Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cat Herders

OK, I can't resist posting this classic ad. One of my favourite of all time. It relates to ministry... somehow.


Mission Church--like building a plane in the air

I was at the Fresh Expressions Working Group meeting today. This is the Diocesan Committee that looks after church planting. I'm new to the committee, which is an Episcopal Appointment, and found it very exciting to hear about many of the new churches which are being founded around the Diocese. I knew about most, but not all, of these projects.

Needless to say, Missional Church was much discussed, and we (like everybody else) are really learning how to do it as we go along. In relation to this, (Diocesan Missioner) Jenny Andison told us about this video:

Yep, that feels about right. We build airplanes in mid-flight in the church!


RIP Stephen Bélanger–Taylor

Stephen Bélanger–Taylor, the artist who created Messiah's famous East Window, passed away this summer. One of the Staff at the Diocesan Centre was sharp enough to notice and to pass this obituary on to me. It came just in time to help inspire my Dedication Day sermon:
Stephen Bélanger –Taylor died unexpectedly at this home outside Geraldine, New Zealand in mid July. He had been diagnosed with cancer last Fall, but after chemo and radiation treatments, was declared disease –free about 2 weeks before he died. His death was a result of a seizure he had in the night. The irony…..

As many of you may know, Stephen’s wife Denise is a glass blower. They built a beautiful hot and cold glass studio on their country property on the south island of New Zealand. Their two sons, Michael and Kevin live on the north island. Michael and his wife Donnelle have a son and they have just had twins, so Denise has some very concrete and life affirming diversions for the moment.

Born and raised in Britain, Stephen’s art education began at 15 when he won a scholarship to Wimbledon School of Art where he was introduced to stained glass and learned the skill of restoration. He then won a place at the Royal College of Art in London where he continued his study and apprenticeship of stained glass and glass painting.

He immigrated to Canada in 1968 after receiving a stained glass commission at St. James Cathedral in Toronto through Yvonne Williams’ Toronto stained glass studio. As we know, he went on to develop a significant career in Canada doing numerous liturgical and residential stained glass commissions throughout Ontario.

He took the tradition skill of glass painting to a new and contemporary level with the use of double and triple matt layers. His line work was definitive, simple, and elegant. His bold colour sense and organically abstracted landscape shapes blended to create windows with very strong presence.

A strong presence was also a trait of his personality. My first meeting with Stephen was in a studio he was using in downtown Toronto. He was working on a large painted liturgical commission. I was meeting with him to talk about the possibility of apprenticing with him. At this point I had been doing stained glass as a hobby, with no formal art training at all. I walked into a darkened room. The only light was what was coming through the painted glass on an incredibly large easel. Stephen was in front of the panel with a brush and mull stick in hand. It was a rather medieval scene. In lieu of a regular introduction, his first words were “So you want to do stained glass do you?” “Are you a masochist?’ That cackle laugh of his followed the question. He proceeded to give me a reading list 2 pages long, most of which were published in England and dealt with the esoteric, philosophical, artistic and technical aspects of the art of stained glass. I knew then that this was the teacher for me.

The depth of training he had had was of a level that hardly existed in Canada. His standards of professionalism around his work were very high. He was openly very critical of what he considered mediocre work presented as something more. He was often seen as arrogant and intimidating. In fact he was a shy man, with bold opinions, based on a standard of excellence that he had been trained for, an accomplished stained glass designer, an amazing builder and innovator in the technical construction of glass furnaces, a generous, gifted teacher, and a dedicated artist in the way he lived his life, a committed father and partner.

Some of his most notable works can be seen in Toronto at Church of the Holy Trinity (4 south windows), Church of the Messiah (East window), St. Luke’s Thornhill (South altar window), St. Michael’s All Angels (Etobicoke), and Picton Town Hall.

Along with his commission work, Stephen also taught and influenced many students at Humber and Georgian Colleges, lecturing at U of T and conducting private apprenticeship courses.

After spending time in New Zealand in the 1980’s and 90’s, Stephen established what would be a long creative working relationship with New Zealand artist Beverly Shore Bennett. He collaborated with her on many commission throughout New Zealand. This eventually led to the Belanger-Taylor family moving to New Zealand in 1995 where Stephen continued his glass career with much success.

The Window he created is probably my favourite piece of art in the whole church. It was created from the broken pieces of glass collected after the fire here in 1976. When I first saw it I thought of the Burning Bush motif, and I still that is one possible reading of the window, but actually he intended to express something about how God's Holy Spirit encounters humanity and we respond to that grace with praise.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Search for Earhart

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With a new movie about aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart coming out, there have some interesting stories in the press about the effort to find her final resting place. When she went missing over the pacific on July 2, 1937, my grandfather was a young carrier pilot flying off a carrier (not sure which one--Perhaps the USS Lexington (CV-2)). His squadron participated in the search, and he maintained an interest in her fate ever since.

