and organized all the children into a militia (called the "Rathnelly Republic Irregulars," I think). The kids were given hellium balloons as an "Air Farce." So every-other year they have a big block party with a parade, contests, food, dancing, etc. This year's theme is "pirates." I'm already thinking about my costume....

-t

A One Minute Story of Reconciliation

The Lead Blog on Episcopal Cafe posted this moving little ad put out by an Argentinian Bank that speaks to reconciliation:


If banks can speak so eloquently about reconciliation, what on earth is stopping us?

-t

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Videos to Reflect With

I met Joe Manafo at the Vital Church Planting Conference a few months ago here in the Diocese of Toronto. Joe is film maker and is deeply committed to the project of using New Media to express the Gospel. He and some others have an experiment called ThinkerLabs that creates a space for open-source collaboration for Christian New Media.

I find this model of open source collaboration intriguing, and the Alt.Worship-style liturgies and videos are well thought out. Here are two examples of the sort of thing they are creating at ThinkerLabs...





I'm interested to see where this initiative goes!

-t

Koi?



Since moving into my office at the Church of The Messiah I have been fantasizing about getting a small aquarium for some goldfish. I think ideally my office should have lots of living things like plants and goldfish (alongside icons, books, and lots of candles, of course). I've been too busy to really invest any time in getting actual fish, but now I'm starting to think the time is right. Some goldfish would really be great.

So I was reading online about how to set up a basic, low-maintenance aquarium and was reminded of a fish that one of my sister's ex-boyfriends had: koi. Koi are Japanese carp specially bred to grow to large sizes and display bright colors and interesting patterns. Leave it to the Japanese to take this hobby to the highest level of refinement possible--prize-winning koi can sell for thousands of dollars. Of course, if I do get some koi for my aquarium they will the be the cheapies (only $10 or $12 per fish). What's cool about koi is that they can potentially live a very long time one famous fish, Hanako, lived to be 226 years old (an age verified by an analysis of her scales). They are also smart enough to recognize their feeders and to be taught some simple tricks.

Anyway, it's a thought I'm having. I've noticed that you can get inexpensive used aquariums on Craigslist. I'd have to learn a lot about maintaining it, but I can't think it's too bad. We'll see!

-t

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bishop Johnson in the News

My boss


My Diocesan Bishop, Colin Johnson, and his family were profiled in the Toronto Star today. Most people know that Ellen, the Bishop's wife, is Quaker, but it was interesting to read some of the details of how they worked out their religious differences in order to be married. It turns out they got a little help from their Bishop at the time, Ted Scott:
Former Anglican primate Ted Scott, a mentor of Johnson's, helped the young couple find their way before they got married.

One weekend in particular, when Johnson was doing a field placement in Chatham as part of his studies to become a priest, Ellen was visiting. Scott happened to be in the southwestern Ontario city for a confirmation, and offered Ellen a lift back to Toronto.

In the four hours they drove the 401, Scott and Ellen talked about life, love and faith, and the woman received affirmation from the very top of her future husband's church that she need not change for the man she loved.

"He welcomed her to the family and told her she didn't have to be something she wasn't," says Johnson, still in awe at the generosity of the gesture some 30 years later.

The couple was married shortly thereafter, in 1977 at the Quaker Meeting House in Newmarket. (source)


I think one of the most important role bishops have is being permission-givers, even when it's not apparent that permission is needed! The equivalent moment of parish leadership is probably simply staying out the way of a good work begun!

-t

Video Workflow for the Geeky...

Okay, here's the workflow for posting that kind of video for those interested in such things...

I record the video of the service with a Canon HV-20 camcorder on a tripod at 1060i30 resolution. I also record the audio with an M-Audio Microtrack-II (MP3 at 224kbps / 44.1kHz) using a small stereo condenser mic clipped to the same stand that is holding the wireless handheld for the PA system).

I transfer the audio file to ORAC (my computer) and load it into Adobe Audition 3.0. I cut out the sermon, fix the levels and any problems, then save it at 128kps/44.1kHz and upload it to G-Cast where I can pull it later.

Next, I capture the video to my hard drive using HDVSplit. It's a very handy little app that does a good job of capture and happens to be free, too! Normally at this point I just capture what I need, as doing the whole tape takes about an hour.

In Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 I start a new project with the presets for 720p30. I copy and paste the title sequence from the last sermon video into the new project. I modify the things that need modifying and then put the new sermon video in place. Adjust the image, crop and zoom, etc. I then swap the audio track from the video camera with the audio I recorded with the Microtrack and sync them. This step, replacing the audio, makes a HUGE difference.

Once all that's done I export using the Adobe Media Encoder to a Flash video file (.flv) at 425X240, 29.97fps, 1.8kbps, using On2VP6 codec. 10 minutes equals about 150MB. I need to do some experimenting to find the right bandwidth sweet spot to get the size down, but that's not bad as long as my audience has broadband. Rendering an 11 minute file takes about 8 minutes thanks to ORAC's quad core.

At this point I upload the flv file to the COTM server using Dreamweaver (though you can FTP straight from Premiere Pro). I update an XML playlist to make sure the video gets pulled into my video player on the COTM website. And I can make a stand-alone viewing embed video (like the one below) using the same JWZ Player applet. Note that to pull videos from the COTM website onto the blog using the JWZ Player it is essential to have a "crossdomain.xml" file in the root directory of the COTM website.

I know, that sounds really complicated, doesn't it? In some ways it would be easier just to upload everything to You Tube or another video hosting website. But I like the added control of configuring my own player. I also like not being limited to the 10 minutes You Tube allows. Still, these 150MB files chew up server space real quick!

1ee7 users may note that I'm filming in 1060i and editing in 720p. The reason for that is simply that my video camera can't shoot in a progressive 30fps mode (not 720p nor 1080p), but flash does a better job with progressive video--so I have to deinterlace anyway and I might as well do so is such a way as to preserve some of the HD detail. Might be interesting to try the 1080p editing mode for comparison. But you really don't want to shink it down to 425X240 until the very end.

-t

Sermon - Lent 2 2009

My sermon from Lent 2, 2009. I discuss the nature of covenants as commitments that transcend individual self-interest and demand sacrifice. I argue that the rewards of such covenant relationships are beyond our imagining.

Now, as an experiment I'm offering this in both video and audio...



I'm still working out the bugs of online-video posting. Cross-domain issues can be hard to untangle, for example, when you are pulling a video on a website hosted by a different server than where the video or the flash scripts live. Anyway, that's the video. Here's the audio...


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

-t

Further Thoughts on the ARC

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my many pet projects has to do with establishing a resource centre for Christian Formation in this Diocese. In the last week I think I found a church that has some space to lend us. It's not as public as a storefront, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper! This church I have in mind has lots of parking, is centrally located, and is reachable by TTC (public transit). I can imagine establishing a library there and building it as we go. Eventually we can move to a storefront space if that's what we want, but I think to overcome inertia we need to start with something. And some shelves in a room at friendly church is a good start!

We still haven't cracked the self-supporting problem. I.e.--the quality of the resource centre is dependent, to some degree, on a steady source of revenue. The money could be used for acquisitions, management of the collection, and even staffing. I was speaking about this with a fellow priest this week who suggested memberships. That is, parishes would buy memberships in the Anglican Resource Centre. I imagine that non-members would still have access to the resource library, but perhaps that can't check anything out without becoming a member. And if they are a member they get special benefits. Perhaps non-members can read the online forum but not post to it. Perhaps members can get special "consultations"?

Furthermore, I think the ARC could also act as a bookstore to sell materials. Members could get a discount. You see where this is going--a model common on the Internet.

Next step, convince the church I have in mind to let us have the space and work out the details of that agreement. After that, we need to figure out some of the information architecture before we start accumulating stuff. What kind of cataloguing system? How will we index and arrange things? Etc. Gee... I wish I knew a librarian....

-t

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top 25 Things I Hate About Facebook

This will only make sense if you are on Facebook to begin with...


-t

Pet Diaries

My sister Meg sent this to me:

WHAT PETS WRITE IN THEIR DIARIES.......


Excerpts from a Dog's Diary......

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk Bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watc hed TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat's Daily Diary...

Day 983 of my captivity...

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets.

Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am. Jerks.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe….

for now.


-t

Thursday, March 5, 2009

David After Dentist - "Is This Real Life?"

One of the funniest, and most popular, You Tube videos out there. This poor kid will forever be remembered for going a little crazy after being drugged up at the Dentist.


