Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blessing for the new year

Here is a blessing for the new year from our friend Steven Charleston:

There is no harm that can come to you, no matter how frail and fragile you feel, for this passing stream of light is not the measure of all you are, but only the rough canvas on which the colors of your life are forever being painted. You are not encompassed by a clock, marked off into a reality of artificial movements, but designed to be free from such constraints, able to rise up on the wings of your own imagination to see the hands behind the time. Hurt may happen, but it will never last nor have the final word in the sonnet that is your soul, for that wisdom will go on and on, speaking wonders into a future you cannot even name.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Daydreams turning to spring and ... baseball

Well my friends, we are deep into winter now, and a boy's thoughts turn to ... baseball.

I should have posted this awhile back: my commentary for The Sacramento Bee, my former journalistic home, on the San Francisco Giants season just past. That would be the World Series Championship season. So with daydreams turning to spring, here is my piece...

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Giants fan fulfills bucket list baseball season

11/01/2014 4:00 PM 
 11/03/2014 9:07 AM

Read more here:

My father took me to my first baseball game at Candlestick Park in 1962. The Giants played the St. Louis Cardinals, and Willie Mays won the game in the 10th inning with a home run. I was 9 years old. I was hooked on Giants baseball for life.
This season I did something that has always been on my bucket list: follow the Giants season game by game, and not just occasionally. This season, I would follow every game. That’s 162 regular season games and, as it turned out, 17 postseason games.
I started by watching the televised spring training games on MLB.TV. By the end of the season, I had watched, or listened to, 105 regular season games, including 10 playoffs and seven World Series games. If I didn’t watch or listen, I read the wrap the next morning in the Northern California newspapers.
My wife, Lori, was a saint for putting up with what became my obsession. She watched many games, and we went to a few. At a family wedding in Wisconsin, I had a game playing on my smartphone. 
In an odd way, it helped that we no longer live in California. We live in Virginia, which, as it happens, is the market territory of the Washington Nationals. There were no blackouts for Giants games here except when the Giants played the Nats, in which case the tickets were about one-third the price of a seat in San Francisco.
At our first Nats game, we found ourselves sitting in a sea of orange and black that stretched from home plate into the left field stands. It seemed we were seated with thousands of diaspora Californians rooting for our ancestral team. Pitcher Jake Peavy signed a baseball for me.
For most games, I could webstream Bay Area TV coverage. But for some games, I listened to the KNBR radio webstream, and that took me back to my boyhood when that is how we “saw” most Giants games. 
Hearing it on the radio tapped my imagination in ways I’ve not experienced in years. No slow motion, no replays – just the artistry of a voice in a booth finding just the right words to describe an enormously complex series of movements on a field. My favorite line, as Marco Scutarowas plodding around third base: “He’s leaking oil.” 
I learned a lot about baseball, how grueling it is and how Bruce Bochy had to manage through slumps, injuries and “buzzard’s luck” as he calls it. We saw new players emerge, in particular Joe Panik, but also saw many veteran players struggle with season-ending injuries – Matt CainAngel PaganHector Sanchez, Scutaro. I grew to understand that the baseball season is as much about stamina as it is skill. So is watching.
We saw Tim Lincecum pitch a no-hitter, and then fall into the doldrums. We suffered through the Dan Uggla experiment at second base (batting average with the Giants: .000) and admired Brandon Belt as he came back twice from injuries. 
We were awestruck by Hunter Pence at full throttle every single game he played. My favorite Pence sign, appropriately at a Nationals game, was “Hunter Pence wrote the Declaration of Independence.” I suppose that only in Washington, D.C., would that be meant as an insult. 
And, yes, Madison Bumgarner is an extraordinary pitcher – and an extraordinary hitter with four home runs, two of them grand slams. Yet this team was not about a superhero, but about a bunch of guys who did things very well when it counted. 
But it was more than just about pitching, hitting and scores. Baseball is also about relentless hype and promotion, and endless prognostication by baseball “experts.” Like political writers (of which I once was one), getting it wrong doesn’t stop the experts from churning out more authoritative opinions, usually discarded a few days later.
Mostly, I learned how a bunch of basically humble guys figured out how to play together under enormous pressure and win when by all the odds they should have lost. They looked like they were having fun. Many of the teams they played did not (read Dodgers). Sometimes the Giants lost, and lost badly. Other games they just barely won (like that last game of the World Series). If there is any sport that mirrors daily life, this is it.
To have this season conclude in a 3-2 nail-biter in the seventh game of the World Series is nothing I remotely could have predicted when I started this adventure in March.
Ski season approaches. The television will be off most of the time in my house. If the 49ers make it to the Super Bowl, I’ll check it out. Mostly, I will be awaiting the words: “Pitchers and catchers report.”
James Richardson, a former senior 
writer with The Bee, is an Episcopal priest and the rector of St. Paul’s 
Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Va.