The most likely scenario currently proposed is that she ran out of fuel near Howland Island and made an emergency landing on a small, uninhabited island known as Nikumaroro Atoll. It had a smooth, flat reef that would have been possible to land on, however the waves and strong wind would have likely eventually have pulled her plane into the water. Radio transmissions were heard from Earhart after her landing, which would have required the plane to be able to run its engines (dry ground), which is further evidence for this theory.

Days later, one of the search planes piloted by at Lt Lambrecht flew over Nikumaroro Atol and saw signs of habitation, but couldn't spot the plane or Earhart. Recently researches tested how visible a person on the island would be to an observer in an aircraft (the answer--not very). It is very sad to think that Earhart may have been so close to rescue.

In 1940 British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher found a partial skeleton on the island of European descent and consistent with Earhart's build. Crabs had taken away the rest. He also found a woman's shoe. Unfortunately, the shoe and the remains were lost.

An expedition to Nikumaroro next summer will look for more evidence to help determine what happened to the famous aviator.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Patrick O'Brian at Sea...

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article a sailor wrote about his experience having Patrick O'Brian on his large sailing yacht for several days of voyaging in the Mediterranean. Apparently O'Brian's practical knowledge of sailing lags significantly behind his historical knowledge of sailing!
Underway to Menorca beneath a sunny sky with a twenty knot following wind, the sailing was marvelous and O'Brian was delighted. I introduced him to the helm, but he seemed to have no feeling for the wind and the course, and frequently I had to intervene to prevent a full standing gybe. I began to suspect that his autobiographical references to his months at sea as a youth were fanciful. He had no idea of the limitations of even a big yacht like Andromeda in terms of the handling and actual distance we could cover in a day. However, he and Mary adapted quickly to the yacht with no trace of seasickness. (source)

O'Brian worked on his novel The Yellow Admiral while aboard, as well...
Every afternoon between two and five, Patrick retired to my on-board office to work on his novel The Yellow Admiral, then in progress. He borrowed the yacht's charts of France, particularly the area around Brest, to incorporate detail of the blockade of Brest which is featured in that book. Very much to Mary's surprise he showed me each day's progress. She said that he had never shared his work with anyone before completion. Later, Patrick sent me the original manuscript for this volume which I still keep aboard and which I treasure.(source)

Kind of a neat story that gives you a sense of what O'Brian was like. The fact that this persona was an invention of the author (real name, Patrick Russ), adds another layer of meaning to the whole "Patrick O'Brian" phenomenon.


Sermon - Pentecost 19 2009

I'm posting this sermon slightly out of order because I'm playing catch-up with posting these. This sermon was interesting for me, I felt the need to introduce Deitrich Bonhoeffer to those in my congregation who may not have heard of him. I used to story of Bonhoeffer to talk about the need to cultivate detachment in order to face the expensiveness of the grace of sanctification. While entering into the promise of God and salvation (Justification) is relatively easy, the process of being transformed by that grace into God-likeness (Sanctification) is expensive! Deitrich would approve...

Here's the audio...

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


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vital Church Planting Conference 2010!

Somehow I got talked into being on the Vital Church Planting Conference planning team for 2010. Actually, it didn't take much arm-twisting at all to get me on board. I had my first meeting with the group today. Lots of stuff to work on, but it's good work!


Sermon - Pentecost 20 2009

This past Sunday we introduced a change to the liturgy. Eric and I were unhappy with the noticeable drop in energy that would happen on Sundays when we recite the Creeds together. Both the Nicene and Apostle's Creed get recited with very little enthusiasm or conviction. I think there are several different reasons why this may be the case, but regardless of the cause we needed to do something to revive this part of the service.

So after talking about in a staff meeting Eric and I both went to our books and read up what various people had to say about the history of saying the Creeds in worship and the principles behind sustaining the practice. We noted that although including the Creeds in the Liturgy has been a gradual and piecemeal evolution, there seems to a consensus (including Marion Hatchett and Richard Giles) that saying some sort of Affirmation of Faith is desirable. However, it doesn't necessarily have to be one of the conciliar Creeds (Apostle's, Nicene, Athanasian, etc.). Common Worship 2000 (a set of liturgies used in the UK) has a whole series of alternative Affirmations of Faith, most taken straight from scripture. As Giles points out, it's hard to argue that 4th century philosophical jargon written by a committee of bishops is superior to Holy Writ for expressing what we believe.

