Thursday, September 30, 2010

Possible Life Sustaining Planet?

Scientists are announcing that they've discovered a planet that appears to be the right distance from its star and the right mass to possibly support life. The NYTimes reports that Gliese 581g (that's pronounced GLEE-za) is about 20 light years from earth. One scientist estimated about a 90% chance it has water on it. Which sounds pretty good, except that you don't want to spent a bazillion dollars on a probe to a planet with only a 90% chance it will find water when it gets there. Just as important as the finding of this planet is that was found relatively easily, but astronomically standards, and they therefore expect to find a bunch more.

The whole thing reminds me of the Drake Equation, which is really an interesting thought expirement. I've blogged about it before, but here it is again:
The Drake Equation:

N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;


R* is the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fℓ is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

The Drake Equation, named after Astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake, is an argument for the existence of life on other planets with whom we could communicate. The argument is based on probability, essentially arguing that if conscious, communicative life could develop on earth, than the probability is greater than zero that it could have developed elsewhere in our galaxy. While the parameters for the equation are somewhat speculative, we do have plausible value that yield a current estimate of....

N = 7 × 0.5 × 2 × 0.33 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10000 = 2.31

In other words, the best guess is that there are 2.31 civilizations in our neighbourhood of the universe capable of communication with us. Of course, if you give different values to the parameters you can make this number go up or down, but it can never be reduced to zero because, in fact, there are people to ask the question!

How cool is that?


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

District 9

This is a great movie. It's a sort of scifi thriller with strong themes about racism, colonialism, and even a bit of spirituality. I recommend it, and am wondering where I can find some informed theological reflections on it.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another Day, Another Batch of Beer

Mondays are supposed to be my day off. So why did I end up spending about four hours doing church stuff? Probably because the rest of the week is jam packed. Still, I felt like I got some important things done today--including another batch of beer. It's fermenting away in the basement. Of course, I ended up being awake to 3.30 AM to do it, but it was either that or let another week go back with the ingredients and tools sitting patiently in the corner of the dining room!

Another thing I accomplished today was looking after Henry after Daycare. Betsy has a class on Monday nights, so I was in charge of picking him up and feeeding him supper and getting him ready for bed. Normally Betsy and I divide up many of those tasks.

Henry loves bath time, so I tried something different. Instead of using our little baby tub, I used the big tub. Not only that, but I took a bath with Henry, rather than just bathing him. He enjoyed crawling on my chest and chewing on the wash cloth. It felt good to be with my little son, playing in the water. He is such a delight.

On Sunday we tried a square layout of chairs with the altar in the middle. It was a great success. I see a few small things to tweak, but that is almost always the case. The square says that we are gathered around God. It has a very warm and communal tone to it, even more so than choir-style seating. I definitely appreciated having people so close!

It was also Back-to-Church Sunday. I had asked people to invite a friend, and many did! Attendance was high. We had BBQ afterwards to celebrate.

Nancy, my new Theological Intern, did a splendid job. She's eager to learn and picking things up quickly. She wants to learn about liturgy, so I am attempting to teach her the esoteric secrets of our craft. Sure, everybody knows about picking liturgical texts to use and reading well and all that. But I'm teaching her how to pray in the Vestry before the service, how to set a table, how feel the congregation. It's all very Zen and terrific fun.

As usual, many of the most pressing things on my mind cannot be shared here. In the ebbs and flows of parish life energy flows around this way and that. I have many parishioners on my mind. I don't know if people in parishes realize how much we clergy think about them. One just got Tenure. Another is celebrating a big birthday. Another is growing up fast. I look out on Sunday morning and think, "What on earth does that person need to bring them closer to God?" It's so much easier one-on-one.

I'm feeling very much pulled in different directions. Even when I devote crazy amounts of time and energy it doesn't seem like it's enough. I think everybody probably feels that way, and I feel guilty about it because I ought to know better. Is it time for a vacation, yet?

