Monday, December 28, 2009

Psalm 8 and a Video of the Known Universe

     The American Museum of Natural History has put out an incredible video of the known universe. I would invite you to watch it, and then read Psalm 8. See if it does not give you chills!



Psalm 8     Domine, Dominus noster

1 O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Anglican Rosary: Reflections and Resources

     “Did you pay that bill?”
     “Don’t forget to stop for gas on the way into town tomorrow!”
     “You snapped at that student today. You really aren’t a very kind person.”
     “What are you going to do about your weight?”


     I would like to say I discovered the use of the Anglican rosary as an aid to prayer because of a desire, shared by many, to deepen my prayer life. The truth is I wanted to shut up those critical voices of my own personal Greek Chorus. If I had spent all day grading papers, but left one set unfinished, the choir would sing out in the night, “You really should have finished!” If I had gotten them all done, the choir would change the night’s anthem to that old favorite, “You neglected your family while you were grading papers!” Too much thinking. The rosary gave me a way to quiet my thoughts, not so much shutting them off completely, but more like gentle ocean waves of prayer repeating and repeating, wearing down the voices of the shoulds and the shouldn’ts of my conscience.

     It used to bother me that I would sometimes fall asleep before finishing the rosary. An older lady who was a lifelong Roman Catholic reassured me on this point. She said their tradition is if you fall asleep before finishing your rosary, your guardian angel will finish it for you. Nice! Although I still pray the rosary before sleep, over the years, it has broadened out until it has become part of my daily prayer routine. It also has become something I will do if I am waiting in a long check-out line at the store, or if I am just stressed during the day.

     Throughout history, many different Christian traditions have used beads or the counting of prayers, not for the sake of repetition, but as a still focal point for entry into prayer and meditation as part of the rhythm of their lives. The early Christian monastics who lived in the desert would gather small pebbles; as they walked and said their prayers, they would drop the pebbles in the sand one-by-one.

     Since the revival of the use of rosaries in the Episcopal Church in the 1980's, they have gained in popularity. When I started, Anglican rosaries were not widely available. One Christmas, my present to myself was to buy a nice Roman Catholic rosary and have it professionally altered at a jeweler. Now, Anglican rosaries are widely available for purchase. One reason they have become so popular might be the flexibility of the devotions. Instead of fixed prayers, there are a number of different forms one may use. You are also encouraged to create your own personal prayers for the rosary.

     It seems somehow appropriate, living in the desert of Nevada, to share in this long tradition that goes back to the deserts of our spiritual ancestors.

     I recently taught a class on praying the Anglican rosary. A copy of the class handout is available here in PDF format: Anglican Rosary Class. It includes some history of the rosary, prayers for it, how to include personal prayers while doing the rosary, and how to create your own prayers for use with the Anglican rosary. It also has a list of books and Internet resources.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Voice of Top Cat Stilled

BOSTON (AP) — Arnold Stang, an actor who appeared alongside Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra and was known for his nerdy looks and distinctive nasal voice, has died. He was 91... He voiced cartoons, including the lead character in the 1960s cartoon "Top Cat," and did dozens of commercials... (click for full story)
     I am slightly too young to remember him with Berle and Sinatra, but I remember loving the cartoon Top Cat when I was a kid. Thank you for the laughs, Arnold!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Voices of Mothers and Angels

     In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
                              - Luke 1:39-45

          When I find myself in times of trouble
          Mother Mary comes to me
          Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
          And in my hour of darkness
          She is standing right in front of me
          Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
          Let it be, let it be.
          Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.
     I have always loved the words of that song. It has guided me through some tough times in my life. I guess if you've got to adopt a Beatles song for some spiritual guidance it is certainly better to use this one than the song “I am the Walrus”

          Yellow custard, dripping from a large black pot.
          Fisherman with his fishwife,
          You've been a naughty boy and you let your face get dirty.
          I am eating eggs (woo), they are eating eggs (woo),
          I am John Lennon,
          Goo goo ga joob.
     It is a little tough to draw spiritual comfort or direction from that one.

     I have always interpreted “Let it be” as "Leave the thing alone... let God handle it.” Now that is really good advise and scriptural, but I recently realized, "Leave it alone” is not at all what Mary meant when she said, "Let it be."

     After Gabriel announced to her all that was to come, "Let it be" was her saying, "Let it begin… Let it begin with me." “Let the changing of the world begin with me.” And it did. Mary hurries to visit Elizabeth. Harrell Beck, a professor at Boston University used to say, "Every family needs a wise aunt to whom an unmarried pregnant teenager can go." Long before the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit is poured out on Elizabeth and she says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The ancient words of Elizabeth have become part of our Christian heritage often repeated in gratitude just for Mary saying, “Let it be.” Elizabeth goes on to say, “Blessed is she who believed.”