We decided to take our lead from the Book of Alternative Services liturgy for Morning Prayer, which gives the Shema with the Summary of the Law as an alternative to saying the Apostle's Creed:
Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

This is the first and the great commandment.
The second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.

There is no commandment greater than these.

There was another issue at stake for us--hospitality. Specifically, we were thinking of the event we are having for Holocaust Education Week on All Saint's (November 1st). We already getting calls from Jewish folks that will be attending that day specifically to hear our guests do a "Musical Presenation of the Jewish Spirit." Jenny Eisentein, a concentration camp survivor, will be singing. Anna Venesyan and Omer Strumpf will be accompanying her. This will take the place of the sermon.

Although the service is not intended to be a real "Interfaith" Liturgy as that is normally understood, we can still be good hosts and pay a little more attention to the heritage we have in common as children of Abraham and Sarah.

Here's the audio...

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


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Feeling Papish?

The Vatican, ever helpful, has decided to make it easier for individuals, parishes, and perhaps even (crossed-Cardinal's-Fingers) dioceses to convert the Roman Catholicism.
A new canonical entity will allow groups of Anglicans “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,” Cardinal William Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here. (Source)

I can understand how the Vatican could see an opportunity here. There are some Anglican Churches that really don't like the overall move towards women bishops and allowing gay clergy, in particular. And really, is Anglican liturgy that different from the Roman Way? So why not simply take whole congregations lock-stock-and-barrel if they are willing to swear allegiance to the Holy See?

These congregations will get to keep their (married) clergy (presumably after they've been re-ordained) and their liturgies. However, they probably won't get to keep their buildings since these usually belong to the (Anglican/Episcopal) Diocese and not to the parish, per se.

Hard not to be cynical about this. Seems a bit opportunistic. Then again, we've been taking Roman Catholic refugees for a long time, too. But never whole parishes as far as I know.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Prison Hospice

Given that 1 out of every 32 is under "Correctional Supervision" (that's 6.7 Million people), it's not surprising that there is a large geriatric population in jail. More than 3,000 inmates die from natural causes in prison each year, so many prisons are starting to develop hospice programmes staffed with inmate volunteers.

As courts have handed down longer sentences and tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Susan Atkins, a follower of Charles Manson, died last month in hospice at the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla after being denied compassionate release.

Joan Smith, deputy superintendent of health services at the Coxsackie prison, said the hospice program here initially met with resistance from prison guards. “They were very resentful about people in prison for horrendous crimes getting better medical care than their families,” including round-the-clock companionship in their final days, Ms. Smith said. (source)

Not surprisingly, the experience has become transformative for the volunteers in a way that the rest of their prison experience has not been.
Benny Lee, 38, has spent half his life in prison for manslaughter, and for most of that time, he said, “the only thing I regretted was getting caught.” Four months ago he began as a hospice volunteer, feeling he needed a change. “I’m trying to offer some payback,” he said. (source)

Recently I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in many years. Turns out, several years ago he spent 18 months in jail for DUI and Cocaine possession. He says that it was the best thing that ever happened to him--really turned his life around. He told me that when you are sent to prison you really have a choice--you can waste the time passing the hours or you can use it to improve yourself mentally, spiritually, or physically. He took advantage of the time to change himself and was glad for it. He also said that prison is like anywhere else, there are good people and bad people and you can survive if you make wise choices.

This situation of the Prison Hospice programmes reminds me of the cemetery in New York where they bury the abandoned dead. If they can't find a family to claim remains, they are eventually buried in a cemetery which is maintained my prisoners. Being on the cemetery detail is considered a privilege, as the inmates take the care of the cemetery very seriously.


Friday, October 16, 2009

A Close-Up on Priestly Indiscretion

The New York Times is running an article that serves as a kind of case study of what happens when Roman Catholic Priests have affairs with women in their congregations. Father Henry Willenborg was serving as a spiritual director for a retreat for Catholic women when he became attracted to Pat Bond, one of his directees.

“Here I am this small-town girl, and at the time I didn’t feel that I was very attractive,” she said, “and yet he’s putting his vows on the side and he wants to be with me, in the most intimate, loving way. It was quite an honor.”

“It’s such a powerful thing because you think — and this is the illness of it, too — you are led to believe and you let yourself believe, that you are a chosen one. That you are so special,” she said, adding of the priest, “It’s not that they’re putting God aside, it’s that they’re bringing you up to their level.” (Source)

When Ms. Bond became pregnant the first time, she said that Father Willenborg wanted to her to have an abortion. She refused, but the baby was lost to a miscarriage. She became pregnant again, and this time carried the baby to term. She entered into a legal agreement with the Franciscans that they would pay her about $85,000 in child support over the first 18 years of the boys life.