This next week is going to be crazy busy and a hellafun. Pray for me!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Perfectly Obvious Observation

The pace of my life has significantly accelerated since Henry entered our lives. Months are simply flying by. My perspective of time is starting to shift. It feels like that trick in cinema where they pull the camera back and zoom in at the same time (known technically as a "Dolly Zoom"). Then I think about all the undone projects that have accumulated and I get really scared!

But, in truth, I'm having some very productive days and have the calendar to prove it. Next week, for instance, is going to be insanely busy. We are hosting a Music that Makes Community Conference at the church (regular blog readers will recall that Eric and I went to one of these in Atlanta about a year ago) next week. I'm looking forward to that, especially since I don't have to travel this time. I'm also doing ten other things that week. Over-committed? Definitely!

Naturally, Henry requires a lot of time. I'm finding that I'm having to get up earlier everyday just to make sure we get him to daycare and me to work and Betsy to school at a reasonable time. I'm starting to think that I should take my showers at night to give myself some extra morning time. Amazing how many little things have to happen everyday for him--feeding, washing, cleaning, and playing. He loves to play. He needs to play. One of his favourite games right now is crawling to a piece of furniture and then pulling himself up to standing. He can manage to keep himself standing for a minute or two, and then will topple backwards with delight.

Funny how quickly our lives can change. I feel like a different person than I was a year ago. And yet I'm the same, too. Weird. Koan like.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rumi: This World

This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness

Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence. Existence:
This place made from our love for that emptiness!
 Yet somehow comes emptiness,
this existence goes.
 Praise to that happening, over and over!
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
 Then one swoop, one swing of the arm,
that work is over.
 Free of who I was, free of presence, free of dangerous fear, hope,
free of mountainous wanting.
 The here-and-now mountain is a tiny piece of a piece of straw
blown off into emptiness.
 These words I'm saying so much begin to lose meaning:
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:
 Words and what they try to say swept
out the window, down the slant of the roof.


Friday, September 17, 2010


When I was a teenager I worked at McDonald's and Wendy's.... at the same time. It was a real learning experience. I greatly preferred McDonald's, to tell the truth, because it was a much better work environment. The Wendy's management was pretty terrible. When they scheduled me to work on a particular day that I couldn't, they told me I had to find a replacement. When no one on the call list would swap, they said I could either show up on the given day or get fired. It's the only time in my life I actually got fired, and I didn't mind at all. I remember the manager telling me that this would "teach me a lesson" about the "real world." Joke was on him, McD's was paying me a lot more, and so all he did was make it easier for me to take more shifts there.

I could say a lot else, but I think these training videos will give you the picture of what it's like being a Wendy's employee. They actually made us watch this crap.

McDonald's fact: the number one customer complaint about the french fries: "Not Salty Enough."


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ode to Pseudophedrine

O Pseudophedrine, for a thousand dry mouths to praise your excellent character, your superb effectiveness, your quick action. Thou clever diastereomer of ephedrine, you indirectly affect the adrenergic receptor system to make my nose dry and snot-free. Indeed, thy elixir-of-dryness powers prevent fluid from leaving all my nasal blood vessels to fill inflamed tissue.

My heart doth quicken in response to thee, O Pseudophedrine, whether thou commest under the name of Sudafed, Actifed, Contac, or partnered with other muses of cold relief such as your coy friends guaifenesin, dextromethorphan and acetaminophen.

But thou art a fickle mistress of the drippy nose, and art known to inhabit dens of ill repute to be transformed into thy wicked cousin, Methamphetamine. Be true to me, O greatest phenethylamine, my nose doth drip without thee.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Holy Cross Day 2010

Today was an amazing day at church. I love Sundays like today. We had decided to transfer Holy Cross day to today because, well, I have a special attachment that feast and it's a good one to celebrate in parish life. The propers (readings and prayers) are just so well aligned that it makes for a compelling liturgy even before you add in wonderful music (including variations on Pange Lingua as an organ prelude, "Lift High the Cross," and Ave Verum Corpus). I arrived early at church, but Eric, my Minister of Music, was already here practicing. Not only that, he had done many of the things I do to get the church ready on Sunday morning. That meant that I had a solid two hours to refine my sermon. I already knew what I wanted to do with it, but having the time to actually practice it in my head in the space really helped tighten it up.