     And Mary, filled with the same Spirit, answers Elizabeth in the beautiful song of triumph we now call the Magnificat. Mary appears to have every reason not to sing. She is poor, pregnant, and not yet married, yet she sings of a God who calls her blessed. A God who takes human form in the incarnation of Jesus. Her song speaks of a God who comes to turn the world upside down: He brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly! He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty! Here is the gospel of liberation. To this day if you read this out loud in some Latin American countries, it can get you killed. We're still waiting… for an end to violence, for a world of peace, for the lifting of burdens, for the hungry to be fed, for our hungers to be satisfied. Like Mary, we can answer God’s dream of a new world, a new kingdom, by saying, “Let it be.” Let the changing of the world begin with me.

     It was not the men, but the women who believed first – Mary and Elizabeth! It was the women who believed first at the resurrection; they ran to tell the men, “The Lord is risen!” It was not the voices of kings or prophets or the powerful or the rich that changed the world – it was the voices of mothers and angels.

     I don’t know about you, but there are days I don’t feel like I have much control over things: We get sick; we age; relationships we thought we couldn’t live without end; people we love die; wars rage on. Despite all these hard realities, we can change the world if we begin with ourselves. If we say, “Yes!” If we allow God to enter our lives just as he entered Mary’s life and changed the world over 2,000 years ago. Not because we’re powerful or strong or better than anyone else. We can change the world because we remember it all began with the weakest… with the smallest.

     It all began with a baby and a mom who said "Yes"… “Let it be.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doing Lady Gaga A Cappella!

     This is just too funny not to share. U.C. Berkley's all-male a cappella group "Noteworthy" imitates Lady Gaga's techno hit "Poker Face". Even if you have never seen Lady Gaga in action, you'll laugh yourself silly watching this! I wish we could get these guys for our church choir!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let It Snow!

     We knew our first serious storm was coming, but I do not think anyone expected the punch we got. In my area in the foothills, I would estimate we received eighteen inches of snow. School was cancelled, so I am very glad I did not have to drive in these conditions today, although living in the mountains, I am kind of blasé about chaining up the car if it is necessary. I spent most of the day shoveling. The day off was fun (I know the kids are thrilled), but we will probably be grumbling when they tack on that extra make-up day in June. The birds are well fed and cluster around my trees and feeders keeping warm. Casey, one of my cats, kept a close eye on them. They were so thick in the one tree that it looked like I had my own Christmas tree decorated with birds for ornaments. This is the beginning of our annual snowpack that fills our rivers and reservoirs to supply our water the rest of the year, so let it snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Question was Not "If," but "When"

     It is exciting to hear the diocese of Los Angeles has elected both their first female suffragan bishop, the Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce, and also the first lesbian suffragan bishop, the Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool. They now enter the process where a majority of bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan Standing Committees must consent to the elections. You can read the full coverage in Episcopal Life.

     It was not a question of "if" we would elect another gay bishop, but "when". It is now the turn of standing committees and bishops of the Episcopal Church to live up to our stated value of respecting every human being set forth in the Baptismal Vows. It is also time to live up to the reaffirmation of this vow made at last summer's General Convention specifically as it applies to this very situation. The General Convention affirmed in Resolution D025 that ordination is available to anyone in the church through the discernment process outlined in the Constitution and Canons of the church.

     I am convinced that some of the signers to the Anaheim Statement, which was basically seen as a dissent to the actions of the General Convention, did so not because they would automatically oppose consecrating another gay bishop, but as a sign of support for those bishops who had to return to dioceses where the summer's actions would cause them heartburn. It will be interesting to watch the consents as they come in over the next four months.

Can You Spot the Narcissist?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama's Speech on Afghanistan and Kids


     In all the sensible, well reasoned, apparently prudent words of the President's speech, every time it panned to the audience, all I could think over and over was, "Dear God. They're just kids."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Christmas Advent Lights are Up!