Still, Father Willenborg and Ms. Bond continued their relationship with little consequence to the priest.

An unexpected turn of events brought their idyll to an end. A young woman showed up at Ms. Bond’s house in a rage. She told Ms. Bond that she had been in a sexual relationship with Father Willenborg for years, since she was in high school. (Reached by phone last week, the woman confirmed the relationship, and said it had caused her a lifetime of pain. She asked to remain anonymous.) Immediately, the Franciscans sent Father Willenborg to a treatment center in New Mexico run by a religious order, for priests with sexual disorders and substance addictions.

Ms. Bond says that after that, they had sex together only once more: immediately after he returned from seven months at the center. She still has the receipt from the hotel room. (Source)

In a court deposition years later, Father Willenborg said that he was never disciplined and never counselled to leave religious life. Ms. Bond got help from a group that was originally founded to help priests and their lovers discern whether the men should leave Orders an marry or break off the relationships.

“We were naïve,” Mrs. Finnegan said. “We quickly discovered that many of these priests were playboys. They weren’t looking for any discernment, they were simply staying and playing. It was the women who needed the support. Unfortunately, many women accept the kind of abuse from a priest that they would never accept if they were dating another man.”

She said that in 25 years, Good Tidings had been contacted by nearly 2,000 women who said they were involved with priests, many who had signed child support and confidentiality agreements like Ms. Bond’s. There are similar support groups in at least seven countries.

A landmark study in 1990 by the scholar A. W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine, found that 20 percent of Catholic priests were involved in continuing sexual relationships with women, and an additional 8 percent to 10 percent had occasional heterosexual relationships. (Source)

That's right, 20% of Roman Catholic Priests were involved in continuing sexual relationships with women. That's not just occasional boundary slipping--that's ongoing relationships.

The situation with Ms. Bond and Father Willenborg became more complex. She wanted help from the Franciscans to pay for her son's college education. They resisted, but after a paternity test confirmed the priest was the boy's father they eventually settled at paying half the cost. But then son, Nathan, was diagnosed with cancer. The church has been reluctant to help with the medical costs.

This sort of situation does make a case for ending mandatory celibacy for Roman Priests. My guess is that there will probably be Married priests before we see women priests. Indeed, there are already a few married RC Priests. It might also help with vocation crisis in the RC Church.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bishop Johnson Elected Metropolitan

Bishop Johnson, the Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto, was just elected to be the Metropolitan for the Province of Ontario. This means that we will be the head of the Ecclesiastical Province that includes the Dioceses of Moosonee, Algoma, Ontario, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara and Huron. Most Anglicans in Canada are within that jurisdiction. He will remain the Bishop of Toronto, but his new responsibilities will be added.
Archbishop Johnson outlined two areas that he would like to concentrate on. “I’d like to continue the work that the Province is doing in terms of advocacy, particularly for the poor and the needy in our society. The second area is continued work on renewal of theological education.” (He recently accepted the appointment by the Archbishop of Canterbury to be the chair of the Theological Education for the Anglican Communion International Steering Committee.) (source)

Congratulations to the now ARCHBishop, Colin Johnson!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The White House Situation Room

Ever wondered what the real Situation Room of the White House looks like? Here's a picture. Note that before 9/11 this room where the President receives classified briefings and manages crisis was distinctly underwhelming. They were still using fax machines and CRT monitors. After 9/11 the renovation, already underway, received an obvious boost in priority--this is the result.


Does God Hate the Higgs Particle?

The New York Times highlights a new theory as to why it seems to be so hard to get the Large Hadron Collider working. Scientists are seriously discussing whether the future won't allow it:
A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (source)

In other words, maybe we aren't supposed to create a Higgs particle, and the universe will prevent it in increasingly less-probable ways. In other words, the more random the thing is that prevents the Collider to function, the more likely these faults are the future's fault:
He agreed that skepticism would be in order. After all, most big science projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have gone through a period of seeming jinxed. At CERN, the beat goes on: Last weekend the French police arrested a particle physicist who works on one of the collider experiments, on suspicion of conspiracy with a North African wing of Al Queda.

He even speculates that this mysterious fate-altering course that prevents the LHC from doing it's work might be God:
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”

This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”

That's right, we are looking at the possibility of an anti-miracle, the notion that God will prevent scientists from creating a Higgs particle. How neat is that?


