Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thanks for having an IMPACT

Last night the faith community of Charlottesville was 1,500 strong in the stands at the old UVa basketball arena, gathering under the auspices of IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Area Congregations Together). 

We heard concrete proposals for creating more affordable housing to the region, and we got commitments in favor of those proposals from members of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council. We also heard proposals for early childhood education, though members of the local school board declined to show up.

I am very proud to report that St. Paul's was 115 strong (the second largest turnout amongst the congregations). Thanks especially to John Frazee for working so hard with IMPACT and all of your efforts to get such a strong turnout from St. Paul's. Thanks also to Joan Burchell for your hard work on the education task force.

You can read accounts of the evening and see video of the evening on the NBC29 website HERE or on the Daily Progress website HERE.

For me, the issue was summed up by testimony of Valerie Bowe, who we've heard at earlier meetings. Ms. Bowe, a single mother, has a bachelor's degree and a job in Charlottesville. But she has struggled to find an apartment she can afford. It takes her nearly two paychecks per month to pay the rent. "I kind of had to choose between where I'm going to live as opposed to can I get some food in my refrigerator and I chose where I'm going to live and let the food take care of itself," she said.

The Charlottesville area has a severe shortage of rental housing for those earning $20,000 a year or less -- an estimated 4,000 units are needed. Minimum wage jobs do not pay the rent. Last night our local elected officials committed to doing something, and that is a step forward. Thanks to one and all for coming.

Photo from NBC29

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday Funnies

Before we get to the business at hand (the Monday funnies), just a quick reminder that tonight we will assemble at 6:15 pm at U Hall to advocate for affordable housing in Charlottesville. If you can make it earlier, we will provide a light dinner 5 pm at St. Paul's and then carpool to the big meeting. This gathering is organized by a coalition of congregations under the auspices of IMPACT, and you can read about tonight's effort elsewhere on my blog by clicking HERE. You can also read more about the issues on St. Paul's IMPACT blog.

Now, to return you to our regularly scheduled program. As you know, there is a lot of kaffuffle in our church these days over such weighty issues as gay rights, the ordination of women and all that. So here are a few solutions floating around the internet (and I have no idea the identity of the authors), and the latest installment of Dave Walker's 'toons. Welcome to the Monday Funnies...
Why We Oppose Men's Ordination:
1- Because man's place is in the army.

2- Because no really manly man wants to settle disputes otherwise than by fighting about it.

3- Women would not respect men dressed in skirts.

4- Because men are too emotional to be priests. Their conduct at football matches, in the army, at political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force and violence renders them unfit to represent Jesus.

5- Because some men are so handsome they will distract women worshipers.

 6- If the Church is the Bride of Christ, and bishops are as husbands to the Church, all priests should be female.

Ten Really good reasons to oppose Gay Marriage
1- Heterosexual marriages are valid because they produce children. That's why infertile couples and old people can't legally get married.
2- Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children. 
3- Straight marriage, such as Britney Spears' 55-hour, just-for-fun marriage, will be less meaningful.
4- Heterosexual marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; for example, women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
5- Gay marriage should be decided by people not the courts, because majority-elected legislatures, and not courts, have historically done a swell job of protecting the rights of the minorities.
6- Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
7- Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
8- Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why single parents are forbidden to raise children.
9- Gay marriage will change the foundation of society. Heterosexual marriage has been around for a long time, and we could never adapt to new social norms because we haven't adapted to cars or longer life spans.
10- Civil unions, providing most of the same benefits as marriage with a different name, are preferable, because separate-but-equal institutions are constitutional.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More on Point Lobos

On Saturday I posted the terrific slide show from the New York Times, featuring Edward Weston's photographs of Point Lobos near Carmel, Calif., taken in the 1940s; so today I thought I would show off a few of my own photos of Point Lobos, taken in October 2006. Have a good Sunday...

Edward Weston

A little dividend: The New York Times website today has a terrific eight-frame slide show of photographs by Edward Weston, taken in the 1940s at Point Lobos near Carmel, and the slide show is narrated by his grandson, Kim. This is a treat for your eyes and heart. To see it, click HERE. Also see related article.

Earth Hour tonight: Turn off your lights

Tonight lights will go off all over the world for one hour at 8:30 pm local time in observance of the third annual Earth Hour, a practice begun in Australia to show worldwide support for efforts to lower greenhouse gases and care for the earth. 

As I write this, the lights have already gone off in Sydney and the lights will continue going off around the globe for one hour at a time. So, if it is safe for you to do so, turn off your lights at 8:30 pm local time for one hour. To learn more about what you can related to Earth Hour, click HERE. And if you haven't already, please read my related post from yesterday, below.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Global warming, global restoration and journalists

Many years ago, in my journalism career, I wrote extensively on environmental issues, and in the 1980s I was among a group of journalists who established environmental investigative reporting as a distinct discipline within journalism (and in those days we spoke primarily of newspapers as the platform of journalism). My speciality was watersheds and pollution from toxic waste dumping. 

The stories that I and others wrote resulted in the federal "Superfund" to cleanup such sites. I bring this up today to point out a number of global trends that are disturbing and which the faith community has a stake in because the faith community, by definition, is part of the global community.