-t

Healing Prayer Banner



I had this banner printed up and hung it on the Avenue Road side of the church to promote the Healing Prayer Service we started last week. I know it's not the most interesting design in the world, but without a volunteer with design skills to rely on I can only do what I can do. It's a start, at least.

So that covers one angle. Coming down the hill people will see the healing prayer service advertised on our main sign. Then I have it advertised again on A-frames along the sidewalk on the Dupont Road side of the church. So I have most of the angles covered. We'll see if it actually attracts anyone!

Some lessons learned: printing a banner like this is pretty easy. Kinkos just needs a PDF of the design. It runs about $15/square foot irregardless of the design's complexity, number of colours, etc. Turnaround is about 48 hours. Pretty straight forward.

-t

The Vicar's Study


This is from Dave Walker's Cartoon Church website. Yes, I have a license to use it. I was poking around a minute ago and found this disturbingly accurate depiction. My office indeed has
  • Person approaching door requiring $20 for train fare
  • Huge bunch of keys
  • Meaningful religious knick-knacks
  • Humourous religious knick-knacks
  • Chair for those seeking pastoral help
  • unopened bag of leaflets from resources exhibition
  • excessive quantity of computer equipment
  • An Immense number of books, designed to impress visitors. Most are paperbacks dating from the Vicar's time at theological college.


I think I'm especially guilty of the the "excessive quantity of computer equipment" crime. Sigh.

-t

Church Shopping in America

Ann W. passed along an article in Slate about Church shopping in the U.S. The article is arguing that the competition among churches in the U.S. has been good for religion in America and may even explain why something like 67% of Americans belong to a local church.
American faith comes in lots of flavors, but that doesn't necessarily mean that today's church shoppers are buying into a superficial, strip-mall faith. When the Barna Group studied what believers look for in a new church, doctrine and belief ranked at the top of the list of the most important factors, while more mundane or aesthetic concerns (music, parking, comfortable seating) were less important. And the free market in faith has been good for America's religious life. All that hopping across denominational lines likely helped produce a less rigid, better informed, more ecumenical religious culture. (source)

I do think we need to be careful about the the tendency to sell a Gospel of ease--selling out our integrity for the sake of growth--but I think we also need to recognize that people are hungry for a genuine encounter with God. The popularity of the Orthodox Church in certain circles is good evidence for how "approachability" or "high-barriers to entry" are perhaps not as important to church "consumers" as perceived authenticity or other, more spiritual values.

I remember more than one person at St. Mary Magdalene's that told me that they came and continued to come specifically because of their belief in Father Harold's spiritual integrity. That is a striking sentiment in a church that is trying hard to transcend individuality in liturgy. Harold is not the sort of priest that likes to preach about his "spiritual journey." Still, people came because they perceived that there was a genuine spiritual something at the heart of the SMM community.

Applied to Church of The Messiah, it's one the reasons why I'm so pleased that the community has grown so much more loving and connected in the last year. Really, love will get us there. Signs and websites and posters and all that are important, but if we don't have core spirituality we are dead in the water.

-t

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sermon - Lent 1 2009

My sermon from Lent 1, 2009. I talk about "desert spirituality" and the search for God in the ascetic path.



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

-t

Sermon - Ash Wednesday 2009

We had a quiet Ash Wednesday service this year. Here's my sermon...



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

-t

State of The Parish Address 2009

On the last Sunday of Epiphany we held our annual Parish Vestry Meeting. Because many people can't stay for the meeting, I give the "State of the Parish" address during the sermon time.



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

-t

The Holy Pretzel


Bob, my bro-in-law, points out this fascinating article about using the humble pretzel as a traditional symbol of Lent:
The pretzel has a deep spiritual meaning for Lent. In fact, it was the ancient Christian Lenten bread as far back as the fourth century. In the old Roman Empire, the faithful kept a very strict fast all through Lent: no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no cream and no meat. They made small breads of water, flour and salt, to remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer. They shaped these breads in the form of crossed arms for in those days they crossed their arms over the breast while praying. Therefore they called the breads "little arms" (bracellae). From this Latin word, the Germanic people later coined the term "pretzel."

Thus the pretzel is the most appropriate food symbol in Lent. It still shows the form of arms crossed in prayer, reminding us that Lent is a time of prayer. It consists only of water and flour, thus proclaiming Lent as a time of fasting. The earliest picture and description of a pretzel (from the fifth century) may be found in the manuscript-codex No. 3867, Vatican Library. (source)

The article even includes a "Ceremony of the Pretzel" to use in Lent:

The Ceremony of the Pretzel

1. On Ash Wednesday, father or mother may explain the origin of the holy pretzel, so that the children will understand its significance.