Monday, October 12, 2009

Divinity School Humor

A friend from Yale Divinity School pointed out a blog from my old stomping grounds: "Overheard at Yale Divinity School." Although some of the humor requires knowing some of the personalities and places involved, much of it will be familiar to anyone who has gone to seminary. Here are couple of gems...

(Regarding the work and popular reviews of Robert Alter)

Carolyn Sharp: I did, once, actually receive a paper from a student who 'exegeted' what her grandmother had said about the relevant passage. It's not a prudent approach! Unless your grandmother is, you know, Gerhard von Rad. And even then, this assignment is about your interpretation of the passage, so Grandma von Rad would still need to be peripheral to your argument.


Carolyn Sharp: Time to get a mocha and calm down about the dismissively reductionist approach to the Bible that we see so often in popular culture. And just in case you'd be tempted to say I never taught you anything worthwhile: the best mocha lattes in New Haven are at Koffee on Audubon Street. There. That's something you can cling to when all the world seems to be awash in postmodern relativism.

Overheard at: Old Testament

This overheard is a few years old, submitted by an '04 alum:

Episcopal convert: Some of my buddies and I actually searched the phone book trying to find a sperm bank where we could donate in order to get cash to buy some beer.
Episcopal friend: When was that?
Episcopal convert: When I was at Oral Roberts.

Overheard: Commuter Lounge

Bruce Gordon: I'm sorry... you'll see I've taken this [map] from a cruise website, but the cities haven't changed.

Overheard: History of Western Christianity

Carolyn Sharp: I'm quite sure that puffins and polar bears were not part of Jeremiah's people, but you could decide that polar bears are part of your people (as a prophetic strategy of ecological solidarity).

Overheard: Scripture and Social Ethics

Dale Peterson: "It wasn't scandalous; he was just naked."

Overheard: YDS bookstore

M.Div Student (in a bad Scottish Accent): "In the Bible they said Jesus turned water into Wine, which is just Hebrew for Scotch."

Overheard: Berkeley Dinner

Guest preacher: Where did Esther get the gumption? Can I say, where did she get
the balls?
Voice from congregation: No!
Guest preacher: Well, I can't think of any other way to say it.

Overheard in Marquand worship

These make me nostalgic for seminary days. Funny how studying and praying closely with people for years at a time brings out the innuendo.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Zen of Lock Picking

Some friends asked us to feed their cat. I couldn't find they key they left us, so in desperation I pulled out my lock picks and managed to pick the lock after about half an hour of trying. I was quite proud of myself, especially since I haven't tried picking a lock in years. I felt very 007.

Why, you might wonder, would I have that particular skill, much less a simple set of lock picks? Well, the theology of it the task of lock picking appeals to me--the notion that no barrier is insurmountable if one is willing to a little knowledge and lot of patience. I took up the hobby of lock hacking when I was in Seminary. I bought a simple set of picks and practiced on a spare lock I found. When other people in seminary would knit, I would take out my lock and start picking. At first it would take me an hour or more to pick the lock. Later I got it down to 15 minutes as I learned the weaknesses of that particular lock.

One of the nice things about picking locks is that it doesn't do any damage to the lock. It simply manipulates the mechanical mechanism of the lock in a way that that takes advantage of the inherent weaknesses of the lock design. Obviously, using a set of lock picks for a criminal purpose is illegal, but owning a set of lock picks is not (with a few exceptions, like the UK). The movies make it look like all one needs to is stick a piece of wire in a lock and wiggle it around, in truth lock picking takes a lot of time unless one is extremely skillful or uses a gadget like an electric lock pick. That's why criminals will likely simply break the door or a window rather than bother picking a lock.

Each lock is a puzzle--cracking that puzzle with diligent effort is very satisfying. So how's it done? To begin with, understand that pin-and-tumbler locks all have the same basic structure, a internal cylinder in a tube that pulls the bolt when it is rotated. A series of two-part pins prevents that rotation, unless a key in the lock pushes the pins into an alignment. The diagram ought to give a sense of what I mean.
Ideally, if one tries to turn the "plug" without the pins being aligned, all the pins would bind against the hull of the lock with equal force. The the world isn't perfect, and neither is any lock. Tiny manufacturing defects cause the pins to bind in a sequential order. To pick the lock, one applies gentle torque to the lock and then manually sets each individual pin until it releases and the next pin binds.

The trick is that the subtle amounts of pressure needed on the torque wrench versus the pick requires a lot of practice to detect. Further, many locks have features designed to make all of this more difficult. So in real life, picking a lock requires the ability to "see" the inside of the lock. You have to sort of imagine the unseen reality of the lock. See what I mean about the "theology of lock picking"?