     It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s right, it’s Christmas Advent! I am proud to say I am the first person to get his Christmas Advent lights up in my neighborhood. A light snowfall last night here in the mountains really put me in the Christmas Advent spirit! I was humming Away in a Manger O Come, O Come, Emmanuel all afternoon while I worked. Especially with the new LED lights that use so little energy, I like to think of it as my little Christmas Advent gift to the neighborhood.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Look At the Birds: A Thanksgiving Sermon

     Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. - Matthew 6:26
     I feed the birds in my backyard. Year-round, they get seed, but in the winter, they also get their favorite: peanut butter suet. When I go out to refill their feeders, I like to pretend I'm St. Francis. Of course, over the years, I think I have blurred the historical St. Francis and Disney’s Snow White. I have these images of St. Francis sitting at the wishing well, singing, and the little birds land on his outstretched finger and sing with him. That has never happened for me. I thought eventually the birds would get used to me, but whenever I come out, they scatter in panic as if to say, "Aaah! The monster comes!” They never seem to make the connection that I bring them food, and so I talk to them quietly and gently as I imagine St. Francis would… it doesn’t help. They continue to fly away as if they are saying, “Aaah, the monster speaks!" I somehow expect the birds to be grateful to me, but they’re not. They seem to know Whom they really should thank; not the clumsy human who carries the blessing to them.

     What if I looked… really looked at the birds of the air, as Jesus said? They seem to trust food will be there, and they just wait. The doves are the most patient. Long after others are gone, they will rest and wait. If there’s a lot of food, they all feast; if not, they all wait. They seem content. The birds have developed a kind of theology - a way of thinking and talking about God. It doesn’t say there will always be a feast. They just seem to have faith that there will always be enough.

     I am not sure the birds at my feeders are American birds, like bald eagles. Somehow this theology my birds have developed seems un-American. With Black Friday looming, commercial America does not really want us to be thankful for what we have. They want us to shop. It is almost a patriotic duty to pull us out of recession. If there are reports of consumer spending down after the holidays, there is a vague kind of free-floating guilt we didn’t spend more.

     The theology of the birds leads to simplicity – not always a feast, but always enough. It is not a theology that says God wants me to drive a Mercedes in fact, it is not a theology that tells anything, but rather a theology that makes me ask questions like, “What do I really need?” “How much do I really need?” It changes how we view God. No longer is God some stern taskmaster doling out scarce favors and limited, conditional love, but a gentle and merciful God with unlimited grace. It changes how I treat myself. I no longer have to beat myself up because I was unkind, or because I let my anger cause me to behave badly, or because I blew my diet – because I can’t do anything perfectly. Instead, I trust there is enough wisdom and mercy and grace to eventually make me the person I see reflected in God’s eyes. It changes how we treat each other too. I begin to recognize I have enough, and I turn to another and say, “Here, I can help you, so you have enough too,” and without realizing it, we have become the hand of God. I begin to recognize you have an abundance of Christ's Spirit, just as I do. You have an abundance of God's love, just as I do.

     Adopting a theology of the birds starts with gratitude. Kris Haig, a Presbyterian minister, once wrote,

     “It has been said that gratefulness is the very heart of prayer, and so to truly observe Thanksgiving is to engage in fervent prayer. Gratefulness, however, cannot be manufactured. It is a grace, a gift that God bestows and not anything we can create in our own hearts. True gratitude bears little resemblance to the forced optimism underlying the admonition to count your blessings. Gratitude is not a denial of real pain and loss. It is not a stoic effort to concentrate on the good things in life. It isn't the power of positive thinking. ... We cannot attain a state of gratitude by presenting God with a list of things we think we should feel grateful for, but by presenting our selves and our desire to know God more closely.” - Kris Haig, "Grateful Hearts", Presbyterians Today, November 1999, 7.
     So, even in the midst of pain or loneliness… or even our most dreaded relatives, when we follow the theology of the birds and simply rest and trust in God, slowly sometimes, the gratitude comes. We begin to notice the fall colors. We start to appreciate the love we do have in our lives. We become grateful that we are blessed materially far more than so many in this world. We even are able to give thanks for the brokenness in our lives since it is that very brokenness that makes us recognize our dependence on God. We rest near God’s heart, and in our hearts, Thanksgiving has truly begun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homosexuality Not a Factor in Abusive Priests

     A preliminary report commissioned by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse scandal has found no evidence that gay priests are more likely than heterosexual clergy to molest children, the lead authors of the study said Tuesday…

     … many experts on sex offenders reject any link between sexual orientation and committing abuse. Karen Terry, a John Jay researcher, said it was important to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior, and to look at who the offender had access to when seeking victims.
Read complete AP story here.