First, journalism: Newspapers are in a major economic meltdown and are closing or seriously downsizing. That ought to bother you mightily. Newspapers are still the major platform for serious journalism in the world; when you read a story on the internet, chances are a newspaper reporter wrote it and an newspaper editor edited it. The fallout of the economic collapse of car dealers, retailers and real estate marketers is that they have pulled their ads from newspapers, and the newspapers are collapsing. That is the result of an economic model too dependent on those sectors, and not the result of falling circulation or bad journalism (the rise of the internet is a convenient excuse for newspaper executives who made bad business decisions in the last 10 years). All of that is background for where I want to go with this.

Today marks the last day for Chris Bowman at The Sacramento Bee, where Lori worked as an editor for 20 years and I worked for 10 years as a reporter. Chris was among many journalists laid off earlier this month, caught up in the mass of layoffs throughout journalism. Chris is among my oldest friends, he was one of my two "best men" at my wedding (and my other best man, Tony Ramirez, was laid off by the New York Times last year). 

Chris is a leading environmental investigative journalist. He is a former Nieman Fellow from Harvard, which is the most prestigious fellowship in journalism. Chris is a founder of an organization that promotes environmental journalism, and he taught environmental journalism in Zimbabwe back when Western journalists had access to that country. With Chris removed from journalism (and we hope only temporarily), there is one fewer trained set of eyes and ears documenting the threats to our environment. That is an incalculable loss to all of us and to the environment.

Next, to related trends in the politics of the environment: Earlier this week, Lori and I participated in a meeting in Washington DC to hear from Mike Marshall, the new executive director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, a decades-long effort to remove the dam from Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Mike outlined a long-term political strategy to convince Congress to remove the dam built in the 1920s by San Francisco (this post includes an artist's conception of what the Hetchy Hetchy Valley would look like without the dam). I will say more about this issue in another post. 

Last night, we joined members of St. Paul's who live at Westminster-Canterbury in seeing a film about an appalling proposal to build a strip mine in the Bristol Bay watershed of Alaska, the richest salmon waters in the world (the top photo on this post is from that watershed). The proposed Pebble Mine would include building the world's tallest dam to hold toxic mining sludge, theoretically keeping the sludge poisons out of the rivers. If you are wondering at the reliability of such dams, check out the Iron Mountain sludge dam in California, now a federal EPA superfund site, and earlier this week labeled the "worst water in the world" in the San Francisco Chronicle (another newspaper soon to fold).

I mention all this by way of pointing out the confluence of a number global trends: it takes journalists to investigate and highlight threats to the environment, especially those in places remote from the rest of us, like in Alaska. Journalists are in shorter supply today, and that ought to alarm us.

Related to this is a conversation that needs to happen (and the work of journalists can help us make it happen) around the sometimes competing politics of the environment. The dire need to reverse global warming is now the necessary focal point of the major environmental lobbying organizations, like the Sierra Club. The danger of that focus is that the specific localized threats, like the proposed Pebble Mine, will slide through unexamined by the nation, and remain only feebly opposed by environmentalists who can't be in two places at once.

This is also an issue about world poverty. Worldwide, mining companies are stripping poor countries of their resources with little return to those countries, and that is an issue for the faith community if we take seriously that greed is a sin. There is a report issued today on how mining companies are depriving African countries of much needed tax revenue (click HERE.)

Moreover, restoration of the earth -- symbolized by removing the dam at Hetch Hetchy -- must remain on the environmental agenda because restoration is part of the healing of our planet. This past Monday in Washington DC we heard just how stretched environmental organizations are in working on both global warming and restoration issues. There is much work to be done, and much organizing and conversation that needs to happen around all of this.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What is salvation? Ask a poet

We soon enter into Holy Week, with the events of betrayal, crucifixion, and entering into Hell itself. At the end comes the startling celebration and declaration of Resurrection, new life, Easter. And as Dan Edwards, the bishop of Nevada, suggests on his terrific blog, these events raise the question: What is salvation?

The apostle Paul attempts to answer that question in his many letters, but even Paul admits we "see in a mirror dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Many a theologian has since tried to define salvation and/or the mechanisms of grace. Complicated scholarly constructions and volumes of paper are created in the task. Thomas Aquinas finally admitted that his efforts amounted to little more than a "stack of straw" and he never wrote another word.

I rather think that the poets may have a better grasp of this, or at least a better grasp at expressing the meaning of salvation (regular readers just knew I'd end up at a poem, didn't you?). And so it is that our friend Karen in Tennessee sent a poem yesterday that took my breath away. Here it is:

by Lynn Ungar

By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part -- the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?

Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven't you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
covers everything,
makes everything
beautiful, without exception?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Having an impact: Come next Monday evening

Next Monday May 30 congregations from many faith communities in Charlottesville will gather at "U Hall," the old arena off Emmett Road. The gathering is the annual "Nehemiah Action" organized by IMPACT. 

All those words boil down to this: A group of dedicated faithful people will present a series of proposals on creating more affordable housing in our region, and ask the public officials who are present for their commitment to making life better for the poorest among us. The photo on this page is by Dan Tarjan, from the Cavalier Daily, illustrating some of the rental housing that is available in Charlottesville.

If you live in the Charlottesville area, please come. Here from John Frazee, who leads our IMPACT effort at St. Paul's, is a Q&A about next Monday:
Frequently Asked Questions about the Nehemiah Action:

Any change to the issue updates?