2. The pretzel might be served on each plate for each evening meal until Easter.

3. Added to the grace before meals, is the "pretzel prayer."

PRAYER

We beg you, O Lord, to bless these breads which are to remind us that Lent is a sacred season of penance and prayer. For this very reason, the early Christian started the custom of making these breads in the form of arms crossed in prayer. Thus they kept the holy purpose of Lent alive in their hearts from day to day, and increased in their souls the love of Christ, even unto death, if necessary.

Grant us, we pray, that we too, may be reminded by the daily sight of these pretzels to observe the holy season of Lent with true devotion and great spiritual fruit. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(source)


I'm touch by this--but I also think it would be excellent fodder for a Monty Python skit.

-t

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

General Tso Part 2

I made the General Tso's Chicken Recipe Number 1 last night night. It was good, but a little disappointing. The problem was that the sauce wasn't quite right. It lacks both the thickness and the sugar you would expect. So here's another recipe (by S. John Ross) that looks more promising, sauce-wise...

General Tso's Chicken Recipe Number 2


1 lb chicken thighs, boned and cubed
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup and 2 tsp cornstarch
5 dried pepper pods
1-1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp rice wine
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp soy sauce

In a large bowl, thoroughly blend the 1/2 cup of cornstarch and the eggs; add the chicken and toss to coat. If the mixture bonds too well, add some vegetable oil to separate the pieces.

In a small bowl, prepare the sauce mixture by combining the 2 tsp cornstarch with the wine, vinegar, sugar and soy sauce.

First-Stage Frying: Heat 1-2 inches of peanut oil in a wok to medium-high heat (350-400o). Fry the chicken in small batches, just long enough to cook the chicken through. Remove the chicken to absorbent paper and allow to stand (this step can be performed well in advance, along with the sauce mixture, with both refrigerated).

Second-Stage Frying: Leave a tablespoon or two of the oil in the wok. Add the pepper pods to the oil and stir-fry briefly, awakening the aroma but not burning them. Return the chicken to the wok and stir-fry until the pieces are crispy brown.

The General's Favorite Sauce: Add the sauce-mixture to the wok, tossing over the heat until the sauce caramelizes into a glaze (1-2 minutes). Serve immediately. Serves 4, along with steamed broccoli and rice.

Variations and Substitutions

Sherry substitutes well for the rice wine, but avoid "cooking sherry" if you can. Sugar in the sauce ranges from as little as a few teaspoons to a full half-cup in some recipes. Soy sauce, too, varies dramatically, rising as high as double that listed above. Nearly any sort of vinegar can be used. In some recipes, a tablespoon of soy sauce is added to the egg-and-cornstarch blend. In others, the chicken itself is marinated before being used, in either soy, wine, vinegar, or some combination of those.

Many recipes include a much lighter egg-and-cornstarch coating for the chicken (about 2 tbsp of starch and two eggs). I prefer the heavier coating; adjust to taste.

Optional Sauce Ingredients: A grind of fresh black pepper, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a teaspoon of MSG, a clove or two of garlic, a couple of fresh chopped scallions or green onions, 1-2 teaspoons of Chinese chili sauce, fresh ginger, a teaspoon of hoisin sauce, the minced rind of an orange, and many other items may be added to the sauce. Any vegetal additions should be added to the oil along with the chicken (the ginger can burn easily - add it last).

Light Tso Sauce: The traditional sauce for General Tso's is a heavy, spicy glaze, different from the lighter broth-based sauces found on most other Chinese dishes. Some prefer a lighter Tso sauce, too, and this can be achieved by tripling the cornstarch in the sauce and adding a half-cup of fluid. The "fluid" can be chicken broth, water, or even fruit juice (both orange and pineapple have been used). Cook the sauce only 'til it thickens, instead of waiting for a glaze. This version of the sauce is actually more common in the local restaurants; if you're a Tso fan, it might be what you're used to. (source)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Economy, Faith, and Debt