There is a lot more to know. if you are curious, check out the MIT Lockingpicking Guide, which is considered a classic in hacker culture. It covers most of what you need to know to get started. In truth it takes ALOT of practice to be able to actual pick a lock. If someone wants to compromise a door there are far easier ways to do it. In fact, police and locksmiths are more likely to use an automatic lock picking tool of some kind.

Anyway, one of those things that's fun to know!


Friday, October 9, 2009

A Rainy Friday

Got up Thursday morning to kind of blustery day here in Toronto. I started my day off with a trip to the Doctor. He doesn't want to give me anything for my cough until it's been around for a week or two.

I knew I had an appointment in the afternoon, but nothing else to do at the office, so I decided to spend the morning working from home. Techie that I am, I can do most of my office tasks using just my old laptop at home. We do our liturgical planning, for example, using a Google Docs spread sheet. Each Sunday (or major feast) gets a row. The columns contain notes about what the readings are, hymn selections, who is preaching, what we are doing with the kids that Sunday, and other details. All the COTM staff can log in with a username and password from any computer on the Internet and make notes and changes. No more passing around xeroxed planning documents or e-mail attachments back and forth. It makes coordinating multiple staff assignments on Sunday mornings MUCH easier. I also use Google Calendar to track my personal appointments and task lists, which I can also access from anywhere.

So I got a fire going in the fireplace and went to work answering e-mails and reading. The cats kept me company. Betsy worked upstairs. After lunch I went into the office to do some meetings and take care of other tasks. One of these meetings was with a student from Wycliffe Seminary that wants to be a Theological Intern with us this year. I'm very pleased to have him on board. I don't want to announce his name and so forth until I introduce him to the congregation a week for Sunday.

After meeting with him I spent some time with Eric talking music and plans. He continues to impress me with his knowledge and ideas about church music. When I was at Holy Cross I picked a book called The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett. The book's blurb will give you a sense what that's about:
Many alternative and emerging church communities have begun exploring ancient music and liturgical traditions despite a lack of high-quality, published liturgical music which does not require (or even desire) an organ and a four-part choir. The Emergent Psalter serves to provide that resource. Featuring music written for two emerging communities (Transmission in New York and Church of the Apostles in Seattle), this book is an excellent resource for anyone producing an alternative worship service or thinking of starting one. (source)

Not surprisingly, Isaac is friends with Emily Scott--who does the Paperless Singing stuff in NYC. Emily and I overlapped at Yale a few years ago. Anyway, Isaac does some really interesting things with these Psalms. On the one hand he is deeply invested in the tradition--Gregorian Chant and also the Hebrew approach to the Psalms. But then he let's the Word manifest in an new way in its new context. You can get a sense of what I mean by listening to his podcast. Every week he takes the Psalm appointed in the Lectionary and shows how to do it in his style.

So Eric and I had a nice talk about music and some of our ideas about how to develop liturgy at Messiah. Lots of good stuff in the works!

Today it was rainy and cold. I slept in hoping it would help the cough go away (it didn't) and read some of my childbirth/parenting books. Then I went on a pastoral visit. Now I'm home with Betsy with a nice fire and cats-on-laps. Life is good.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tay's Tips for Pregnancy #23: Buy a Cheap Stethoscope...

Early on in Betsy's pregnancy I would try to listen to our baby using a cheap ($20) stethoscope I have at home. It's a chinese copy of a Rappaport-Sprague--the sort with the diaphragm on one side and a bell on the other. I couldn't hear anything. On our first trip to the OB, they could easily pick it up with a Doppler Fetoscope. On our first trip to the Midwife, she was able to detect the heartbeat with a combination of an Allen Type Fetal Stethoscope and a finely tuned diagnostic ear. I thought I might have barely been able to hear our little guy's heart, but couldn't be certain.

On our last trip (Betsy at 29 weeks) I could faintly hear the baby's heart beat using the midwife's Allen Stethoscope, but Betsy couldn't. Now, at this point I had given up trying to hear the heartbeat with my chinese knock-off general-practice stethoscope. I figured, sure, you can hear it with a $150 specialized instrument placed in the right position by an expert, but what chance do I have at home.

So then this evening, on a whim, I took the stethoscope out of the drawer and put the bell-side to Betsy's belly in approximately the location where the midwife had (thus assuming that our little guy was in more or less the same position) . "Thump, thump, thump..." There he was! I didn't even believe it at first, so I listened to Betsy's heart and noted that it was going at around 60 beats a minute. But when I timed the belly-thumping it was a steady 125 BPM! I passed the headset to Betsy and she could hear him, too! How cool is that?