Not really - but the issues are outlined at the IMPACT blog (click HERE), and there has been a minor change in affordable housing -- the regional housing fund is no longer on the table.

Are we meeting beforehand? Carpooling? Walking?

All of the above. We'll have some light food and drink at the church at 5pm. Those who wish to walk can do so, and there is a group from Canterbury heading out at 5:45pm. The rest can carpool over to U Hall, and will probably leave Church around 5:45 as well. (Let me know if you're interested in meeting at St. Paul's -- I'd like to get a headcount for food.)


The parking is primarily at U Hall. I believe there will be spaces available at the John Paul Jones arena across the street. All entrances will be locked expect the North Entrance, which faces the JPJ. You can drop off outside the entrance and then find parking, if necessary. Just follow the human traffic or look for IMPACT’s outside ushers, wearing yellow shirts, who will be placed at and around the entrance.

Do I need a ticket to get into the Action?

No. Many people will not have tickets when they arrive (either because they did not receive one, lost theirs, or are not members of IMPACT congregations). If you do have a ticket you can ignore the sign-in tables and head straight down the hall and give your ticket to an Usher on the way down the stairwell.

So what happens if I don’t have a ticket?

COME TO THE ACTION!!! Beyond that the rest is easy: Just follow the crowd towards the North Entrance to U-Hall where Ushers will direct you to sign-in tables located along the sides of the hallway. At the tables, leaders from our congregations will be sitting with a pen and ticket. Just write your name, congregation (if applicable) and who invited you -- being sure to fill out 1 ticket for each person in your party. With tickets in hand just head down the hall.

If I don't have a ticket, do I have to sign-in with my congregation?

Nope. Just go straight to the sign-in tables as you enter the North Entrance where a leader from one of our congregations will make sure you have a pen and paper to fill out.

Once I sign-in where do I go?

Once you have filled out tickets at our sign-in tables just head down the hall where you will find stairwell entrances to either side, manned by ushers who will have buckets you can place your ticket(s) in. Than head downstairs, where Ushers will be handing out agendas as you head through the ground floor entrance to the gymnasium.

What about those who are unable to walk up and down stairs?

Instead of heading down one of the stairwells, just keep heading straight ahead where a separate table will be set up where ushers can collect your ticket, give you an agenda and direct you to the 2nd level entrance where seats for those with walking disabilities can seat.

Will childcare be provided?

Childcare will be provided. However, the rooms we used last year are unavailable and we are currently exploring two options both of which are still in U-Hall and located very close to the ground floor entrance…We will let everyone know exactly where before Monday, but rest assured there will be more than enough trained staff available to those with young children ages 4-12

What happens if I arrive late?

COME ON IN! Just go straight down the hall to the table located in front of the entrance to the 2nd level, sign-in grab an agenda and if you have any questions just look for our floor team who will be stationed on each level wearing yellow shirts.

What about the St. Paul's IMPACT blog?

OK, so that's not frequently asked. But it's HERE

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Holy Ahhh and the Great Amen

This past Saturday we were treated to a wonderful "Quiet Day" led by author and noted New Testament scholar Bonnie Thurston. She offered a wonderful set of mediations, and while all of them struck a chord, one of her insights really stuck with me and I am still meditating upon it. 

First, a disclaimer: those of you versed in Eastern spiritual practices probably know this already, but this is new to me. Here it is, but go with me awhile on this...

In eastern meditative practices, one always begins with breathing "Ahhh..." Indeed, the word "yoga" (which I have practiced) means "breathing" and all yoga practices begin with "Om" which sounds more like "AH-Ommm." 

Try this as you read this, you will notice the bone above your heart vibrating. The sound centers on the heart, and the idea is to breath out so you can breath in to open your heart to the holy. 

So here is the part I never noticed until Bonnie pointed it out: In our Jewish and Christian traditions, we say "Ah" quite a bit -- as in "Amen" and "Alleluia" and "YAHWEH" (the Hebrew word translated into English as "LORD"). And another from our Abrahamic tradition: "Allah." Next time you say any of those words, breath deeply, and think of how this opens you to breathing in the Holy. 

And here is one more: the name "Jesus" is actually a (badly) Germanized translation of the Hebrew name "Joshua" which sounds in Hebrew like "Yehoshua" (Hebrew: יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ) The Ah sound again.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday Funnies

A few insights about preaching today, with thanks to Dave Walker and his cartoon. Welcome to the Monday Funnies...

A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?”

* * *

A boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon.
“How do you know what to say?” he asked.
“Why, God tells me.”
“Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?”

* * *

A Sunday school teacher asked, “Billy, do you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?”

“No,” replied Billy.

“Why not?” asked the teacher.

“How could he?” replied Billie, “He only had two worms!”

* * *

When Suzy noticed a broken vise grip in the trash can, she decided to buy her husband a new one for his birthday. She went to the hardware store and asked the salesman, “Do you have any vises?”

“Sorry, ma'am,” he replied. “I gave them all up for Lent.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thanks to One and all for a great Sunday!

Thanks to one and all for the One Episcopal Sunday. We collected more than 140 letters to public officials asking them to support efforts to alleviate world poverty. We also collected an offering for the Anglican Communion's work in Zimbabwe, and I heard many commitments to attend the IMPACT meeting on affordable housing Monday March 30.

We don't have to do everything. But you proved we can do something.