Stanley Fish has a stunning article on his NYTimes Blog about the Christian discourse on debt. He talks about the two main Christian frameworks for understanding money and debt and explores their implications for the current financial crisis. This kind of frankly Christian essay in such a major venue (the New York Times) highlights one of the major differences between Christianity in America and Canada. People like Stanley Fish can still discuss theology openly down there in a way I don't think they can up here. I mean, the Christian heritage (if not the Christian faith itself) is still taken very seriously down there. But I'm still amazed that Stanley Fish, of all people, would write in such an apologetic mode.
The Bible, they tell us, contains 2,350 verses “that have to do with money and possessions.” If we attend to the lessons of these verses and learn how properly to husband the resources God has given us, we will be doing his work, for “God desires a life for us that is free of debt , and the entrapments and common pitfalls related to financial difficulties” (Cross). “The way out of debt,” Dayton teaches, “is not a declaration of bankruptcy, but surrender to the word of God.”

But in another popular Christian discourse, there is no way out of debt, and bankruptcy is the condition we are in from the moment of birth. This is a Calvinist discourse in which the language of money is allegorized. The debt we owe is owed to the God who made us in his image, an image defiled and corrupted by Adam and Eve, whose heirs in sin we all are. We may think that this unhappy inheritance could be overlain and covered by a succession of good deeds, but every deed we perform is infected by the base motives from which we cannot move one inch away. Every piece of currency we offer in payment of debt only increases it. The situation seems hopeless.

But it’s not, we are told, if we embrace bankruptcy rather than try (vainly) to extricate ourselves from it. The acknowledgment of bankruptcy and of the impossibility of working our way free of it is the beginning of wisdom.

....

This economy, in which funds depleted are endlessly replenished, is underwritten by a power so great and beneficent that it turns failures into treasures. Some economists identify that power as the market and ask us to have faith in it. God might be a better candidate. (source)


For good measure he quotes the wonderful poet-priest George Herbert:

REDEMPTION.


HAVING been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancell th’ old.

In heaven at his manour I him sought :
They told me there, that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts ;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts :
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of theeves and murderers : there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.
(source)


Does that poem not make your spine tingle?

-t

A Calm and Prayerful Night

Betsy went to the Bach Vespers at Redeemer this evening. She enjoyed it, and when she came home we talked and sipped tea. Later, as she and the cats slept, I read more of Kathleen Norris' recent book, Acedia and Me. It's a very grown up book that traces many decades worth of accumulated spiritual wisdom. It's the sort of book that goes to some pretty dark places, including her husband's history with depression and suicide attempts.

Reading her talk about the necessity of prayer inspired me to dust off my old pocket-sized (American) Book of Common Prayer. It was given to me by my parents when I was confirmed. I have prayed with it often throughout my life, but less since I moved to Canada and started saying the Office from the BAS or the Holy Cross Breviary. When I was a kid I would say Compline every night. So this prayer book is well-worn. But in recent years I've been doing most of my prayers "at the office" so to speak. That is, I've been praying at church. I know this is probably a mistake, one should allow prayer to infuse all life, but besides grace at meals and extemporaneous prayers in the shower or when the thought of someone in need of prayers strikes me, I haven't been indulging in something as well developed or rich as the little Compline Office in the '79 BCP. Picking up tonight just felt right, somehow, as a response to both Kathleen Norris and everything else.

Perhaps this is the way Lent is going to come at me this year--quiet moments sipping tea with my wife or reading a poet talk about her spiritual journey through life, marriage, and vocation. And then the prayers and now the blogging. I'm sipping warm milk and trying not to let my mind race ahead to all the things I want to get done on my day off!

It seems lately I've been having the the same conversation over and over with different people--a talk about surface versus depth. If I let my attention rest on the surface of the pond--worrying about who is in church and who isn't or how the roof is going to get fixed and why didn't more people come to Ash Wednesday--I'm going to be jostled by every little ripple and possible overwhelmed by every wave. But underneath that is something still and deep and dark and full of all the rich, squirmy life that we need. You catch fishes by letting down nets, I suppose.

Those crafty desert fathers knew this lesson well. I'm so young as a Christian I find the challenges of this life daunting to say the least. I can't imagine what I would do if I didn't have people like Bede and Kathleen Norris and the Desert Fathers and Eugene Peterson and the rest of the struggling saints!

Sigh. A night for prayer.