     I once asked a Roman Catholic nun who was my spiritual director about this. She was an extremely wise woman who had been in a leadership position in priest formation at a West Coast Catholic University. She said the exact same thing that this article points out. A pedophile is attracted to that undeveloped body type. Pedophilia tends to be a crime of opportunity, and the altar boys were sadly available. Of course, whether the Roman Catholic Church can accept these findings or whether they will continue to blame priests who have gay tendencies is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

“Backing Starts to Grow for the Anglican Covenant” Say what?!

     “Backing Starts to Grow for the Anglican Covenant” trumpeted a rather inaccurate headline appeared in the Church of England newspaper blog last week. When you read further, this alleged growth comes from not particularly surprising quarters:

     The Church of Ireland, the American dioceses of Western Louisiana and South Carolina and the New Zealand dioceses of Christchurch and Nelson have endorsed the Ridley-Cambridge draft of the Anglican Covenant, joining Central Florida in backing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan for creating a structure to manage the divisions over doctrine and discipline dividing the Anglican Communion.
     Any one of us could have predicted support from the fundamentalist diocese of Sydney. Those particular American dioceses named are naturally going for a draft containing the kind punitive mechanics that might give a vague patina of respectability to their attempts to dismantle the Episcopal Church and remake it in their own reactionary image. A groundswell? Not really. I am reminded of my favorite movie, Casablanca when Captain Renault says, “Round up the usual suspects.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Autumn Walk

Walking alone in amber light,
     A few dry autumn leaves left clinging to bare trees.
     Lovely smell of gentle decay,
Sifting through the past,
     Wishing for what might have been.
     A taste of fear and ashes.
Yet I bear His mark;
     I am His own.
I believe in endings;
     He taught me to believe in beginnings.
I believe in darkness;
     He showed me light.
I am chilled,
     Still, I stumble toward the fire.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Father Jake Stops Nevada!

Fr. Jake     Premier Episcopal blogger Father Jake attended our Diocesan convention at Lake Tahoe last week. It was exciting to finally meet him in person! As he told the story of his own journey through an almost impossible childhood and youth into faith and service, there was a profound stillness in the large convention room. I found myself wanting to reach into the past to the boy he was and tell him everything was going to be alright. He brought closure to the past by speaking of how he found the blessing in what he had gone through. A very wise friend once told me that healing begins when we can find the gift in pain we have experienced.

     The part of his message I am still pondering is when he said all our efforts at attracting people into the Church such as improved signage, advertising, visitor-friendly bulletins, etc., are mainly for those who already have some kind of a church experience in their background. He pointed out many children are being raised by parents who themselves have had no contact with even the simplest stories of the Christian tradition, such as Noah and the Flood. In reaching out to them, his recommendation was simple: Tell your story.

     In sharing his own story of what God had done for him, he drew us in. Given the choice between “show and tell,” Fr. Jake didn’t just tell us about faith, he showed us by taking us back through his own life. His challenge to us was to go and share ours. How simple. No focus groups or mass media buys – just go and tell your own story of what God has done for you.

     If you have not had the pleasure of being a regular reader of Fr. Jake’s blog, I highly recommend it. You can find it here: Father Jake Stops the World.
Lake Tahoe at sunrise.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Paradox and the Velveteen Rabbit

     Paradox – A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
     Often, God's truths are presented to us in paradoxes.

     Jesus offers a journey of paradox instead of a simple rabbinical pronouncement when asked, "And who is my neighbor?" He tells the story of the poor man beaten by muggers and left to die by the side of the freeway, being avoided by the religious leaders of the day. Then along comes a half-breed they would have despised, the Samaritan, who binds a total stranger's wounds and takes him to safety. Then Jesus asks, "Which of these was 'neighbor' to him?"

     No longer is "neighbor" defined as who lives next door to you. No longer is "neighbor" defined as anyone within your neighborhood. No longer is "neighbor" defined as someone of your tribe, nationality, skin color, sexual orientation, or your religion. Now "neighbor" is based on how I behave, how I love, how I respond to pain in the world. It is a paradox.

     Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury in his 1995 book, Ray Of Darkness, wrote about why paradoxes are so important,

     "We speak in paradoxes because we have to speak in a way the keeps a question alive... If we lose sight of the beauty and terror of Job's God in the whirlwind, we are taming the vision to the scope of what we can cope with, pretending that our language has caught up, and we no longer need paradoxes of confusion and subtlety to speak of (God)."
     Jesus didn't settle the question of who my neighbor is; I must remain on the lookout for my neighbor because it could be anyone.

     It is a paradox that God loves us as we are, and yet - if we let him - loves us into something more each and every day. Perhaps the paradox of God's kind of love for us is best summed up by the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The velveteen rabbit had a conversation with the skin horse…

     "What is real?" asked the rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

     "Real isn't how you are made" said the skin horse. "It’s something that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real."