Tomorrow we will be in Washington DC and will be lighting a candle in memory of my father, David Richardson, at the Lincoln Memorial at a vigil for Alzheimer's victims. Please light a candle tomorrow night for him and all the people you know suffering from this awful disease. And please visit my dad's page at the Alzheimer's Association, and sign the guest book. You can find the page by clicking HERE.

And, yes, we will have the Monday Funnies tomorrow!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

One Episcopal Sunday and the Spirituality of Money

Tomorrow, on our Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are going to observe One Episcopal Sunday at St. Paul's. For those unfamiliar with this, the One Campaign is the effort among many churches to advocate for the eradication of global poverty. 

That may sound utopian (aren't the poor "always with us" as Jesus says?). Yet it is a reachable goal if the governments of the developed world could devote significant economic resources to bringing such things as safe drinking water and farm irrigation systems to the developing world. We will talk more about that tomorrow. For more information about the One Campaign, click HERE.

There is, of course, more to this than advocating that governments do things. It also has something to do with how us and how we live and what we do with the resources entrusted to us in this lifetime. Although the Church seems to fight endlessly over sex and marriage, in all truth Jesus had little to say on those subjects and a great deal to say about money. Sometimes it feels like we'd rather avoid talking about the really tough subject: our money, how we make it and what we do with it.

My friends at the Bread of Life Center in Sacramento are doing something interesting this Lent around the topic of money. The Center, which relocated itself from a comfortable suburb to a poor neighborhood, does a lot of work in training spiritual directors. This Lent the Center invited spiritual directors and others to participate in a program of writing spiritual autobiographies  around the topic of money. Below are the questions the Center is giving to participants, and I commend this exercise to you:
Questions About Your Family History With Money

What were your childhood messages around money?
What was your father’s attitude about money? Your mother’s attitude? Did your parents ever fight about money? Who in your family made the money decisions? Would you call your parent(s): Generous, Cautious, Stingy?

How would you describe your early personal experiences with money?
Magical? Worrisome? Fun? Scarce? Enough? What happened that led to your early decisions about money? Did you ever steal money or shop-lift as a child? If so, did you get caught? What did you learn from that experience?

Was/is anyone in your family a member of a union?
What was your attitude toward the trade union movement growing up? Now?

Have you ever experienced unemployment?
Have you ever received public assistance, or has anyone in your family? Bankruptcy or foreclosure? What did such experiences feel like? How have they affected the way you think about yourself and about money?

What memories do you have about your first job?
How did it feel to first earn your own money?

If you are or ever have been in a significant relationship, how would you describe the way you and your partner made money decisions?
How did/does your relationship with money impact your marriage, your sex life, your play? Does this way of relating to money look anything like your parents?

Do you ever worry about having enough money?
About running out of money and becoming dependent upon others? Where does the worry come from?

Today the word that best describes your attitude about money is ______________.
How does this attitude align with your deeply held values and/or religious beliefs? If it aligns, what has helped make this so? If it doesn’t align well, what is the impact?

How does the disparity between the wealthy and the poor of the world impact your life?
What arises in you around the amount of money you have compared to others? How does this awareness affect you?

What do you want your relationship with money to look like?
What is missing for you in your current relationship with money?

What kind of personal debt burden do you now carry (consumer credit, mortgage, loans, etc.)?
Have you ever had tax problems? What is the effect on your mental/emotional/spiritual health?

Did your parents invest in the stock market?
What messages regarding “savings” and financial security did you grow up with? For you, what does an ‘investment’ consist of? How have you invested? How actively have you tried to manage your investments?

Do you have any secrets about your relationship with money? If so, are you willing to share them now with someone? If not, why not?

Do you have any forgiveness work (with God, yourself or others) to do about your history with money?
Have you had, or still have, a gambling problem? Have you lost or stolen other people’s money? Have you lied to loved ones about how you spend money? Have you invested in endeavors that exploit others or pollute the earth?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fruits of the Spirit

It has been a most serious week, and rather rainy in these parts so it is definitely time to lighten up a little. Coming up tomorrow (Saturday) we have a "quiet day" led by author Bonnie Thurston from 9 am to noon (come join us). 

The Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville is well underway. We went to panel yesterday by authors of books on the civil rights era, including our friend Mildred Robinson

We plan to go to a few more events including a panel on the beat poets today. So, to mark the promise of Spring, and to bring you into the world of letters, here is a gift of poetry from the collection of our friend Karen in Tennessee:

By Ruth L. Schwartz

It was a flower once, it was one of a billion flowers
whose perfume broke through closed car windows,
forced a blessing on their drivers.
Then what stayed behind grew swollen, as we do;
grew juice instead of tears, and small hard sour seeds,
each one bitter, as we are, and filled with possibility.
Now a hole opens up in its skin, where it was torn from the
branch; ripeness can’t stop itself, breathes out;
we can’t stop it either. We breathe in.


The Orange
By Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Light a candle with us for my dad

Next Monday evening (March 23), Lori and I plan to join a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for victims of Alzheimer's Disease. My dad, David, died of Alzheimer's five years ago, and we are doing this as a tribute to him. 

Did you know that more than 5 million people in America live with Alzheimer's every year? Their families care for them as best they can, and many, like my dad end up in a nursing home or a hospital as they lose all of their mental faculties.  It is truly "the long goodbye" and for us it was the most difficult, awful ordeal we have endured as a family.