-t

Sunday, March 1, 2009

General Tso's Chicken


Who doesn't like General Tso's Chicken? It's a classic sweet and hot Chinese dish that combines the satisfaction of fried, crispy chicken and the flavor of a sugary, chili-based sauce. Betsy, who is partial to the dish, asked "Who is this General Tso, anyway"? Well, it turns out that this classic of Chinese cuisine isn't so classic after all. The dish is unheard of in China and appears to make it's first world appearance in New York in the 1970's. Two restaurants claim the invention: Peng Teng on East 44th Street and Shun Lee Palace. According to Wikipedia, Peng Teng's claim seems more likely. So what's with the name?
There are several stories concerning the origin of the dish. In her book The Chinese Kitchen, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo states that the dish originates from a simple Hunan chicken dish, and that the reference to "Zongtang" in "Zuo Zongtang chicken" was not a reference to Zuo Zongtang's given name, but rather a reference to the homonym "zongtang", meaning "ancestral meeting hall" (Chinese: 宗堂; pinyin: zōngtáng). Consistent with this interpretation, the dish name is sometimes (but considerably less commonly) found in Chinese as "Zuo ancestral hall chicken" (traditional Chinese: 左宗堂雞; simplified Chinese: 左宗堂鸡; pinyin: Zuǒ Zōngtáng jī). (source)


So what we have here is a Hunan-inspired Chinese-American dish that spread quickly through North America. Not as authentic as I had hoped to discover, but still delicious. I haven't tried making it myself, but since I have been cooking with the Wok a lot lately I thought I might give this recipe a try:

General Tso's Chicken


4 Chicken legs with thighs
1/2 c Soy sauce
1/2 c Distilled white vinegar
1 cl Garlic; minced
1 ts Ginger root; Peeled & minced
1 ts Cornstarch
1 lg Egg; beaten lightly
1/3 c Corn oil
4 Dried hot chilis; seeded

Bone the chicken legs, including the thighs by scraping the meat from the bone, working downward and keeping close to the bone. Pull the meat down over the bone (pulling it inside out like a glove) and cut it free from the bone. Discard the skin and cut the meat from each leg into 6 pieces.

In a bowl combine the soy sauce, vinegar, 1/2 c water, the garlic and ginger root.

In another bowl, combine the egg and cornstarch and dip the chicken pieces. Heat the oil in a wok or deep, heavy skillet until very hot, add the chicken and fry it for 4 to 6 minutes, or until it is crisp. Transfer the chicken with tongs to paper towels to drain and pour off all but 1 T of the oil from the wok. Add the soy sauce mixture, the chili peppers and the chicken and cook the mixture over moderately high heat for 2 minutes, or until heated through.

Transfer it to a heated serving dish. Serves 4. (source)


I'll report back with results when I've tried it!

-t

Is Food the New Sex?

George Will has an interesting editorial in the Washington Post about how food has become the new bell-weather of personal morality, replacing sex. This argument about how moral attitudes toward food and sex are being transposed is based on a policy-review document entitled "Is Food the New Sex" by Mary Eberstadt.

Essentially, the argument goes that Americans (and I presume they mean "North Americans") are increasingly loading food choices with moral implication. So people are becoming prudes about eating fair trade, organic, healthy, etc. food. But choices around sex seem to have less moral weight or meaning.
[Eberstadt] notes that for the first time ever, most people in advanced nations "are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want." One might think, she says, either that food and sex would both be pursued with an ardor heedless of consequences, or that both would be subjected to analogous codes constraining consumption. The opposite has happened -- mindful eating and mindless sex. (source).


How do we account for the imbalance of prohibition on two goods that, objectively speaking, are both harmful in excess? Why the the transposition of inhibition from one to the other?

But her argument goes much further than showing that this has happened--she wants to explore the relationship between the sexual revolution and our current attitudes toward food:
Today "the all-you-can-eat buffet" is stigmatized and the "sexual smorgasbord" is not. Eberstadt's surmise about a society "puritanical about food, and licentious about sex" is this: "The rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone -- and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat."

Perhaps. Stigmas are compasses, pointing toward society's sense of its prerequisites for self-protection. Furthermore, as increasing numbers of people are led to a materialist understanding of life -- who say not that "I have a body" but that "I am a body" -- society becomes more obsessive about the body's maintenance. (source)


It's a fascinating analysis of the relationship between two primal human drives. And who can resist reading an essay with section titles like "Broccoli, pornography, and Kant"?

-t