An aside for all you Minister types out there: I have a special mix of music I listen to on Sunday mornings to help me prepare. It's a really grab-bag that includes Joan Baez, Mickey Avalon, U2, Enya, Leonard Cohen, Shaker music, Elton John, Gorillaz, Pink Floyd, and Eminem. How's that for eclectic! Actually, this morning it was the Eminem that really got my juices flowing. I listed to it on my earbuds as paced back and forth in the church feeling my way through the sermon.

The sermon itself came across really strongly, and I'm eager to post a copy of it here on my blog. I even managed to weave in some asides about Buddhist Bardo States! Bede would have loved it, and it's quite appropriate that there was a Holy Cross taste to a Holy Cross Day Sermon. Another nod to OHC was that I mentioned "Blessed James" during the Eucharistic Prayer.

We chose Prayer F from Common Worship 2000. As Eucharistic Prayers go, it has a nice rhythm and strikes me as well written and focused. We spoke the congregational responses, though Eric wants to sing them paperless-style next week.

After the service several people commented that they liked the sermon and the service overall. This included a retired priest that I respect, so I am very pleased about the compliments. Normally I don't solicit feedback about my preaching because I've discovered that I'm far better off not getting attached to praise about my preaching. The most important thing about a sermon is not whether it elicits praise and 'at-a-boy's, but whether it makes Christ present through the scriptures. I think it's tempting to get caught up in the trap of preaching to make people feel inspired or impressed or something, but that really isn't the point.

David Bartlett, one of my professors from Yale, tells the story of a plaque in the pulpits of his father's church. Where only the preacher can read it one reads, "Sir, we would see Jesus." It's actually one of the most helpful things anyone ever told me about the task of preaching. Seriously, if I just wanted to inspire and amuse, my sermons would include a lot more pithy anecdotes about pets, children, and other "cute" subjects. Sometimes those kinds of stories are helpful and good. I used a feel-good story about the birth of an infant last week. But they need to serve the text.

Anyway, I was feeling the Spirit this morning! I wished my Intern had been there, because there were several key learnings I think she could have gotten. I would have told her about the process of writing it. For example, on Saturday at the Contemplative Eucharist and then at the Healing Prayer service we had ended up having some long discussions about death from the Christian perspective, that obviously informed how and what I preached about today.

Also, the choreography of my movements during this sermon were deliberately crafted to emphasize the dramatic and thematic arch of the sermon. As the world spun around on the axis of the cross, so I spun around 180 degrees at a key moment. That's not particularly subtle. But what is subtle is that it was at that moment that I was least on-book. In other words, as the intensity of the sermon peaked, I completely ignored my notes about what I had planned to say and instead went with my gut and improv-ed my way through it. It has taken me years to learn how to do that kind of thing, and I can't wait to teach my intern! I really wished someone had taught me these kids of advanced techniques when I was a student.

My main preaching professor at YDS was Wes Avram. He taught me a lot of stuff. For example, understanding the role of emotion in persuasion is critical to good preaching. You need to rehearse, before the congregation, you're own process of being persuaded in order to bring them to the same place. Also, the emotional content of that process is more important than the intellectual content. I remember him correcting some of my bad habits, like "accidentally" introducing props into my sermons that would distract. If you are reading a quote from a book, don't show the congregation the book unless it actually is relevant that they think about the book. Otherwise you reduce the impact of the quote. But as much as Wes Avram and David Bartlett taught us, there is still SO much more to the craft of preaching.