Read more here:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The greatest Christmas story ever told: Get the kid his peaches

Here again, my friends, is the greatest Christmas story ever told by a great story teller, Al Martinez, formerly of the Oakland Tribune, Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News. Al is known as the "Bard of LA" and has won three Pulitzer prizes since he began writing columns in 1952. He wrote his last column on March 30, 2013. 

I run this story every year in Fiat Lux, and it brings a tear to my eye every time.  So here it is, the Greatest Christmas Story Ever Told:

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A Christmas Story
By Al Martinez

IT happened one Christmas Eve a long time ago in a place called Oakland on a newspaper called the Tribune with a city editor named Alfred P. Reck.

I was working swing shift on general assignment, writing the story of a boy who was dying of leukemia and whose greatest wish was for fresh peaches.

It was a story which, in the tradition of 1950s journalism, would be milked for every sob we could squeeze from it, because everyone loved a good cry on Christmas.

We knew how to play a tear-jerker in those days, and I was full of the kinds of passions that could make a sailor weep.

I remember it was about 11 o'clock at night and pouring rain outside when I began putting the piece together for the next day's editions.

Deadline was an hour away, but an hour is a lifetime when you're young and fast and never get tired.

Then the telephone rang.

It was Al Reck calling, as he always did at night, and he'd had a few under his belt.

Reck was a drinking man. With diabetes and epilepsy, hard liquor was about the last thing he ought to be messing with, but you didn't tell Al what he ought to or ought not to do.

He was essentially a gentle man who rarely raised his voice, but you knew he was the city editor, and in those days the city editor was the law and the word in the newsroom.

But there was more than fear and tradition at work for Al.

We respected him immensely, not only for his abilities as a newsman, but for his humanity. Al was sensitive both to our needs and the needs of those whose names and faces appeared in the pages of the Oakland Tribune.

"What's up?" he asked me that Christmas Eve in a voice as soft and slurred as a summer breeze.

He already knew what was up because, during 25 years on the city desk, Reck somehow always knew what was up, but he wanted to hear it from the man handling the story.

I told him about the kid dying of leukemia and about the peaches and about how there simply were no fresh peaches, but it still made a good piece. We had art and a hole waiting on page one.

Al listened for a moment and then said, "How long's he got?"

"Not long," I said. "His doctor says maybe a day or two."

There was a long silence and then Al said, "Get the kid his peaches."

"I've called all over," I said. "None of the produce places in the Bay Area have fresh peaches. They're just plain out of season. It's winter."

"Not everywhere. Call Australia."

"Al," I began to argue, "it's after 11 and I have no idea . . .”

"Call Australia," he said, and then hung up.

If Al said call Australia, I would call Australia.

I don't quite remember whom I telephoned, newspapers maybe and agricultural associations, but I ended up finding fresh peaches and an airline that would fly them to the Bay Area before the end of Christmas Day.

There was only one problem. Customs wouldn't clear them. They were an agricultural product and would be hung up at San Francisco International at least for a day, and possibly forever.

Reck called again. He listened to the problem and told me to telephone the secretary of agriculture and have him clear the peaches when they arrived.

"It's close to midnight," I argued. "His office is closed."

"Take this number down," Reck said. "It's his home. Tell him I told you to call."

It was axiomatic among the admirers of Al Reck that he knew everyone and everyone knew him, from cops on the street to government leaders in their Georgetown estates. No one knew how Al knew them or why, but he did.