Actually, Betsy is a little underwhelmed. Our son has been busy kicking and rearranging her insides all day, so the novelty of "he's really in there" has worn off. But for me, this is really amazing.

Now, I'm aware that there are electronic gadgets on the market that promise to make it possible to hear the heartbeat and even record it. But there is something about an old-fashioned acoustic stethoscope that feels much more visceral and real. Trust me, guys, buy a cheap stethoscope and give a listen around week 30! I'm looking at you, Bob!



Sunday we said goodbye to the monks and drove back to Toronto. The group was MUCH chattier than the drive down, and I could tell that we had all become much closer because of the experience. I also thought it was interesting that the content of the talk driving back to Toronto included a lot of teasing. Teasing can a very good thing--indicating a kind of shifting of power relationships. It's a moment of negotiation with our young people that I welcome.

I however, was feeling rather ill. I got a cold at Holy Cross. I just hope I didn't give it to any of the kids (or my wife, for that matter). Precautions have been taken.

I was feeling under the weather Monday, but had no choice except to receive a delivery of two face chords of wood and start stacking them. It's a LOT of wood, but I have no doubt we'll burn through it this winter. Took some Nyquil and went to bed early!

Tuesday--Trad Com in the morning (BCP Eucharist). I was still feeling under the weather, but no fever, so I went ahead and celebrated the mass. Theoretically you aren't contagious once the fever is gone (or, so they told us when I worked in a hospital). But as an extra precaution I didn't actually touch the host, I simply gestured to them during the Canon and then held the patten and asked people to take host for themselves. I wouldn't try this technique on a Sunday morning, but on a weekday mass with a handful of people it was fine. Surprisingly, I had a nice little extemporaneous homily in me! Lunch afterwards with the faithful was good. One well-meaning lady insists that I drink lots of orange juice everyday to prevent a future cold.

In the evening Betsy and I had our first childbirth class. The midwife who teaches the course has done so for many years, and started off by establishing mutual expectations about what would be covered and what wouldn't. Interestingly, these days they no longer show a birth video as that practice reflected a day and age when people didn't have access to shows like "A Baby Story" and "Desperate Midwives." She said is simply takes more time than it is worth to show a birth video is class, however we were welcome to check out a DVD.

Another difference from what people assume: not a lot of specific techniques for breathing or massage will be taught. In the experience of these midwives, there is little sense in teaching people a bunch of techniques that they probably won't even have a chance to use. Instead they want to give us a broad foundation of stuff that really will be helpful to know.

Not surprisingly, pain came up a lot. In response to this the midwife explained that there is a split in opinion among childbirth educators about whether it is a good thing to discuss pain in childbirth with expectant parents. The problem is that anticipation of pain will often lead to a great perception of pain. In other words, if you think it's going to hurt, it will. On the other hand, having a good understanding of the pain may help prepare for it. "I really don't see my job as 'Pain Management,'" said the Midwife. Pain in childbirth is simply part of the process and totally normal. There are even benefits to body experiencing pain.

The important thing to understand about pain such as what happens during contractions, is that nothing is wrong. Nothing is being damaged by the contractions. They are not harming the baby. In this case, pain is not about something being wrong. And understanding that truth allows one to perceive the pain very differently than one might experience a broken arm or appendicitis.

Then she went further in her discussion of pain, "You have to ask yourself, 'what's so terrifying about pain?'" This really impressed me. Rarely have I heard someone take such a tack with patients/clients. But she is right, of course, pain is a sensation like any other, and can mean many things. Maybe it even means something good and positive!

As she was talking my brain was going three places at once. I was present and listening, but I was also thinking about some things I've learned about meditation over the years, and just how interesting the experience of pain can be, and what opportunities for transformation and growth are there. Then on a third level I wondered how a masochist experiences the pain of childbirth. I know... I'm strange.

The other couples seemed very nice and chatty. When I was alone with the guys at one point we all seemed to collectively realize we had a lot in common!

Today was the Contemplative Eucharist in the morning. What a lovely group that is. We have great conversation afterwards about scripture and meditation and spiritual stuff. Then as the day progressed I became more and more overwhelmed by all the STUFF I have to get done. I'm not sure, but I think the projects that have been piling up on my desk(s) are starting to breed and multiply when I'm not looking!

The feeling of being overwhelmed got so bad that I realized I had do something before an afternoon appointment to give spiritual direction--so about half an hour before my meeting I put down everything and picked up an Anglican Rosary. I put a chair in front of the tabernacle and said some prayers with the Rosary (one made by Br. Charles, OHC) and felt much better. Came back to my office and was in a nice space for my spiritual direction session!