You can join us at this vigil without leaving your home by "lighting a candle" on the Alzheimer's Association website. We've set up a special memorial page in memory of my dad. You can find it by clicking HERE, and you can donate on-line in his memory so that this cruel disease might yet be eradicated. And please sign the guest book on the memorial page.

Thank you so much!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


My favorite quote from the Bloggin' Bishops today comes from Dan Edwards, bishop of Nevada, blogging from the House of Bishops meeting in Kanuga, NC:
"The afternoon was a tedious business meeting with Roberts Rules. If they had Roberts Rules at the Council of Nicea I fear we might still be sacrificing goats."
And to think what more we have in store! The bishops took lessons at their meeting on how to blog. Watch out, more coming. Let us pray they are as funny as Bishop Dan.

Being a questioning Christian and our friend Holly

We have a young friend, Holly, who is a college student in Sacramento.  Lori and I have known Holly since she was very tiny. She lives in an intentional Christian community connected to an Episcopal Church in our old neighborhood. 

Holly is currently in a place of spiritual discernment about many things, and, I believe, she has a healthy skepticism about churches and religious despots. She recently wrote a lengthy essay which she shared with her friends, including us.  

And so with Holly's permission, I am sharing some of her essay with you. I especially like her questions. Here you are, from Holly ...

I wonder about the term “Christian” because it seems as if it's used a bit loosely as of late. … But what gets me thinking is this, "We all believe in the same God." Do we really?

The understanding of God, by Christians, is based upon multiple things:

- Your Bible. What translation do you have? This is something very important to consider - one changed word, can change the meaning of an entire passage. Do you listen to it literally or metaphorically or do you just pick and choose? Is it a guideline or a lifeline? Does the Old Testament and it's old Covenants/Laws apply with the New Testament? Have you actually read the whole thing?

-Your teacher. Who is teaching you? Do you take what they say blindly or do you look into things yourself? How many pastors/churches have you experienced? Do you take the word of any "holy" person as fact, or simply something to consider? Who else influences you? Has your learning only been within the church, or have you taken outside theology courses, and the like.

- Your experience. In church, outside of church, family, etc. Life experience greatly impacts how you interpret God. You can ask one person, "what reflects God for you?" The answers vary. Every time.

-Your personality and also the way it applies to your intelligence. Now this one may seem like a stretch to you, but it's true. I'm not calling Christians naiive or stupid (trust me...that would insulting myself, as well) but just that our interpretation of God, the depth of our faith, etc, is determined by what we understand and how we understand it, and what we don't understand and how we deal with that. If a person contradicts us - are we going to be open minded, or completely biased? Some people are, some people aren't.

I suppose what this boils down to, is that, if you consider all those things, your God and my God may both be based on what we've read in the same exact book, but I believe in something completely different from you...

Perhaps because my experiences have been far too vast and different, and I suppose it's just weird for me to think that one religion is broken up into so many parts, with so many people claiming they've got the right one. And what I think is ironic is that, when the church formed - the same thing happened, and that's how we ended up with Paul's letters. Now, people still use those letters for a large portion of their beliefs...and yet we still have all these conflicts and confusions! Which God is the one we are meant to believe in? And how can we keep using the word Christian in such a way?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Funnies

Here's your weekly installment of the Monday Funnies...

Two priests died at the same time and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter said, “I'd like to let you guys in now, but our computer is down. You'll have to go back to Earth for about a week, but you can't go back as priests. So what else would you like to be?”

The first priest says, “I've always wanted to be an eagle, soaring above the Rocky Mountains.”

“So be it,” says St. Peter, and off flies the first priest.

The second priest mulls this over for a moment and asks, “Will any of this week ‘count’, St. Peter?”

“No, I told you the computer's down. There's no way we can keep track of what you're doing.”

“In that case,” says the second priest, “I've always wanted to be a stud.”

“So be it,” says St. Peter, and the second priest disappears.

A week goes by, the computer is fixed, and the Lord tells St. Peter to recall the two priests. “Will you have any trouble locating them?” He asks.

“The first one should be easy,” says St. Peter. “He's somewhere over the Rockies, flying with the eagles. But the second one could prove to be more

“Why?” asks the Lord.

“He's on a snow tire, somewhere in Maine.”

* * * * * *

A preacher delivered a sermon in ten minutes one Sunday morning, which was less than 1/3 the usual length of his sermons.

He explained, “I regret to inform you that my dog, who is very fond of eating paper, ate that portion of my sermon which I was unable to deliver this morning."

After the service, a visitor from another church shook hands with the preacher and said, “Pastor, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my minister.”

* * * * * *

A preacher was on the program at a district convention to preach for twenty minutes. The other preachers from the district were sitting behind him in the choir section, giving him moral support and throwing in an occasional “Amen” to help the preacher along.

The preacher preached his twenty minutes and continued on despite the alloted time.

He preached for 30 minutes, then forty minutes and then for an hour. He even continued, for a whole hour and ten minutes.

Finally, a brother sitting in the front row took a song book and threw it at the preacher, who was still going strong with his message.

The preacher saw the song book as it was hurled his way and he ducked.

The song book hit one of the preachers sitting in the choir section.