I made the call. The secretary said he'd have the peaches cleared when they arrived and give Al Reck his best.

"All right," Reck said on his third and final call to me, "now arrange for one of our photographers to meet the plane and take the peaches over to the boy's house."

He had been drinking steadily throughout the evening and the slurring had become almost impossible to understand.

By then it was a few minutes past midnight, and just a heartbeat and a half to the final deadline.

"Al," I said, "if I don't start writing this now I'll never get the story in the paper."

I won't forget this moment.

"I didn't say get the story," Reck replied gently. "I said get the kid his peaches."

If there is a flash point in our lives to which we can refer later, moments that shape our attitudes and affect our futures, that was mine.

Alfred Pierce Reck had defined for me the importance of what we do, lifting it beyond newsprint and deadline to a level of humanity that transcends job. He understood not only what we did but what we were supposed to do.

I didn't say get the story. I said get the kid his peaches.

The boy got his peaches and the story made the home edition, and I received a lesson in journalism more important than any I've learned since.

I wanted you to know that this Christmas season.

Al Martinez is a former reporter and columnist for The Oakland Tribune, from 1955 to 1971, The Richmond (Calif.) Independent and Los Angeles Times to now. Born in Oakland, he also has written several novels, for television and the movies. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 25, 1986.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas message from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

The altar hanging at an English Advent service was made of midnight blue, with these words across its top: “We thank you that darkness reminds us of light.” Facing all who gathered there to give thanks were images of night creatures – a large moth, an owl, a badger, and a bat – cryptic and somewhat mysterious creatures that can only be encountered in the darkness.

As light ebbs from the days and the skies of fall, many in the Northern Hemisphere associate dark with the spooks and skeletons of secular Hallowe’en celebrations. That English church has reclaimed the connection between creator, creation, and the potential holiness of all that is. It is a fitting reorientation toward the coming of One who has altered those relationships toward new possibilities for healing and redemption.

Advent leads us into darkness and decreasing light. Our bodies slow imperceptibly with shorter days and longer nights, and the merriness and frantic activity around us are often merely signs of eager hunger for light and healing and wholeness.

The Incarnation, the coming of God among us in human flesh, happened in such a quiet and out of the way place that few noticed at first. Yet the impact on human existence has been like a bolt of lightning that continues to grow and generate new life and fire in all who share that hunger. Jesus is among us like a flitting moth – will we notice his presence in the street-sleeper? He pierces the dark like a silent, streaking owl seeking food for hungry and defenseless nestlings. He will overturn this world’s unjust foundations like badgers undermining a crooked wall. Like the bat’s sonar, his call comes to each one uniquely – have we heard his urgent “come and follow”?

God is among us, and within us, and around us, encountering, nudging, loving, transforming the world and its creatures toward the glorious dream the shepherds announced so many years ago, toward the beloved community of prophetic dreams, and the nightwatch that proclaims “all is well, fear not, the Lord is here.”

May Christ be born anew in you this Christmastide. May his light burn in you, and may you labor to spread it in the darkness. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and it is the harbinger of peace for all creation.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori Presiding Bishop and Primate The Episcopal Church

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A poem to get us through

I haven't run a poem on Fiat Lux in awhile. Margaret Haupt, one of our Stephen Ministry leaders, sent this, and so I pass it along...

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By Naormi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho 
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans 
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and 
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe: Friday is her feast day

Friday is a very big deal in our hemisphere, even here in Charlottesville, though you might not notice.  The Catholic Church if the Incarnation is hosting hundreds of people at pre-dawn Eucharists Friday  early so people can get to work. The first Eucharist is at 2 am.

Let me tell you why Dec. 12 is an important feast day for millions of people. It is a story of dark-skinned peasants resisting the powerful, and the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does ...

Nearly 500 years ago, the story goes, an Aztec with a Spanish name – Juan Diego – saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary. 

The local Spanish bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, did not believe him and told him to bring back proof of this vision. Juan Diego came back with his tunic full of flowers – Castilian roses – and the roses were blooming in winter. When Juan Diego poured the roses from his tunic, an image of Mary was imprinted on his tunic. 