Anyway, it was a good Sunday and I like to treasure these sorts of memories as a reserve against more difficult times!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Wind

Today has been a really interesting day. I felt very "priestly" as I did some rewarding ministry. It started off with my usual Wednesday morning Contemplative Eucharist. Because all the prayers are extemporaneous, it requires a lot of contemplative focus to be in the right moment. You really have to be "right" with the Spirit to do it well, and I find the spiritual challenge of that both exhilarating and humbling.

After that I said morning prayer by myself and did some administrative tasks. Then I had back-to-back counseling sessions that turned out to be Spirit-full and rewarding. I certainly wouldn't say that the Holy Spirit was absent from my life when I was on leave, but She was usually veiled a bit. But when you are working with someone one-on-one on deep spiritual issues sometimes you get this sense of presence that is wonderful. Those kinds of moments in counseling/direction give me such joy and consolation. Occasional moments like I had today are more than enough affirmation of my ministry to sustain me for some time.

Nor does it hurt to have the sense of making progress with the Administrative load I have to bear. Last night we had an NCD--Natural Church Development--planning meeting that went well. I think NCD will be be helpful as we figure out where to go, strategically and operationally. Today I submitted some paperwork for reimbursement for some of my retreat expenses from the summer (Anglican Priests in Canada have a nationally-managed continuing education fund). We are on track to print the latest edition of the resurrected parish newsletter this week. The staff meeting yesterday was very productive. Etc., etc. I'm crossing things off the to-do list and it feels great.

The perfect end is going to come in a few hours as I go sailing. The prediction is for strong winds, so we expect a challenging and exciting race. Last week's strong winds caused the fore-stay to let loose, which could have brought the whole mast down. Fast action saved the rigging and the repair turned out to be straight forward. One of the nice things about racing a Catalina '27 is that she has some extra margins of durability in the design. Many other boats would have lost their masts immediately if the fore-stay broke, but a little bit of redundancy in the rigging design of the Catalina '27 gave us enough time to jury-rig a temporary fix and limp back into port. So we are excited to give her another go.

Henry is doing great. He crawls all over the place, now, which means he must be constantly watched unless we have him in his crib or a pack-n-play. The living room has mostly been turned into a baby-safe zone, but now we need some barriers to keep him in there. He has figured out that he can easily and quickly crawl from the living room to the kitchen. Several times I've caught him just in time as he grabbed a handful of cat food. I think his look of delight on reaching the cat bowls would change to confusion if he managed to shove the pellets into his mouth.

Life is grand. Today is a good day.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Back to Work

So I've officially been back to work for a few days now. The predictable pile was waiting for me. Lots of things had to be put on hold waiting for me to return, but I am pleased that many other things simply went on (or started) without me. I told the congregation not to wait for me, and I am glad some have taken initiative.

But the routine for Betsy, Henry, and me has still to settle down. This morning Betsy ended up feeling pretty rushed to get out the door so I could give her a ride to the campus as I dropped off Henry. But we are figuring it out.

We are also starting a diet. Slim-fast. My idea. Why Slim-fast? Because it's a very basic, straightforward and non-cult-like method. It's pretty easy to follow and long-term studies have shown that it's perfectly healthy and effective. So, why not? My goal is to lose about 20 lbs in 6 months.

I'm still processing stuff from this summer. I didn't get all of my projects done, which means I have them still waiting for me. For instance, I need to sand-down and then re-oil the counter tops in the kitchen. I also have a bunch of firewood to chop once the weather gets a little cooler. Ingredients are on the way for another batch of beer. I also want to do some hard cider now that apple season in coming. I've already canned two-bushels worth of tomatoes (mostly as a nice red sauce), but I would like to can some other stuff as well. I can think of more... the projects never cease. Many of them are not strictly necessary, but I do enjoy having crafts and hobbies.

I'm looking forward to preaching again. I sort of have an itch to preach sometimes and I am really glad to have the opportunity to scratch that again. Preaching Sunday after Sunday becomes a real discipline than shapes your life when you are committed to it.

So... onward and upward!