As the man in the choir section was going down, you could hear him say, “Hit me again, I can still hear him preaching!”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tweaks and additions to Fiat Lux

Dearest Readers,

I've added a few tweaks to Fiat Lux while trying to keep it simple. If you scroll down, the left column contains various portkeys that will take you to other places. Click on the images, see where you go (kind of like Harry Potter when he apparates somewhere else).  Toward the bottom of the left column are two portkeys that apparates you to blogs connected to Fiat Lux: the class on the Book of Common Prayer and to a collection of the poems and prayers that pop up here from time to time. Those blogs have portkeys that will bring you back here.

I've added a "blogroll" of blogs I am following. Not all are church related. Thanks to a number of you, I've added to the "Bloggin' Bishops" list. A bunch of bishops are blogging today from their meeting in Kanuga, NC. And, I cannot help but mention, the only diocesan bishop east of the Mississippi River who is blogging is Gene Robinson. The Brits and the Westerners have the eastern bishops beat by miles on this.

What kind of church will we be? Who will we reach? How?

I posted this video a few months ago from the Diocese of New Hampshire, and I've had requests for it again. This is a promotion for a conference coming up on May 9 in New Hampshire. The underlying message applies to all of us in the Episcopal Church (and to yesterday's post). Here you are, and watch for the dancing bishops at the end ...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Religious identification changing

How Americans think of themselves as religious -- or not -- is undergoing a major shift. The American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS, which has been measuring this since 1990, notes a number of significant trends across our religious landscape. Churches and their leaders need to take serious note.

The survey of 54, 461 adults, found a overall decline in those declaring they have any religious identification. Mainline non-Catholic Christians have declined nationally to 12.9 percent, from 18.7 percent in 1990.

In the South Atlantic (where we are) is still the strongest enclave of Christianity. The West is becoming more Catholic (primarily due to immigration) while the Northeast less so. The South Atlantic is slightly more Catholic, going from 14 percent to 17 percent. Although mainline Protestantism remains the dominant religion the Southeast, it has nonetheless declined from 74 percent to 61 percent. You can read a chart showing all the results by clicking HERE.

There is a lot to be said, more than I have time here today. First, we should not be looking for scapegoats; mainline Christianity is not declining because some of our churches we are more inclusive. The less inclusive (Southern Baptists) are also on the decline. If anything, our inclusiveness gives us a foundation to build future growth. 

The numbers should tell us to not be complacent, that we cannot rest on past glories and ways of doing things. To reach new people and bring back those who find us irrelevant means we must be creative and open to new ways of being the Church while strengthening our core mission of bringing Christ's light of hope, healing and reconciliation into the world. We need to stop hiding our light under the basket. I hope we can explore these themes here on this blog and elsewhere in the days ahead.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jewish perspectives on life and liberty

From time to time, particularly when I am teaching a class on something-or-other in a church, I am asked "What do Jews believe about this?" My standard answer is (1) I am not qualified to answer, but (2) if I was qualified I would tell you that would depend on which brand of Judaism you are talking about and which Jew you are talking to (just as it would with any other religion).

Yet, let's not dismiss the question lightly. Speaking as a Christian, there are good reasons to ask about Judaism. First, the rest of us might learn something and benefit from a perspective not our own. Second, anything to increase human understanding across religious lines is a good thing in our crowded and sectarian world. 

And, let us not forget that Jesus was Jewish, his followers were Jewish, their piety was Jewish, and we are heirs to a religion with deep roots in Judaism. We read from the same Scriptures, we worship the same God, and our liturgy owes its architecture to Judaism. The artwork on this page is a depiction of the Jewish Shema, the command to "Love God with all your heart" as the highest commandment. We say that every Sunday in Rite I, quoting Jesus, but it is Jesus who is quoting what every Jew would know from Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.

As I have now learned, even the question "What do Jews believe about this?" is not a very good question. Lately I have come across an organization, NewJewishThought, and its website provides a window into the dialogue amongst Jews about Judaism from which the wider-world can benefit. Keith Kahn-Harris, the convenor of this organization, wrote a fascinating article about the question "What do Jews believe." The article is adapted from a lecture on this topic:
Jews rarely use the term ‘faith’ amongst themselves. Judaism is a practice-based religion in which action is foregrounded rather than belief. While of course Judaism has a core of beliefs and faith in God is part of Jewish theology, faiths and belief tend not to be emphasised when Jews talk about Judaism – even amongst orthodox Jews.
To read the rest, click HERE

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Law Touched Our Hearts

One of the great delights in being at St. Paul's is being surrounded by smart, wonderfully creative people. And so it is with great pleasure I am highlighting today a new book just published by my friend Midred Wigfall Robinson, who also happens to be our senior warden this year. 

Mildred is a University of Virginia law professor, and her book, Law Touched Our Hearts, is a collection of short personal essays from the generation whose lives were changed by the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education of Tokeka, Kansas, the monumental landmark opinion that required the desegregation of the schools. 

Here is how Mildred and her co-editor, Richard J. Bonnie, explain the title of their book:

In February of 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Chief Justice Earl Warren to dinner at the White House. Among the guests were well-known opponents of school desegration, including John W. Davis, the lawyer who had recently presented the states' argument for upholding segregated schools before the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education of Tokeka, Kansas. In his memoirs, Warren notes he "was the ranking guest, and as such sat at the right hand of the President and within speaking distance" of Davis. During that evening, Eisenhower famously commented to Warren that "law and force cannot change a man's heart."
But the law did change hearts. Not long after, the Court handed up its decision in Brown. Segregation did not fall easily, but it began to collapse with that decision.  The country began to change, and so did individual lives. 

Mildred and her colleague asked 5,000 of her colleagues in law schools from around the nation to write essays on how their lives were changed and their hearts touched, and not from the point of view of lawyers writing about the law, but as human beings living in a land undergoing tremendous change. All of them attended public schools as children.  Mildred and Bonnie call them "the Brown generation." They note that much has been written about the impact of the decision on schools, and on the dismantling of segregation and the law itself. 
"But what of the children themselves? What impact did all this have on their hearts and minds?"
Mildred and her colleague selected 40 of the essays that explore that question, representing a wide perspective and geographic breadth. Desegregation affected every corner of the United States. I highly commend spending time with this remarkable book and drinking deeply from each essay. You can read more about the book and see a video of Mildred and her colleague discussing their work by clicking HERE. The book, published by Vanderbilt University Press, is available at the University of Virginia Bookstore, or via the usual on-line outlets that shall not be plugged here. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus does something very, very different

I am often struck by how Jesus is, well, different, and what he does is different. And it struck me that way this morning while reading the assigned lessons for the Daily Office. The juxtaposition of the lessons brings into high relief just how much Jesus stands against the accepted wisdom of religion. So go with me a little while on this theme...

First we hear from the prophet Jeremiah 3: 6-18, who spews forth his wrath against all Israel for her "adulteries" in turning away from God. Israel is condemned for "whoredom" and "she polluted the land" and the Lord (YHWH) is very angry. Eventually Jerusalem will be restored, but not for a long while.

Then when get the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans 1:28-2:11, and he angry about those who are "full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness..." And he is just clearing his throat before adding in "gossip, slanderers, God-haters..." and a few more rotten types of behavior. Paul then pronounces that God will "repay according to each one's deeds."

Now, I know that Jeremiah is pronouncing his jeremiad on the greedy rich who have foresaken the shema to "love God" and neighbor (and I truly get that) and Paul is telling us there are consequences to our actions (and I agree). Yet, yet, how much reminding of awfulness do we really need?

Then we meet Jesus again, in the Gospel of John 5: 1-18, and Jesus is doing something very different. We find Jesus at the pool, Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes where the sick come to be healed. To get into the pools requires getting through tight gates (see photo). Jesus meets a man who is so ill he cannot get into the pool. So Jesus heals him, no questions asked, no harsh judgment pronounced. "Stand up, take your mat, and walk." The gate is no longer a barrier, the man is healed and Jesus disappears into the crowd.

Something very different is going on here and the world of religion is up-ended.

It is not just the healing, but the way Jesus heals. His actions are outrageous to the religious people. What about Jeremiah's judgments? Or all that business about the Lord will "repay according to one's deeds"? Not here, not today. What we get instead is unconditional love, and healing. When the man is asked who healed him, he admits he doesn't know -- Jesus has slipped away and didn't even leave a calling card.

Jesus wasn't even looking for credit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Christians surviving in the Holy Land - barely

This Lent, we might want to keep in our prayers and our awareness those Christians who live in the Holy Land, and who have lived there for generations. Harry Hagopian, an Armenian Christian living in Jerusalem, writes eloquently today in Ekkelesia about their plight:
Eugenie Tabourian, my nonagenarian maternal grandmother, passed away recently. She was an Armenian Christian from Jerusalem. Our whole family are Jerusalemites, in fact, dating back to the time when my grandparents fled Ottoman Turkey during the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Indeed, the Holy Land was once bustling with local Christians, and two of the four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem (the Christian and Armenian ones) were a living testimony to their millennia-old presence. Today, many indigenous Christians - including members of my own family - have left this golden city (as the prophet Zechariah described it) in search of fresher pastures that provide more viable political and economic alternatives.

So what do Christians witness to in a holy land that is host to many hurried pilgrimages?
To read the full story, click HERE. The photograph is of Palestinian Christians lighting candles in Bethlehem.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday Funnies

We haven't had a whole lot to laugh about lately in our world, so I think it high time to provide some funnies at the expense of the Church. These have floated around the internet for awhile, so forgive me if you've heard them before. These items all come from real church bulletins, and they still crack a smile with me. The cartoon is by the incomparable Anglican lampoonist, David Walker (we need more of him on this page). Enjoy the Monday funnies:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.
The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon
tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'
Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of
those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at
someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care
much about you.
Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.
Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving
obvious pleasure to 20 of the congregation.
For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a
nursery downstairs.
Next Thursdaythere will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the
help they can get.
Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the
church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
A bean supper will be held on Tuesday eveningin the church hall. Music
will follow.
At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is
Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.
Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of
several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be
recycled Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased
person you want remembered.
The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment
and gracious hostility.
Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM- prayer and medication to follow.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They
may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
This evening at 7 PMthere will be a hymn singing in the park across
from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies
are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.
The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would
lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use
the back door.
The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the
Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend
this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church.
Please use large double door at the side entrance.
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last
Sunday: 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.'

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spring and the orchards

It was only a week ago we were skidding around the icy streets of Charlottesville and I was posting about snowflakes.

Today Spring arrived. You can smell it in the air.

Somehow, I have always lived near orchards even when living in cities. When I was small, my dad ran a can factory in San Jose, and the orchards were behind our house -- peaches, pears and walnuts mostly. My friends and I spent most of our summers playing in the orchards. Migrants from Mexico came to do the picking.

When I was a young adult I lived in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, and my little rental house was in the last stand of working orange groves in Southern California (now covered with miles of houses). Spring was magical in Riverside, the sweetness of the orange blossoms filled the air, especially in the mornings.

In Sacramento, we lived in a city that floats on a sea of orchards and farms in the Central Valley. The Blue Diamond packers are not far from our house; walnuts and almonds mostly were packed for shipment all over the world. Any trip up or down I-5 takes you through miles of orchards and groves.

And here in Charlottesville, you don't have to drive far to be thick in the apple orchards. We took a drive Friday through Crozet a few miles from here; the orchards are ready for a new season. The trees will soon be in bloom, and there is something Lenten about that. We are not quite at Easter, but ready for the buds to fill the trees. 

So I thought I would share a poem, provided by our friend Karen in Tennessee, who took the time to send this in between all she is doing with a new-born infant at home. The painting that goes with it is by Massachusetts artist Stephen I. Soitos.

Here you are. Enjoy the orchards and the sweet, sweetness of Spring:

The Apple Orchard
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Come let us watch the sun go down
and walk in twilight through the orchard's green.
Does it not seem as if we had for long
collected, saved and harbored within us
old memories? To find releases and seek
new hopes, remembering half-forgotten joys,
mingled with darkness coming from within,
as we randomly voice our thoughts aloud
wandering beneath these harvest-laden trees
reminiscent of Durer woodcuts, branches
which, bent under the fully ripened fruit,
wait patiently, trying to outlast, to
serve another season's hundred days of toil,
straining, uncomplaining, by not breaking
but succeeding, even though the burden
should at times seem almost past endurance.
Not to falter! Not to be found wanting!

Thus must it be, when willingly you strive
throughout a long and uncomplaining life,
committed to one goal: to give yourself!
And silently to grow and to bear fruit.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bloggin' Bishops

Did you know some of our bishops blog? I've added a blogroll on the left side (scroll down aways) of the Bloggin' Bishops. As I find more, I will add them. Let me know if you find any. This is a good way for us to get a sense of the breadth of our episcopal leadership and to communicate with them if we are so motivated.

Lenten opportunities at St. Paul's

Just a quick reminder of the adult education opportunities at St. Paul's this week and through the remainder of Lent:

* The Passion Narrative through the Eyes of St. Mark -- We will be guided each Sunday in Lent through this, the earliest account of the life of Jesus, by The Very Rev. Charles Perry, who is the retired Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. The class begins tomorrow and meets in the chapel 10 minutes after the conclusion of the 10 am service (about 11:30 am).

* Living Simply -- The Rev. David McIlhiney, our associate rector, guides us through a simple book on living simply. This class meets at 7 pm on Wednesdays in the lounge.

* Centering Prayer -- Meets at 6:30 pm Wednesdays in the Upper Rooms.

* Quiet Day with Bonnie Thurston -- Please join us Saturday morning March 21 for this gift to our spirits with Bonnie Thurston.

* The Treasures of the Book of Common Prayer -- A walk through the Book of Common Prayer, and discussing how we can use it in our daily life and as a foundation for building the beloved community. I am leading this group in the Library at 7 pm on Wednesdays. We are delighted to welcome members of St. Stephen Episcopal Church of Oak Harbor, Washington, who will be participating with us via an on-line blog for the class. You can access the blog HERE or each week by clicking on the 15th century prayerbook on the left side of this page.

Friday, March 6, 2009

African Adventure: Epilogue

Our own Ginger Greene will soon be home to Charlottesville from the Peace Corps in South Africa. She sends this last sketch for us:

The Donkey Cart

Here’s one last South African scene I want to describe for you:

(Alas, I don’t have a picture. I’ve been lugging my camera around for days but they must be on vacation or something.)

I was walking into town the other day when the local taxi--an open, two-wheeled cart built on top of an automobile axle and pulled by two small donkeys--whisked past me. I have often seen it running around town, carrying people, firewood, all sorts of things. The cart is sort of makeshift and the single axle and pair of wheels clearly came from a car.

Anyway, the “motor” was trotting along briskly, in perfect lockstep as always. (How do they learn that?) I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it pull into the local petrol station and stop near a pump. Do petrol stations serve hay? Somehow I doubted that. Maybe it was a matter of reverse biofuels, or something of that sort.

Then I saw that they were using the petrol station’s air hose to pump up the car tyres supporting their vehicle.

The old world meets the new world.

I’ll be home on March 12. I hope to see all of you soon.

Goodbye from Swartruggens,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church ruins

Church membership is in decline in the United States, but that is not news. Here's the news: churches that have taken a stance against the inclusion of gays and lesbians, and the ordination of women, are also in decline. 

Those who claim that The Episcopal Church is losing numbers because we have taken an inclusive stance are simply not looking at the data across the board. 

There are deeper reasons for church decline, and we need to get serious in addressing this at the local and national level. But scapegoating has no place at the table. Here is the story from Ekkelsia:
The 77th annual edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a small but significant decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian denominations.

Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon.

The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook. Southern Baptists lost nearly 40,000 members.

To read the full story, click HERE.