     "Does it hurt?" asked the rabbit.

     "Sometimes," said the skin horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are real, you don't mind being hurt."

     "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

     "It doesn't happen all at once," said the skin horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all; because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"faith" in small letters, not CAPS

     I have a confession: I am a news junkie. I almost never miss Charlie Gibson on World News Tonight, and I think Google Reader is the greatest invention as it draws articles from hundreds of different news sources and blogs for my perusal. I even have the news sectioned off by "Church," "World," "National," and "Local" so I can scan it section by section - pretty much the cyber equivalent of not letting the peas touch the mashed potatoes on your plate.

     Still, there are times when my soul gets overwhelmed by the 9/11's and schisms and Anglican councils and evening news. Some days I rekindle my faith by recognizing these things are just too big for me. On those days, it is enough to understand that I love people, that I can personally do some good in my own little corner of the world today, that I am grateful I have food and shelter, and that I need to remember to refill the bird feeders. Faith in small letters, not caps, is where I have to sometimes take refuge. I suspect that returning time and again to "faith" in small letters is what actually allows us to hit the shift key and type "FAITH" when faced with tragedy, illness, crisis - the big things in life.

     I'd like to tell you more, but I need to go put more seed in the bird feeders. It is getting cold here in the desert, and the birds kind of count on me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

     President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." (See this article in the Washington Post.)

     It is a pleasure to see that attempts at reconciliation really matter. The fact that it is the President who is being recognized simply gives honor to the nation.

     All too often in our American political landscape, we reward the rootin' tootin' cowboys who shoot up the saloon. We vote for people who are extreme in their positions and speak harsh words about those who disagree. Sadly, we often see people able to engage in civil discourse as "weak".

     All the Nobel Prize can do is focus attention on an accomplishment. It would be my hope that it draws not just the attention of Americans to the importance of the process of reconciliation, but also draws the eye of the dictators and warlords of the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

St. Francis Day and My Sin

     Our celebration remembering St. Francis took place on Sunday at the children’s service. We have held a small gathering outside on the lawn in the past, but this year our new rector wanted to have the pets come inside for the service. It was delightful! We had strategically planned to have the carpets cleaned this week, so we were not worried about any damage. My friends brought their two enormous St. Bernards. My cats decided to sit this one out. All congregants were well-behaved – an occasional snarl or two, but no biting – all were fed; all were blessed.

     After reading a children’s book that quickly covered the highlights of Francis’ life and faith, the rector invited me to add some words. I had not planned it, but I told this story:

     One of the greatest sins I ever committed happened one day while I was driving home. I saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart piled with plastic bags and his other shabby belongings. Tied to the cart by a worn rope was a puppy. The dog trotting alongside the man appeared to be some kind of a golden retriever mix.

     Immediately I felt this anger rise in me. “What was this man doing with a dog? He probably doesn’t feed him right. He certainly can’t afford vet bills.” Thankfully, in almost the exact same moment those thoughts entered my heart, grace intervened, and I felt completely ashamed of myself. I realized that probably this was the only unconditional love this poor man had in his life.

     So often, we try to understand God’s unconditional love for us by surrounding it with too many words. Perhaps all we need to do is look into the eyes of our animal companions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Reno Air Races

     Every year, the Reno Air Races attract thousands of visitors to our area. The competitive races are amazing given the speeds as the airplanes roar around the pylons in the valley.

     The Air Force’s Blue Angels were here this year. Their aerial acrobatics takes my breath away! When they are flying in formation, as you see in the video below, their wingtips are a mere eighteen inches apart. Such incredible precision! The one maneuver they make that frightens me the most is when they fly straight at each other at full speed, and then one tilts to the left and one tilts to the right as they pass within inches. I tend to pray really hard right then that nothing goes wrong. It was thankfully a great year with no injuries.

     I took my students on a field trip to see them, and then returned on Saturday with friends. I have to admit Saturday was a lot more relaxing without having to make sure I kept track of every student. Oddly, the school district has absolutely no sense of humor about returning to school without every single student. Of course, what made Saturday even more fun is being with friends, and the fact that we were in the Pepsi VIP tent where there was an incredible buffet and lots of cool shade!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rest, Mary.

     Mary Travers of the singing group Peter, Paul, and Mary passed away yesterday. The group was famous for songs such as Puff the Magic Dragon, 500 Miles, If I Had a Hammer, and Blowing in the Wind. I always loved how relaxed and natural they were together when they sang. More importantly, their words matched their activism for peace in their lives.