Now I'm getting ready to take off and do some other things. the work never stops...


Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Sex Talk

It's been a wonderful retreat. I think the kids are getting a lot out of it. In the beginning I think it was a big adjustment, perhaps. One of the monks used to word "spooked" to describe them! But after 24 hours they all seem to fit right in. Kids are great at adapting like that. Interestingly, our severely autistic boy is thriving here. we suspect it's the structure he likes. When the bell rings he trots down to the chapel with a delighted expression. I think he must find the repetitive chanting of the psalms soothing, as well.

I've been making the kids go to all the Daily Offices. That means that they are in the chapel praying with the monks five times a day! But as I said, they seem to be enjoying it for the most part. Yesterday (Friday) we had two sessions on prayer. My hope is that exposure to different styles of prayer will help the kids learn what works for them.

Today we had a talk about "human relations"--which is a polite way to say "sex." Kerrie and felt strongly that we needed to do a unit on human sexuality. Our experience is that what the kids get at school is mostly biology and disease prevention, and that if the church has anything to say about human sexuality confirmation class is the time to say it! We divided the kids by gender for "the talk." the guys and I ended up talking quite a bit about dating. How do you meet girls? How do develop relationships with them? It was important to me that they see how foundational principles of Christian ethics--such as the respect for every living being--translates into choices in their personal lives.

On a practical note, I thought it was important to tell the boys about how common it is for girls and women they may date to have had traumatic experiences in the past. Certainly I dated girls who had been through painful experiences and had a need for healing around those issues. The important thing for a guy in that situation, I told them, is to be patient and gentle. Very, very patient, and very, very gentle!

Was it an awkward talk? Maybe a little, I won't lie. But I'm glad I did it, especially in light of the sexual abuse workshop I attended earlier in the week in which Father Ray pointed out the need for the church to teach kids about the sacredness and ethical implications of sex. The Diocesan coordinator for safe-church practices affirmed that the policy of the diocese is that such conversations are appropriate as part of religious education in parishes, so long as we have parental consent (which we did).

Anyway... I'm glad we did it! The next time we'll have a talk like that will probably be pre-marital counseling! God help them in the mean time!

This afternoon Bede is coming to talk to the kids. We suspect that after two full days the kids will have a lot of questions about what they've observed at the monastery. It's been neat to see how they've clicked into the routines of life here!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Arriving at Holy Cross with the Kids

The last few days have been nuts. All day Tuesday at a workshop on Missional Church stuff (mostly looking with a group at Roxburgh's The Missional Leader). It was a good group and we had some interesting discussion. It seems clear that things are shifting in the Diocese of Toronto, and soon every parish will be expected to be "missional" in whatever sense works for them. So it's neat to see how that movement is taking place--pockets of conversation here and there that are become louder and more organized.

All day Wednesday I was at St. George's, Pickering, for a workshop on the spiritual consequences of the sexual abuse of children. This is a mandated workshop for clergy held every few years. I found the last such workshop in 2007 to be extremely powerful event that changed some aspects of my ministry. Then we spent the whole day listening to a Roman Catholic Priest, Father Ray Chase, discuss one particular family that was destroyed by sexual abuse. We spent the entire day exploring just one case.

This year they brought Father Ray back, and this time he discussed the spiritual consequences of sexual abuse on children more generally. For instance, sexual drama potentially distorts a children's formation of their notion of who God is and what God is like. Father Ray showed a bunch of case examples where kids have ended up with deformed and maladaptive images of God as a result of their traumatic experiences. The goal of this kind of workshop is not to make us into therapists, but rather to equip us for the pastoral work of repairing the spiritual lives of people affected in this way.

When you consider that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18, the importance of this training becomes obvious. Still, going into the head of an abused child is not exactly a fun and refreshing way to spend the day!

Then this morning (Thursday) I met up with Kerrie and the confirmation kids to drive down to Holy Cross. The eight hour trip was mostly uneventful, although crossing the border into the States was more complicated than you might suspect. Two our kids had to get special visas ahead of time, but even then they still had to get another document issued at the border to allow them to travel into the U.S. This particular document will need to be surrendered when they leave again!

Back on the road.... The kids were pretty quiet most of the way. We had snacks and naps and some talk. We arrived just before supper.

The monks are glad to see me. Hugs. Me feeling the feelings that come with being here. Rleaxed. Opened. Joy. Ease-of-breath.

I'm writing this in the Pilgrim Hall while three of my kids are starting a puzzle. The Compline bell will be ringing in about 45 minutes.

Life is grand!