That image has become probably the most copied and venerated image of Mary in the world.
Today is her feast day  Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, la Virgen de Guadalupe – the Virgin of Guadalupe. This day in 1531 marks when an Aztec brought roses to the bishop, and the bishop had to believe him.

Whether you believe in the story, or believe it happened exactly that way, is less important than what she represents primarily to the people of Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Her shrine near Mexico City is the most visited Marian shrine in the world.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is sometimes known as the brown virgin – her skin color is that of the indigenous peoples of America. She is the Mary of the poor and the outcasts and those left behind or wiped out as Europeans colonized, industrialized and regimented the Americas. She is the Mary of the lowliest among us who stand up and say "you have it wrong, please listen."

 Even the word “Guadalupe” has roots in native Aztec language, and many believe the image is
filled with Aztec symbols. She is the Mary of hope to the poor of the Americas.

There is another level to this that I would commend to you: The Holy comes to us not just in male imagery (God the Father) but in female imagery. 

The Holy Spirit is like a wind that will blow where she will, and will show her face in ways that speak to people in the depths of their soul, and give them strength and courage when they most need it. The Virgin of Guadalupe does precisely that for so many, and I have met them (and they weren't all Latino).

Although Our Lady of Guadalupe is not on the official Episcopal calendar of saints, she will be celebrated in many Episcopal churches across the country, particularly in the Southwest.

As many of you know, I have a small collection of amazing Guadalupe folk art that I keep on my dresser at home. I have Guadalupe candlesticks, tin and ceramic figurines, santos wood carvings, and a lighted Guadalupe concha (shadow box) on the wall. Nearly all of these items are gifts from friends far and wide, and I cherish each item with thanks for the hands that made them.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

UVA President Teresa Sullivan meets with University chaplains to discuss changing the culture

UVA President Teresa Sullivan
Photo by the Associated Press
“It’s been a semester like no other.”

So began Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, at a meeting with 15 University chaplains Tuesday morning. The chaplains, including myself, are part of an umbrella organization called “United Ministries” that include a wide spectrum of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The chaplains asked to meet with President Sullivan last week in a letter about the current crisis surrounding a culture of sexual assault and alcohol abuse that has been rampant for decades. She responded immediately with an invitation to meet with her.

This has been a semester like no other in recent memory.

Hannah Graham, a second-year student, was abducted early in the semester, and her body was found about a month later. Two other students have died by taking their own life. And then in November, Rolling Stone magazine wrote an article about a student, “Jackie,” and her allegations of being gang raped at a UVA fraternity party.

Rolling Stone has since partially retracted the story. But there has been no let up in the debate over how to change the culture at UVA. It was clear in our meeting that President Sullivan welcomes that debate and is determined to make significant changes not just to UVA’s procedures, but also to UVA’s culture.

“I’ve been on this” since coming to the University in 2010, she said, soon after the beating death of student Yeardley Love at the hands of her student boyfriend.

Regardless of whether Rolling Stone got specific facts right on one incident, she noted, “we have actual survivors we are trying to take care of.”

She said the recent firestorm has surfaced survivors of sexual assaults from decades ago: “A wave of hurting that is hitting us.”

UVA’s counseling services are stretched to the maximum, and she asked for help from the chaplains. 

President Sullivan also discussed a number of ideas about how to stem underage drinking by providing competition to alcohol-soaked fraternity parties. Several chaplains pointed out that their organizations have created alcohol-free parties and events, but have not been well supported by UVA.

She pledged to look into that. She noted that she is working on opening a police substation on the “Corner,” and create a corps of “ambassadors” that will walk around in the neighborhood to help students get home.

The leaders of the fraternities are also engaged with her in working out new agreements with the University. She said she is urging them to “do things boldly, out of the ordinary” that could create a “virtuous cycle,” and could be a model for other colleges and universities struggling with the same issues.

The chaplains offered several ideas, including finding ways to tell the story of sexual abuse survivors that memorializes and keeps their struggle in front of the University community much the way the story of slavery is being told.

The chaplains pledged to cooperate with President Sullivan – and each other – in shifting student culture away from sexual violence and alcohol abuse. She pledged to improve communications with the chaplains and the community.