     Below is a clip that showcases their talents.



     Full coverage of her life and career can be found here in the New York Times.

     Rest in peace, Mary. Rise in glory!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Balloons!

Photos by Bart     To attend the annual Reno Balloon Races, folks usually get up pretty early in the morning for what is called “Dawn Patrol” at 5:00 AM. That does not work too well for me on a Sunday morning, but this morning, the balloons came to us. We were having our coffee, gPhotos by Bartetting ready for church, when I kept hearing this “Whoosh… whoosh… whoosh” directly over the house. It was the sound of the flames shooting up into the balloons as they landed all around our neighborhood right in the middle of the street, following the drifting of the winds. Chase cars came and young and old came out of their houses to take pictures and talk to the crews. There is a wonder that fills your heart when you look up in the familiar sky of your neighborhood and see such massive color and people waving at you from hundreds of feet in the air!

Photos by Bart

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Praying for Children

     You may have noticed I have disappeared for the last two weeks – it is the start of school. My rector has been gracious, allowing me to take my vacation in August so I can focus on starting the school year. For the past two weeks, I doubt I have worked less than twelve hours per day to prepare and teach this first week, and that includes Saturday and Sunday. The effort has been worth it, however – the first week has gone well and has been lots of fun.

     Every year, I fall in love with my class. It is amazing to me how soon I become emotionally involved with my students. I get to see a side of them all the test scores in the world can never show. I include my kids in my prayers each morning, but already there are specific ones that I hold especially close in prayer. One boy lost both his parents last year. One of the girls has come to my school from another area and is trying hard to fit in. When I asked the students to write to me about how they are as a reader, one boy wrote, “I hate reading. It’s hard and the books are long.” Another boy is coming to school, showing up at my door incredibly early, and I suspect it is sadly because my classroom is a warmer place to be than his home.

     I do not live separate lives as a priest and a teacher; they are my one life, and it is amazing how much they intersect and compliment each other. So, I pray for wisdom – wisdom to help them fit in, to love reading, to grieve, to feel safe and loved. For a short time, they are my children.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Life Among Schoolchildren

      While many people know me as an Episcopal priest, I am afraid that does not quite pay the bills. Where I have made the really big bucks for the past twenty-nine years is as a school teacher. (For those of you who did not catch the oh-so-subtle humor in that last sentence, please click here).

      I admit the moment I see the first back-to-school commercial on TV (usually around July 1), my blood runs cold, and I feel a tightness in my chest. It always seems like I have just gotten into the slow-paced swing of summer: my lawn is just beginning to fill in the brown patches, I still have ten or twelve huge projects lying unfinished, and here we are talking about sales on binders and pencils and backpacks.

      Yet, as August wanes, I always find myself looking forward once again to new faces and children, old friends and nervous parents, desks and crayons.

      There will come a time soon, when autumn will come with children’s laughter, but I will not be there. I know I will miss them. Still, that is not this year – this year I have bulletin boards to put up, lesson plans to prepare, and the future to welcome through my classroom doors. It is time once again to begin the dance, and I can’t help but smile.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teachers I’d Like to Thank

      It is still August, but there is a chill in the air at night that says fall has returned. With the fall comes school, and thoughts of years past. It seems right to pause and thank some of the teachers who made a difference in my life.

      Thank you, Mrs. Gashio, for reading to us every afternoon in fourth grade. It was my favorite time of day. While afternoon sunlight filtered by the pine trees slanted through the huge windows, I would lay my head on my desk and be transported to other lands, other lives, and all because of the rise and fall of your gentle voice.

      Thank you, Mrs. Brackett, for giving me that “D” in Math in fifth grade. You see, I was one of those cocky kids who always got “A’s”. Mrs. Bracket had a rule, however, that even if you missed only one problem on your math paper, you had to correct it and turn it in – I never bothered. Three days before report cards came out, she told me I was going to get an “F” in Math; she later had a spasm of mercy and agreed to raise it to a “D” if I could learn the Preamble to the Constitution in one night. To this day, I can still recite, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” Thank you for teaching me that ability is not enough without hard work and responsibility.

      Thank you, Mr. Kelly, for taking time to talk to a rather gawky sixth grade boy not just about school, but about faith, and about life. Thank you for being patient with me.


      Thank you, Mr. Pavalakis, for joking with me as you taught me algebra and brought me out of my shell.

      Thank you, Mr. Birmingham, for being a fraud. Although everyone thought you were a high school history teacher, your students knew what you really were… you were a time machine. To this day, I attribute my love of history and political science to you.

      Thank you, Mrs. Williams, for saying to me in your smooth southern accent that, “Reading a big book is just like eating an elephant. You just take one bite at a time.” And despite my objections, I was able to stretch beyond what I thought possible. You are one of the reasons I have become a lifelong reader.


















      Finally, thank you, Mrs. Elliot, for encouraging me to write, to keep a journal, to believe that I had something important to say.

      To these and many other teachers I can not remember, I offer my gratitude. Your efforts were not wasted. I doubt you ever made much money or received many awards, and you may not have even known the difference you made. Still, thank you. I believe your lives were well-spent.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos

     My daughters and I tried a new recipe last night from Cooking Light magazine. I highly recommend it for those of you who, like me, are trying to lose or maintain weight. Add a dollop of fat-free sour cream to give it an even better taste. Be sure to wash your hands frequently while cutting the jalapeño! It's really delicious!



     Lime-Cilantro Pork Tacos

     Use the same pan to brown the pork and make the rave-worthy sauce. Browning the pork improves its color, and the browned bits enrich the sauce's flavor. Add more jalapeño pepper if you enjoy spicy food.

     1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into thin strips
     1/4 teaspoon salt
     1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
     2 teaspoons olive oil
     1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion
     1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
     1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
     1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
     3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
     2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
     8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

     Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and black pepper. Add oil to pan. Add pork, and sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Remove pork from pan; place in a bowl. Add onion and jalapeño to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add broth; reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in tomato; simmer 2 minutes.

     Return pork and accumulated juices to pan. Stir in cilantro and lime juice; cook 1 minute or until pork is done.

     Heat tortillas according to package directions. Spoon 1/2 cup pork mixture into each tortilla; roll up.

     Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 tacos)

     CALORIES 416 (28% from fat); FAT 13.1g (sat 3.6g,mono 6.8g,poly 1.6g); IRON 3.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 75mg; CALCIUM 101mg; CARBOHYDRATE 43.1g; SODIUM 569mg; PROTEIN 30.2g; FIBER 3.6g

     Weight Watcher's Points: 4.5 per taco

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Quail

     The quail have definitely decided my backyard is the place to be today. It reminds me of how it must have looked when the quail rained on the children of Israel after they complained about having no meat. I can not imagine eating the adorable birds with their black plumes bobbing. The babies are hiding under the lilac bush to the left, and both males and females take turns guarding them while others go out and eat.
     They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert.
                                                               - Psalm 105:40, 41

Monday, August 10, 2009

Leapin’ Lizards!

     In addition to the wrens, the quail, the blue jays, and Bandit the squirrel, I have a family of blue-bellied lizards that have lived with me since I moved in. Perhaps it would be better to say I moved in with them.

     I first noticed them when I moved in years ago and was working on the lawn. It started with a large black lizard that would follow me from the front to the backyard. It seemed he was curious about what I was doing. Peeking around the corners, he followed me back and forth all day. Soon, there were two, and then three lizards ranging in color from black to tan to light-gray, all keeping tabs on my activities.

     Now some are afraid of lizards. Not me. I grew up in Nevada, and it was a favorite pastime to catch them. If you get too close, they might also start their “lizard push-ups” – that is them saying to you, “Okay, you think you’re gonna take me? Bring it on chump! I’ll fight you with one claw tied behind my back! You ever see Jurassic Park, fool?!” They are tough to catch and have detachable tails as a final emergency escape. All too often you chase them and end up with only their tail in your hand.

     Their final line of defense if caught is to play dead. We would catch them and then open our palms, and they would lie there as long as you stroked their belly; when you stopped (and they realized there was no immediate danger from this huge predator) they would “wake up” and scamper about.

     They get their common name from the males who have iridescent blue stripes on their bellies often bordered with black or tan. They can also have the same beautiful blue on the scales of their throats. The females have no underbelly coloration. Their scientific name is “Western Fence Lizard”. They occasionally bite, but they do not have teeth, rather a bony plate that has the texture of sandpaper; it does not really hurt, but it can surprise and startle you.

     Over the years, there have tiny baby lizards every spring and three or four stick around the old homestead. I always welcome them and tell them I knew their parents and grandparents very well. One assumes the others set out to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. None of them seem afraid of me, but all of them are curious. If I go out onto the patio to barbeque in the summer, within minutes, a tiny reptilian head or two pops up over the edge of the cement to watch me.

     What I appreciate the most about my lizards is they love to eat ants. We do not have a lot of problems with flying insects like mosquitoes in the high desert, but we have lots of ants. As soon as the ants open a new hole in the dirt, there the lizard family is, enjoying the new location of the Lizard Buffet.

     Want to see these adorable lizards up close? Watch this video to see a blue-bellied lizard with beautiful markings pretending to sleep after being captured:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Weeds!

     I spent over an hour yesterday, just working on weeds in one part of my yard that I had neglected for a few weeks. It has decorative rock, and getting the weeds out from in between all the rocks is a tough chore. I was on my hands and knees the entire time – compared to spraying, it is still the most effective way to get rid of weeds. I prefer to wear rawhide gloves while weeding – not much gets through them, and I get to feel a little bit like a cowboy.

     It is estimated there are hundreds of weed seeds ready to go in the first few inches of everyone’s topsoil. My definition of a weed is pretty much anything growing where I do not want it to grow. Many of the weeds in Nevada have a built in protection I call the “Oh-You-Got-Me-Sheriff-I’m-A-Goner” technique. You pull on the weeds, and they appear to tear out, but unless you grasp them deeply and firmly, they tear away from their roots and are in full business again within a day or two.

     I got a lot done. Here is the before and after picture of the section:


     I have a lot of weeds in both my yard and my life. Weeds in my life are things like not getting in better physical shape, procrastination, impatience, etc. What I know about weeding is probably true about life too. You have to weed, and then spray, and then weed some more – it just does not end. The weeds are always present, so maybe I should not be so shocked when they start sprouting again. The trick is just to spend a little time regularly weeding both my lawn and my life.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cries for Grace

     Science Fiction writers have always managed to include aliens who have the ability to read minds. I have always thought this would be an unmitigated disaster. This week, however, it has come to me that perhaps one form of telepathy might make the world a bit better: What would it be like if we could hear the cries for grace all around us? If we could, perhaps, hear others when they plead for mercy from us, perhaps it would change how we treat one another.

     Maybe we would back off the bumper of the person driving slowly ahead of us if we could suddenly hear, “Please understand I'm driving too slowly because I’m coming back from the funeral of my husband of forty years. I‘m numb. I don’t know how I am going to go on.”

     Might we understand a young man’s anger better if were able to eavesdrop on his thoughts: “I’ve never accomplished anything in my life. I’m worthless.”

     Could we be a bit more patient with an elderly person in the check-out line while she sorts slowly through her change purse if we could read the thought, “Oh please, God, I’m so frightened. Please let me have enough money for this.”

     The chorus must rise all around us every day – pleas for grace, for understanding, for mercy, for compassion. They rise from grown men, children, and from the disabled. Young mothers and old men; black and white; gay and straight, all pray for grace from you and from me. Even animals pray for grace, I believe.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

     There will come a time when we will understand one another completely and know absolutely all the many reasons why each one of us is the way we are. We will know about all the cries for grace each of us hoped for from one another every day. Until that time, maybe we do not need telepathy.

     All we really need is grace.
 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reno Carjacker Foiled by Stick Shift


     If it were not for the fear his victim, a fifty-seven year old registered nurse, must have experienced, you would almost feel sorry for this guy. His photo in the newspaper was just kind of pathetic.

     A 23-year-old man remained jailed Tuesday after Reno police said he allegedly returned his car jacking victim’s keys because he couldn't drive her manual transmission.
     Read the whole story here: Reno Gazette-Journal
 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bread of Angels


     “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

                         – John 6: 35


     The crowds in today’s Gospel had felt the power of bread. They had just seen the miraculous feeding starting with only five barley loaves and two fish, but that wasn’t enough. They followed Jesus looking for more bread. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat and begins again to teach them about real bread. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

     So, how do you get this real bread? If you go back to the original word for manna, it comes from a Hebrew expression meaning, “What is it?” Sometimes we do not recognize bread when it is all around us. You can’t bake it yourself, but you can be ready to recognize this bread, this manna, this "Bread of Angels" as the Psalmist says, when it is offered.

     Manna wasn't found in the Israelites’ houses, they had to go outside to gather it. We find this bread in paying attention to God in others, in relationships, in attending worship, in getting outside our own problems and helping another. We this find bread in scripture and in prayer.

     Never underestimate yourself – you are someone’s priest. Someone you might not have even met yet or someone you know well is looking to you this very day for bread. They’re looking to you for compassion. They’re looking to you for forgiveness. They’re looking to you for love. They’re looking to you for grace. They’re looking to you for the Bread of Angels.