The chaplains also told President Sullivan that they are holding her in their prayers. She said she has been reading Psalm 27 a great deal lately:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Friday, December 5, 2014

Voices unheard: Black Lives Matter

I want you to see the picture at the right, and I know some of you will not like it. I know some of you believe that this has no place in Church or on a church-related blog. I expect I will hear from you. I hope I do. Let's talk.

I also think we need to be aware that the Church is not an island unto itself. We are very much a part of the world and culture around us. We need to hear voices that we seldom hear -- especially the young and people of color.

This picture is of Kelly Carson, one of our Canterbury undergraduate students who has been very involved in undergraduate-led social justice movements over the past year at the University of Virginia. This picture shows her at the rally led by the UVA Black Student Alliance Wednesday evening after the decision not to indict the police officer in the death of Eric Garner in New York.

The rally started at the Mad Bowl, went through the libraries and several other buildings before going to Carrs Hill. The rally was so loud in Alderman Library that people came in from all the other rooms and floors to see what was going on. The crowd is behind the photographer in this picture. You can learn more at #blacklivesmatter.

In the Tuesday evening discussion this week at our Canterbury student group, our students talked about how the young people leading are leading a new movement are like John the Baptist -- "a voice of one calling in the wilderness."

I also know how hard it is to be a cop. I spent years covering the criminal justice system as a reporter. I've seen the guilty get off and the innocent go to prison. I've spent hours and hours on "ride alongs." I've been shot at, and I helped rescue a wounded California Highway Patrolman in a vicious shoot-out with bank robbers. I very much get it that those who put on a badge don't know if they are coming home at night. I know that cops can do everything right, but in an instant, everything can go very wrong. I've lost three friends who were police officers who were shot to death in the line of duty. Each was a dedicated public servant who did as much off duty to help people as they did on duty. I am thankful every day for cops.

And I also know the system needs to change, that police departments need to work harder at listening to voices seldom heard and connect with their communities. Firepower will not solve our most intractable problems of poverty, race, gangs and drugs.

I don't have public policy solutions for you, and I am not sure the Church is very good at that anyway. But I do believe we have an enormous role in changing the culture, and in being voices of reconciliation, love and courage. If the Church cannot hear the angry and the lost, we have no reason to be.

In the weeks ahead, we need to create a safe forum for conversation and listening, where no one will be demonized for sharing their experiences and opinions. We know how to do that. I hope you will join me in this effort.

Finally, I ran across this quote the other day from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said this in 1968 shortly before he was killed. His words, I believe, still apply:
"It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard."
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Healing the horrors: All are alive

"Now he is the God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

Lately we've endured a great deal of horror in Charlottesville: The abduction and murder of a second-year student, Hannah Graham, and then the revelations in Rolling Stone magazine about a sub-culture of rape and alcohol abuse in some of the fraternities. Anyone who has been here for any length of time was not surprised at these revelations. That has set off a firestorm that has not abated. We have preached on this, and posted a great deal on our St. Paul's Facebook page, so I do not propose to repeat any of that here.

We've also suffered a great deal of loss in the parish -- 20 deaths so far this year, an average of nearly every other week. We have a lot of hurting, grieving people right now.

With that backdrop, this morning's Daily Office reading from Luke 20:27-40 struck me in a new way. To set the scene, Jesus is gathered with rabbis who are questioning him about whether a woman who was married and widowed seven times has a husband in heaven.

There are contemporary commentators who seize on this passage as proof that marriage is between a man and a woman. But as I read it, I think that is quite beside the point Jesus makes. He is telling us that marriage is human artifact, a rite, and that in heaven everyone is a child of God. Marriage ceremonies and cultural customs don't mean much in heaven.

But there was something else that struck me this morning, and it isn't about marriage issues. In fact, it is the larger point Jesus makes: "Now he is the God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

"...all of them are alive."

All of the trials and horrors will pass away. All who are sick will be healed. This life is but a small slice of the spectrum of life. Those who are hurting will be healed, the grieving will have their tears wiped away. No one will be driven away. For to God, all are alive. No one is dead.

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux